Brian Fletcher decided not to run for reelection as mayor of Ferguson, Mo., in 2010. "I needed a little break," he told The Fix by phone, after 28 years as a member of the school board and the city council, after uncountable evening meetings after full days at work.
He has a new campaign. "I find myself now busier than when I was the mayor," he said, thanks to "I love Ferguson," the effort he helped organize and now leads. Old political hands will recognize it as a campaign campaign, complete with T-shirts and a "Friends of" umbrella organization and fundraising and, of course, lawn signs.
This is what caught our eye, actually. What grass-roots group has political lawn signs, complete with a union bug? One run by a former elected official, naturally.
He got the idea last week. "In our community -- I don't know about your city, but people have yard signs that say 'Jesus.' What can I do," he wondered aloud when we reached him by phone, "so that you can't walk one inch without seeing an 'I Love Ferg' yard sign?" With that level of saturation, he figured, "the media has to cover it."
To cover what? That the Ferguson you see on TV isn't the real Ferguson. "A city that supposed to be poverty-stricken, fights in the streets, cops shooting people every day: That's the image that's being depicted across the world," Fletcher said. "We're not going to let people from the outside paint a picture of the Ferguson that we've loved for 120 years that is inaccurate." Ferguson is "progressive," he said, with a new fire department and the city's first community center set to open later this year.
The current unrest is "a tragedy that no citizen of Ferguson caused," Fletcher added. (Darren Wilson, the officer who shot teenager Michael Brown, owns a house in the St. Louis suburb of Crestwood.) Nearly all of the protesters and looters bringing attention to the city, Fletcher claimed, are from outside of it. (Though most who have been arrested are from the St. Louis area, according to The Washington Post's analysis.)
To get the campaign started, Fletcher reached out to the leaders of local neighborhood groups -- half of whom, he pointed out, are black -- and looped in the Chamber of Commerce and the president of the school board and some others. He has made a local coffee shop his campaign headquarters, and has a Facebook page up while a volunteer makes a Web site. They've raised $13,000 so far for a newly established nonprofit, he said, including a large $4,000 contribution from a local resident. But money (and requests for T-shirts and other gear) has come in from across the country.
Asked for an example of one of those donations, Fletcher reached for a nearby envelope. "I have a check here from California," he said. "Let's see where it's from." Rustling sounds. "A city I've never heard of -- a city called Half Moon Bay, California?" Half Moon Bay is about 2,000 miles away, just south of San Francisco. Fletcher didn't indicate how much the check was for.
— Lisa Brown (@LisaBrownSTL) August 20, 2014
The group has printed about 4,000 of those lawn signs and has given out 3,000 of them. "We'll continue to print yard signs and T-shirts away until nobody wants them anymore," Fletcher said. If there's leftover money at the end, it will go to another nonprofit, Rebuild North County, aimed at repairing businesses damaged in the looting.
How would he know when he was done? That the campaign had worked? "Here's the real sign if we succeed or not," he offered. "If that Quik Trip is rebuilt in that neighborhood, then you'll know we survived."
It wasn't a long conversation. Fletcher, whose voice was a bit hoarse, had lots of interviews lined up. Campaigning is exhausting work.