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 12:26 PM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT