Stacy Shaw Defines the Movement: 15 Lessons from 15 Weeks of KC Protests

Brynn Laurel - Associate Writer

Stacy Shaw at a protest in the Waldo neighborhood. Kansas City, Missouri

Photo by Andrei Stoica

Stacy Shaw Defines the Movement: 15 Lessons from 15 Weeks of KC Protests

9/9/2020- Kansas City, Missouri

By Brynn Laurel

On May 28, protests in response to the murder of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, and others began in Kansas City. At the time, Attorney Stacy Shaw said she wasn’t planning to attend all the actions. Since her office was offering pro bono representation to arrested protestors, she needed to not risk arrest.

That changed for her on May 31, when she stepped between a protestor and the officer macing them for yelling. Stacy was maced down her back and in her hair—and said that moment changed her. In the following weeks, she went from not only being the lawyer doing education and representation for protestors but also being one of the key leaders and voices of the Black Lives Matter movement in Kansas City. Her voice and presence sets the tone for many of the protests and other actions around the Kansas City metro, and, looking at her speeches gives us a clear sense not just of her own journey into being an activist, but also of the emergence of the movement during this summer of protests.

Fifteen weeks in, anyone who has heard Stacy speak can tell you the movement is far from slowing down. As we head into fall, then, here are some of the ideas that have defined what the movement for Black lives has looked like in Kansas City so far, what it looks like now, and where it’s headed—in the words of one of its most respected leaders.

1. Today we march; tomorrow we vote.

Showing up to vote and showing up to protests are two parts of the same effort. While Stacy and other organizers have been clear that the ballot box won’t fix everything, voting--like protest--is an important part of advocacy.

“We need to occupy some polls, but we also need to show up in the street.” Stacy said.

2. State violence—in any form—will not be tolerated.

Although protestors have been framed as "radicals," Stacy has argued repeatedly that a demand to end racialized violence in all its forms, beginning with the police, is the only rational approach to a system riddled with systemic racism. You wouldn't treat gangrene with a band-aid and some peroxide, she says. Why would we assume surface-level treatment would work for something as cancerous as white supremacy?

"We are not asking for radicalism. We are not asking for extremism. We are asking for the only reasonable thing that can heal this city," she said. "We are demanding change—not incrementally, not empty promises, not duplicitous words, not pandering.”

3. The revolution is for everyone.

From the start, Stacy has made her call to action clear: it needs everyone advocating on every front, all the time. Or, to quote another leader in Black liberation, Angela Davis famously said, "You have to act as if it were possible to radically transform the world. And you have to do it all the time."

Stacy framed it this way: “Every person in this resistance is called to be bold...If you are standing up if you are putting it all on the line, you are an activist, and we need you to be bold in your activism. Not just in the streets—we need you to be bold at your job. We need you to be bold at your kitchen table. We need you to be bold at the barber shop. We need you to go on social media. We need warriors.”

4. Protestors are focused and disciplined.

Stacy has made clear that this movement is here to stay and that everyone is invited to join in its work--on its terms. She has repeatedly spoken of the need for focus and discipline rooted in love for each other--an orientation that stands in stark contrast to both KCPD's culture of violence and broader media accusations calling protestors "terrorists."

“What the media, what the police, what our elected officials are trying to tell Kansas City is that we are dangerous, but this is my 23rd protest, and at no protests have I ever seen a protester strike another person," she said. "At no protests have I ever seen a protester be violent. When they talk about violence, how are they talking about spray paint? When they are talking about violence, how are they talking about a broken window that was later replaced? When they talk about violence, how come they're not talking about the police that have mace, or the police that have abused us, the police that have tried to silence us, the police that have gassed us and maced us?”

5. Protestors will not stop until all reasonable demands are met.

For Stacy, the job of elected leaders and government employees is to serve the people, because power ultimately rests with the people. The people who vote officials into office and pay their salaries, then, have a right to make demands--and that's exactly what protestors intend to do, no matter how long it takes elected leaders to listen.

“No exchange of power in this country has ever come easily. People marched in the streets and were hosed and were bitten by dogs and were gassed. They've been doing that since the 60’, but this is different, because we're not just asking for civil rights. We are asking for the system of racism that makes up the fabric of America to be dismantled," she said. "And I don't care how many requests. I don't care how many marches. I don't care how many emails or phone calls it's going to take. All of our demands are going to be met before we stop.”

6. The movement is a higher calling.

"When we are called to change destiny, that task is bigger than our fears. It's bigger than our insecurities. It's bigger than our imperfect past. It's bigger than our mistakes. And it's bigger than anything that we have been called to do before today," she said, adding in a later speech that: "This is a movement born out of love. This is a movement by the people, for the people, and no matter who is on this megaphone, each and every single one of you that is here, that is watching on live, that may be watching on the news, you, personally, are the revolution that we have been waiting for.”

