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 8:37 AM EDT, Tue October 28, 2014
Errol Louis says forced to choose between narrow political advantage and the public good, the governors showed they are willing to take the easy way out over Ebola.
updated 2:03 PM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Eric Liu says with our family and friends and neighbors, each one of us must decide what kind of civilization we expect in the United States. It's our responsibility to set tone and standards, with our laws and norms
updated 7:45 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Sally Kohn says the UNC report highlights how some colleges exploit student athletes while offering little in return
updated 3:04 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Terrorists don't represent Islam, but Muslims must step up efforts to counter some of the bigotry within the world of Islam, says Fareed Zakaria
updated 9:02 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Scott Yates says extending Daylight Saving Time could save energy, reduce heart attacks and get you more sleep
updated 8:32 PM EDT, Sun October 26, 2014
Reza Aslan says the interplay between beliefs and actions is a lot more complicated than critics of Islam portray
updated 7:19 AM EDT, Mon October 27, 2014
Julian Zelizer says control of the Senate will be decided by a few close contests
updated 8:12 AM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The response of some U.S. institutions that should know better to Ebola has been anything but inspiring, writes Idris Ayodeji Bello.
updated 5:01 PM EDT, Wed October 22, 2014
Paul Callan says the grand jury is the right process to use to decide if charges should be brought against the police officer
updated 12:19 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Theresa Brown says the Ebola crisis brought nurses into the national conversation on health care. They need to stay there.
updated 6:35 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Patrick Hornbeck says don't buy the hype: The arguments the Vatican used in its interim report would have virtually guaranteed that same-sex couples remained second class citizens
updated 12:30 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Swedes will find sitting on the fence to be increasingly uncomfortable with Putin as next door neighbor, writes Gary Schmitt
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
The Ottawa shooting pre-empted Malala's appearances in Canada, but her message to young people needs to be spread, writes Frida Ghitis
updated 9:48 PM EDT, Sat October 25, 2014
Paul Begala says Iowa's U.S. Senate candidate, Joni Ernst, told NRA she has right to use gun to defend herself--even from the government. But shooting at officials is not what the Founders had in mind
updated 6:08 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
John Sutter: Why are we so surprised the head of a major international corporation learned another language?
updated 5:54 PM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Jason Johnson says Ferguson isn't a downtrodden community rising up against the white oppressor, but it is looking for justice
updated 12:21 PM EDT, Fri October 24, 2014
Sally Kohn says a video of little girls dressed as princesses using the F-word very loudly to condemn sexism is provocative. But is it exploitative?
updated 4:06 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Timothy Stanley says Lewinsky is shamelessly playing the victim in her affair with Bill Clinton, humiliating Hillary Clinton again and aiding her critics
updated 10:14 AM EDT, Thu October 23, 2014
Imagine being rescued from modern slavery, only to be charged with a crime, writes John Sutter
updated 12:00 PM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Tidal flooding used to be a relatively rare occurrence along the East Coast. Not anymore, write Melanie Fitzpatrick and Erika Spanger-Siegfried.
updated 7:35 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Carol Costello says activists, writers, politicians have begun discussing their abortions. But will that new approach make a difference on an old battleground?
updated 9:12 AM EDT, Tue October 21, 2014
Sigrid Fry-Revere says the National Organ Transplant Act has caused more Americans to die waiting for an organ than died in both World Wars, Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT