How long does it take to plan a successful protest? For SUNY New Paltz’s Black Student Union (BSU), about 40 minutes. Two hours after a grand jury verdict was announced that there was not enough probable cause to indict police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of Michael Brown, BSU president Rookie Reynoso posted on Facebook: “Spontaneous rally in front of New Paltz UPD…Midnight… Behind Deyo Hall at the [University Police Department] UPD station.” The post went viral among students and the student Senate, and BSU members realized they needed a plan. Former BSU president Manny Tejada organized a quick meeting in the Student Association office. “We wanted to be organized,” said Tejada. “Simply put. So we decided to meet at a central location in the Student Union and divide up roles to maintain organization, safety and ultimately to hold each other accountable and have everyone’s back.”
After the office filled with students, club members from Students Against Mass Incarceration told everyone their rights in the event protesters were confronted by the police. Jobs were assigned, and the organizers determined who there would be willing to get arrested. Students were designated “legal observers,” who would collect the names of those arrested and get them in touch with a lawyer provided by the school. “We wanted to be organized, we didn’t want the event to be scattered,” said Reynoso.
Approximately 300 students participated in the protest. “The turnout was surprising,” Tejada said. “I originally only expected 40-60 people, but then I saw faces I didn’t expect, and it just spread like wildfire — through social media, word of mouth — just amazing.”
The march began behind the UPD station, went around campus before it stopped briefly at the Student Union Building, then traveled to the courthouse and finished at the Old Main quad. Organizers kept the event grounded and well intentioned by pausing for 45 seconds of silence at each location in remembrance of Michael Brown and in consideration of the events at Ferguson.
“We have plans for the future, this will not die out,” said Tejada. “This is part of a larger and broader issue facing our society, and we have to confront it by educating, agitating and organizing.”