I use my Facebook group as a sounding post for new and crazy ideas, especially around philosophy and politics. The civil rights situation in Ferguson, Missouri has been a frequent topic because while it isn’t in my professional strike zone, I feel that justice is the main reason to study anything in depth. Also, Ferguson is fifteen minutes from my house, offering me a unique vantage point and some skin in the game. I have been bothered by the racism and segregation of my wife’s hometown since I relocated here in 2010, and while I’m not surprised that a crisis has emerged, I am fascinated that it has become a matter of global of importance.
I recently suggested that if Darren Wilson is not indicted, one potential move for the Ferguson movement, as opposed to massive, predictable street protests, might be to come to coffee in the wealthy suburbs every single day as a way to make sure people are not able to simply forget about the Michael Brown affair as something that “those people in North City and North County” have to deal with. A reader challenged me on the efficacy of this as opposed the full protests that the police are expecting. Then I realized that my thoughts are being guided by my professional experiences working out competitive analyses with executives at corporations and governments. This is just like strategic wargames, and both the reader and I were thinking out the next move. This is the soul of wargaming – to really tease out our assumptions about all the “players” of the game and to improve the effectiveness of the decision, all to reach a desired outcome.
So let us elaborate on this strategic wargame. If Ferguson – by which I mean the national and international Justice for Mike Brown movement, not Mayor Knowles – were my client, how would I set up the wargame?
Players in this set of strategic wargames
The way I see it, there are four players:
1. “Ferguson.” Goal: Achieve systemic changes in policing, see accountability and rule of law in the Mike Brown investigation. Resources: Global media attention, capacity for civil disobedience.
2. “St Louis County Police.” Goal: Return to status quo with minimal lawsuits or trouble from US Federal Government. Resources: Legal license to arrest and use deadly force. Authority derived from citizens. Implicit backing of wealthy Powers That Be in West County.
3. “West County Elites.” Goal: Maintain status quo. Resources: Quiet control of existing political structures all over St Louis metro area. Ample finances for whatever initiative.
4. “Federal Government.” Goal: Bring Ferguson situation to resolution without major embarrassment. Resources: Limited ability to remove authority from St Louis institutions. National bully pulpit.
Yes, these players are complex, somewhat amorphous groups of individuals, but for the purpose of forecasting strategic moves, we use these blunt instruments to see what’s next. The analysis will go move-by-move, looking at the actions of each group so far. Then we can speculate about what comes next.
St Louis County Police kills Michael Brown, does not file paperwork, tells officers to make no statements, begins process of jury tainting by releasing video against the command of Federal Government.
Ferguson mobilizes full protests, civil disobedience. Police oppose Ferguson using license to arrest and imprison. Federal Government begins warning Police, sends envoys. Elites are quiet.
Police, along with their ally Prosecutor Bob McCullough, refuse to recuse themselves from Brown case, and begin slow, drawn out Grand Jury process. Someone from their power structure leaks to media, with obvious goal of controlling public opinion. Ferguson maintains presence in the streets and university campuses, brings in national figures like Dr. Cornell West, and attracts global media. Federal Government announces that no civil rights charges will be filed against Ferguson PD. Elites remain silent, though lack of firings of Police officials suggests tacit, if not active support.
That’s the situation on Nov 1, 2014. So let’s play out the game. The future can only be handled in terms of scenarios, so let’s explore one set of possible moves.
Police announce that the Grand Jury refuses to charge Darren Wilson.
Who moves next, with what? Elites would probably call this game over, as their goal of status quo is reached. And Federal Government is no longer motivated to resolve the situation as long as procedures are followed appropriately, since they have no civil rights case. Which leaves us with Ferguson – does it pour into the streets and disrupt even more?
Whatever Ferguson decides in Move 4 will give us the outcome in Move 5. Because if Ferguson goes to violent protests in the city of Ferguson itself, Police already have their next move as “overwhelming force.” Elites will support that fully, and the only counter to that would be Federal Government trying to keep the thing from becoming yet another international incident.
But what if Ferguson makes a choice that nobody sees on the board yet? What if half the town appeals to Canada and asks for political asylum – en masse? What if they decide to hold protests, but only hold them outside of St Louis County, where the police forces have different affiliations? There are probably dozens of tactics that you could use to achieve the goal of social change. My thoughts on “come peacefully to coffee in Ladue” were based on the idea that if you show Elites that the status quo is under threat, they might be more motivated to pressure Police to be conciliatory as a way to get back to their original goal of the status quo.
You could think about this hundreds of different ways – which is the point. As I am sure you would agree, it is impossible to predict the future, but the attempt to understand it better forever changes the player and the game.
If I were Ferguson, I would think hard about the goals, resources, and potential moves of my adversaries and choose unconventional tactics. As a player it is under-resourced and it’s the only player that wants systemic change as its desired outcome; the rest just want it to go away, and have tons of resources to achieve that. So if Ferguson wants to get social change, it’s going to be through surprises, unique angles, timing, and pressure points.
The big game is chess, not checkers.
So what do you think the next move will be?