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On Why I March and #FTP

Our country’s Founders had
the revolutionary idea that everyday citizens would be more capable and
effective than a monarch or elite class at creating a just and egalitarian
society. One of the requirements of this vision is that everyday citizens take
an active role in governance.

As an elected official, it
is clear that I am interested in participating in this grand experiment we call
democracy. From my work as a community leader I have demonstrated my
commitment to motivating people to get involved in governance- whether by
encouraging people to run for office, working with youth to develop their civic
skills, training young leaders to organize campaigns, or by creating CRUSH- a
social network where people could exchange ideas and develop new projects that
could contribute to our community.
I want my son to know human
beings have the ability to affect extraordinary changes- not only in our own
lives, but also in the lives of others and in society. That when injustices are
exposed, we have the capacity to not only recognize them, but to rectify them
as well. It is for this reason that he and I took a bus down to NY this past
September to participate in the “People’s Climate March” (to protest
overreliance on a fossil fuel economy and support a transition to renewable
energies) and it’s why I marched with him through the streets of downtown
Holyoke last Friday in “From Ferguson to NYC to Holyoke” (to protest the recent
shootings of unarmed black men, women, and youth and support the call for
reforming problematic police practices).
As an elected representative
of the community it was important for me to demonstrate to both the protestors
and the police force that I expected the march to proceed peacefully, so much
so that I was willing to be present at the march with my 14-month old baby
strapped to my back. I joined the group as the moment of silence concluded
outside of the Holyoke Police Department.
Several messages were
chanted as the group made their way through the streets and it has come to my
attention that some people are accusing me of chanting “FTP” (f@$% the police).
I want to make sure that there is no mistake here- I did NOT have any
interactions with police officers that day nor did I chant “FTP” at any point
and I would not ever give my voice to support such a sentiment- I find it to be
degrading and that it doesn’t reach the people who we need to include as we
grow the movement- namely police officers and white, middle-class citizens. It
was also my experience that this particular chant was not sustained by the
group marching for very long- it came up, but died quickly unlike some of the
other chants like “This is what democracy looks like.” Here again is why
participation is so vital- it shapes the movement and the discourse; your voice
can energize those aspects that you’d like to support and the absence of your
voice can also rob less desirable aspects of the lifeblood they need to
continue.
My father and grandfather as
well as my mother’s brother are all retired NYPD. I have a deep appreciation
for the hard work and risks that police officers take on every day in the
field. I also believe that many police practices are in need of reform.
Since the Ferguson issue
first came up I have seen it as an opportunity to explore what we are doing
locally and only recently wrapped up a Public Safety Committee discussion with
Chief Neiswanger about the level of militarization within the Holyoke Police
force. I was very pleased to hear that the HPD had not acquired any military
surplus items and that the Chief’s Community Policing efforts are the
centerpiece of his law enforcement philosophy. To this end, the HPD has made
significant investments in its human (as opposed to weapons) resources with
skills and tactical training, so that our force is better equipped to make
faster, smarter decisions in the field, under pressure and deescalate
potentially violent situations. While I do not believe that any police force
has got it down perfectly, I think that the Chief’s efforts are steering the
Holyoke Police Department in a productive direction that more troubled
departments may wish to emulate.
In closing, I think it’s
important to remember that social movements not monolithic- they are
conglomerations of multiple forces and groups that have different motivations
for coming together to be heard and seen. I’m participating in these movement
protests because I believe that we can successfully address the problematic
police practices that are causing divisions within police forces and
communities across our country. I have full confidence that through more
engaged community dialogue and participation our country will be able to heal
from these wounds.
Sincerely,
Rebecca Lisi
City Councilor at-Large

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