#SelectiveHistory: Missouri museum censors Ferguson-Ayotzinapa solidarity event

Earlier this month, the Missouri History Museum in St. Louis canceled a discussion on solidarity in social movements after its organizers refused to kick a Palestinian woman off of the panel of Black and Latino activists. 

The discussion, titled “From Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine: Solidarity and Collaborative Action,” was planned by Washington University student group AltaVoz to share parallels between social justice movements against state violence in the United States, Mexico, and Palestine. Bringing together St. Louis activists from the Organization for the Black Struggle, Latinos en Axion STL, the Interfaith Committee on Latin America and the St. Louis Palestine Solidarity Committee, the event was supposed to kick off a week of Ayotzinapa solidarity actions, including a vigil and potluck with visiting mothers of the missing Mexican students on Canfield Drive, where Mike Brown was shot dead last August.

Two days before the scheduled discussion, however, AltaVoz organizer Sourik Beltran received an ultimatum: kick Palestinians out of the group, or find a new location for the event. Participating organizations refused to censor the event, condemning “this silencing of part of our community and this brazen attempt to divide communities of color–instead of talking about solidarity, we find ourselves actualizing solidarity by rejecting the Missouri History Museum’s demands.” Last week, emails obtained through a Sunshine request under the Freedom of Information Act revealed that it was two national organizations, the Jewish Community Relations Council and the Anti-Defamation League, that pressured the museum to cancel the event.

All of this goes to show four important things:

1) Our public institutions are comfortable lying to us. Blatantly.  

While communicating privately with the JCRC, the Museum’s Managing Director told AltaVoz students and organizers that she was canceling the event because “she didn’t know Palestine had been added to the agenda” even though it was her office that approved and promoted the “Ferguson to Ayotzinapa to Palestine” fliers on February 23. When the community pointed out the discrepancy, the Museum issued a vague public statement claiming that the cancellation was because they believed that “the complexities of this issue could not be adequately addressed in this format.”

2) The process of history being selectively crafted by people in power is happening in front of us.

As Lations en Axion activist Jessie Sandoval describes, this is the “bone-chilling reality check” that public and private institutions in this country are also actively trying “moderate, curate, or censor our voices, our self determination, our intellectual inquiry; and especially, our community’s effort to reach out, in Solidarity, across cultures, continents, religion & faith.” Sandoval continues: “The Missouri History Museum is a publicly funded research institution. It’s not their job to be a gatekeeper. They’re a platform, they’re a resource, but it’s not up to them to decide what gets discussed and how it gets discussed [...] This is great example of how the white racist state comes down hard every time they see communities of color come together just to talk.”

3) On the flip side, this is an encouraging reminder that solidarity challenges the status quo. Divide and conquer not working anymore must be scaring the heebie jeebies out of ‘em.

Sandoval again beautifully writes: “As a daughter of Nicaraguan immigrants, I’m no stranger to the trauma and consequence of colonization, the brutality of foreign military tyranny and occupation. As a Brown skinned woman living in this country, I’m all too familiar with the deep injuries and scars suffered by our neighborhoods, as a result of institutional racism, and the daily fatalities of our youth, at the hands of police state violence. I first came to Ferguson in August, for Mike Brown. I’m here today, at the Missouri History museum to stand in complete solidarity with our Palestinian brothers & sisters, who are currently struggling for peace and freedom here, in St, Louis, in this country, and abroad…’Trataron de enterarnos, pero no sabían que éramos semillas’ is a Mexican proverb that translates to, ‘they tried to bury us, but they didn’t know we were seeds.’ We take this image of the seed…as a metaphor of resistance and resiliency…We will not be silenced. We cannot be stopped. We are United. And together, we are not going anywhere.”

4) St. Louis has a dope community of patient, persistent, and powerful female activists.

Watch Sandra Tamari, the panelist who would have spoken on Palestine, address a teach-in on the Museum’s steps:

 Header Image Credit: Jessie Sandoval’s Facebook

Mahroh is a community organizer and law student who believes in building a world where black and brown women and our communities are able to live free of violence. Prior to law school, Mahroh was the Executive Director of Know Your IX, a national survivor- and youth-led organization empowering students to end gender violence and a junior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Her research addresses the ways militarization, racism, and sexual violence impact communities of color transnationally.

Mahroh is currently at Harvard Law School, organizing against state and gender-based violence.

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