Longtime activist and community speaker Rosa Clemente knows what it’s like to have a gun pointed at her by police officers.
While peacefully participating in a community march this summer in Ferguson, Missouri, Clemente found herself face down on the pavement with guns pointed at her back.
Reflecting on the incident in her writings, Clemente described it as “the most terrifying moment in my life” and her 20-year career of community activism.
The self-styled “Bronx-born, black Puerto Rican woman” will speak in Tacoma Tuesday. Her local talk comes five months after she was in Ferguson in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown.
Clemente went to the epicenter of nightly clashes between police and the community to connect with youth and report on what she saw.
She has been involved in social justice activism since the 1990s, advocating on issues such as increasing voter engagement among youth of color, promoting immigrant rights and standing up to police brutality. She was the 2008 Green Party vice-presidential nominee and currently teaches at California State University, Los Angeles.
Clemente will be the keynote speaker at the University of Puget Sound’s Martin Luther King Jr. celebration. She spoke with The News Tribune about how King’s message translates to social and racial issues today.
Social justice is not a trend, it’s not something you just do in college. That’s an actual value you carry with you, and a principle to live by.
Joining organizations and being part of movements and getting involved is important. That is how you walk your talk; you have to “do” as well. It’s not hard. I think sometimes people would rather be complacent in their complicity.
People have to be very purposeful and make those choices, and people are doing that.
Today’s activism is not looking to reform policy. It’s not a new Civil Rights movement. They’re looking to reform society.
What is being done today (with the Black Lives Matter movement) is different than any contemporary movement that we’ve seen. The question at the end is, will it sustain?
The questions being raised now are more radical and progressive.
In history, it always takes a moment that spurs action. The transformative moment happened when they let Michael Brown lie out there for four hours. That became the tipping point. Since that day, there is a sustained action around the larger Black Lives Matter movement and the humanity that it calls for.
Young people are doing something to disrupt the norm, the comfort and the complicity of a lot of people. We have not seen that since the late 1960s.
I’m coming at them from my experience. People may be uncomfortable, but we need to push them.
We have seen an entire new wave of youth organizing. I believe someone like me, who is 42, and those who are older than me really have to support these young people. We really need to empower them and give them a path so that they become very skilled leaders.
Dr. King’s message at the end of his life was radical. It was beyond the voting and beyond the bills getting passed. He was organizing the poor people's campaign and speaking out against Vietnam and all at the cost of him being marginalized by those that supported him.
Dr. King sacrificed, really sacrificed his life, in a very purposeful way because he knew that what was done was good, but not good enough.