7. This work has a cost.

From losing friendships to losing jobs, from being out in the KC summer to risking tear gas and arrest, Stacy doesn't downplay the cost of participating in the movement--she just contends that it's worth it.

“There has to be something that is so important to you that it is worth putting it all on the line," she said.

8. Revolution means radical change.

Many marches in Kansas City include chants such as “You can’t stop the revolution” and “I am a revolutionary,” but Stacy said that people often misunderstand what she means when she says “revolution.”

“A revolution is not just overthrowing the government,” she said. “A revolution by definition is the radical change of an existing social paradigm. And the existing social paradigm is systemic racism and injustice. And when people call us a radical, when people say that we’re asking for too much, remember all of our demands for equality, for the end of systemic racism, are reasonable," she said.

9. Freedom for all means for all.

Whether she’s addressing “all lives matter” or explaining the end goal of on-going protests that show no signs of stopping, Stacy’s message is clear: “the liberation of Black people is central to the liberation of all people.”

“We are in a war for Black liberation,” she said. “Many people don’t realize that Black liberation is central to the liberation of all people," she said in one speech, and in another, “What we're doing today is going to change the destiny of America."

That is, the protests are demanding that America finally live up to its promise of “liberty and justice for all.”

10. “Black lives matter” means more than survival.

The transformative aims of the movement mean the goals are more than stopping police violence; they're about reinvesting in Black communities, Black lives, and Black futures.

“When we're talking about Black lives matter, we want Black lives to matter," Stacy explained. "We want our children to grow up to be doctors and lawyers and engineers and activists and their life truly mattering. And it's not going to come just because police stop murdering us. Our lives are going to be self-actualized. Our lives are going to matter because we have access to quality education, because we have access to equitable development and safe homes in our communities. We are not just talking about safe communities in Lee's Summit, in Leawood, in Overland Park. We want safe communities right here in the middle of Kansas City.”

11. Love is stronger than the hate it is resisting.

"They call us terrorists, but they don't see the love,” Stacy said to a group of protestors in Westport. “They don't see that you will do things for love that you could never do out of fear, that you could never do out of hate. We are in these streets because we love our brothers and sisters. And the revolution built on love can never be broken," she said.

"There is a better world on the other side of fear and hate,” she said.

12. People matter more than property.

Amid accusations that she is a terrorist, protestors are terrorists, or she is inciting violence, Stacy's message has been clear: not only are those accusations false, they also completely miss her priorities.

The conversation she is furthering is that Black lives matter--and the conversation should be centered on irreplaceable human lives, not replaceable property or temporary social discomfort.

“I have never seen a protester act with aggression toward another person, and when we talk about spray-painting, we are talking about the worship of idols, because police and the mayor and the city council—they care more about a statue, they care more about a window than the flesh and blood right here," she said.

13. The movement is committed to radical love.

Stacy envisions a Kansas City built on loving and supporting everyone in Kansas City--not just some people. Doing that will take a multifaceted approach, she explained: investment in Black communities, in healthcare, in education, and in the justice system. That process will be long and difficult, but loving those around us should be worth it.

“The first commandment says that you shall have no gods before me…Jesus gave the second greatest commandment: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself,’” Stacy explained. “And so any politician, any media outlet, any federal agent, any police officer, any city or federal employee that says that we're terrorists because of some spray paint needs to read the damn Bible.”

"The revolution is built on love that leaves no one behind," she said.

14. This movement will accept nothing less than the end of systemic racism.

Although the Black Lives Matter movement in Kansas City stands on the shoulders of decades of civil rights leaders, Stacy said there’s an important difference in the push happening now.

"This movement is different, because it's a revolution,” she said. “We're not asking for a few rights; we're asking for the complete dismantling of systemic racism in America, and it's going to take your voice. It’s going to take your advocacy to make that happen.”

15. Resistance is more than protest.

“People think that a political hit requires bullets,” Stacy said. “All they require is signatures on a petition.”

“Oppression is like a body: it has many parts,” she explained. “And resistance will also have to have many parts...How are you resisting? How are you resisting at work? How are you resisting with your family members?”

“We need people resisting in every way possible,” she said.

Just Getting Started

Although these are some of the lessons from the movement for Black lives in Kansas City so far, recent events such as the March on Kansas City on September 4th make clear that the movement is just beginning.

For everyone wondering when Black Lives Matter will stop making demands and disrupting life in the Kansas City metro in their fight to be heard, Stacy had this message:

“We will never stop. It doesn't matter how many times you arrest us. It doesn't matter how many 24-hour holds we've got to sit through. You are going to give up before we give up.”