Skip to main content

Best way to respond to Trayvon Martin verdict? Vote

By Cornell Belcher, CNN Contributor
updated 11:25 AM EDT, Wed July 17, 2013
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Cornell Belcher: What would civil rights pioneers have done about verdict?
  • He says protests are fine but a smart strategy would focus on organizing
  • Belcher says voters should rally around Trayvon case, hold politicians accountable
  • He says voters must push politicians to favor gun control, anti-profiling legislation

Editor's note: Cornell Belcher, a CNN contributor, was the Democratic National Committee's pollster under Chairman Howard Dean in 2005 and worked on the 2008 and 2012 Obama campaigns. Follow him on Twitter: @cornellbelcher

(CNN) -- I was in Florida this week, not for the vigils and protest at the Sanford courthouse, but as a guest of an organization that changed this country's political, cultural and moral trajectory through its protest and more importantly through its organizing before I was even born.

As I sat on a panel on civic engagement at the NAACP convention in Orlando, looking out at the crowd of still passionate, but aging warriors of grassroots organizing who fought injustice, I couldn't help but think in the face of this tragedy fanning a deep hunger for action -- what would Fannie Lou Hamer do? What would Baynard Rustin do? What would Cesar Chavez do?

What would some of the organizing pioneers of the movements that changed our country do in the face of such injustice and subsequent unrest growing out of this irreconcilable moral incongruity?

Cornell Belcher
Cornell Belcher

The acquittal of George Zimmerman is triggering a truly grassroots hunger for action to help heal the hurt the community feels. There needs to be a modicum of moral satisfaction to help heal the divide. And yes moral, because while pundits can argue all day about the legal correctness of the verdict, one has to submit that letting an armed grown man off scot-free after he stalked and killed a teenager who was doing nothing more than walking home with candy does not sit well in the court of moral opinion.

There being no consequence for killing an unarmed child who wasn't bothering anyone has to be in conflict with our nation's moral compass or we have to admit that our moral compass is at best broken and at worst a convenient lie. This moral distress needs a positive outlet.

So what is the community to do now? (I initially wrote "What is the progressive community to do now?" But I quickly checked myself because, frankly, the so-called mainstream progressive political organizations that always, always have something to say around gender issues or immigration or marriage equality issues have been deafeningly silent up to this point on the issue of the Zimmerman verdict.)

The community (and define community as a coalition of the willing, not simply by race) now must take a page from the NAACP organizer's handbook and give this dissatisfaction an avenue toward a positive reaffirming conclusion in the absence of justice from the courts.

And frankly, I don't think there is a court solution now that will make Zimmerman do time for the murder. My fear is that the current round of protest and vigils will go the way of Occupy Wall Street which in the end, I'm sorry, was a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing in a political, economic or even a cultural sense.

No one in the halls of Congress or Wall Street today fears or is inspired to action because of those protests. And that's a shame, but as is often typical of movements on the left that tend to resemble cat herding, nothing happens much beyond speeches -- as opposed to recent movements on the right such as the tea party uprising. They organized into something that for better or worse has defined much of the policy debate for the last couple of years in this country.

Anderson Cooper discusses Juror B37

What must we do now? Organize! Organize the hurt and frustration into a set of actions that will have policy ramifications and drive the political debate in this country.

So yes protest, but at those protests hand out registration forms and targeted street maps for registration drives in those areas where the protests are being held. Split the marchers up into groups, hand out hoodies and have them fan out across the communities in hoodie registration drives.

Borrow from Howard Dean's 50-State Strategy and organize neighbor to neighbor canvassing programs where people inside the community are engaging the people they live beside in those communities in a conversation about why this matters.

Don't allow politicians who need the votes of our community to avoid addressing laws that will make this sort of profiling and murder more difficult in the future.

Hold those politicians accountable at the federal level, but more importantly at the state level where most of these laws are written. And if need be, yes, organize primary challenges to state senators and city councilmen who don't seem to get it.

Define an agenda that starts with gun control and anti-profiling legislation and challenge politicians to sign on or get primaried. By the way, you will be surprised by how few votes you need to win most state senate races.

In politics we love to simplify complex political narratives with tags like "Soccer Moms" or "Nascar Dads" that defines an election cycle -- Let's bring organizing power to our protest so that 2014 is defined by the Trayvon voter!

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion

Join us on Facebook/CNNOpinion

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Cornell Belcher.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:46 AM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 1:43 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Simon Tisdall: Has John Kerry's recent track record left Russia's wily leader ever more convinced of U.S. weakness?
updated 12:40 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Mel Robbins says Nate Scimio deserves credit for acting bravely in a frightening attack and shouldn't be criticized for posting a selfie afterward
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
updated 9:45 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Dr. Mary Mulcahy says doctors who tell their patients the truth risk getting bad ratings from them
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Peggy Drexler says the married Rep. McAllister, caught on video making out with a staffer, won't get a pass from voters who elected him as a Christian conservative with family values
updated 7:43 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
David Frum says the president has failed to react strongly to crises in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and Venezuela, encouraging others to act out
updated 4:57 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Eric Liu says Paul Ryan gets it very wrong: The U.S.'s problem is not a culture of poverty, it is a culture of wealth that is destroying the American value linking work and reward
updated 7:51 AM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Frida Ghitis writes: "We are still seeing the world mostly through men's eyes. We are still hearing it explained to us mostly by men."
updated 10:08 AM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Chester Wisniewski says the Heartbleed bug shows how we're all tangled together, relying on each other for Internet security
updated 3:26 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Danny Cevallos says an Ohio school that suspended a little kid for pointing his finger at another kid and pretending to shoot shows the growth in "zero tolerance" policies at school run amok
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT