Derek Van Voast, who has visited the county this week to help organize local protests and to speak with local officials, is said to be the chosen successor of a national civil rights icon, the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr.
It’s easy to see why Jackson would make such a choice.
Voast, 42, has this week proven to be skilled at motivating and energizing people, has used effective and even clever tactics, and has urged people to remain peaceful in their protests.
He has met with local residents, learned of past beatings and deaths in the county jail, and after those discussions, now calls Sheriff Kevin Clardy a “thug behind a badge.”
With Voast now saying he will file a multi-million-dollar lawsuit against the county within the next few days unless things change, and with his suggesting the possibility of thousands of protesters coming to the county, some officials are concerned that his future actions could be costly to the city and county.
His critics might consider him a rabble-rouser, but there is no questioning his effectiveness at community organizing.
His oratory is also powerful, and in the tradition of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. it’s punctuated with both religion and calls to action.
On Tuesday, he moved seamlessly from a short history lesson on lynchings while holding up a noose, a symbol of hate, to then grabbing the symbol of a great nation, the U.S. flag, which he said some people criticize but he loves.
Voast then embraced the lofty ideals of the Revolutionary War and the U.S. Constitution, and added that he wishes local leaders who have not practiced them would also embrace those ideals.
For that portion of his remarks, he could just as easily been speaking to a group of veterans rather than a group of protesters with hand-written signs.
A person standing close by on Tuesday would have heard him, aloud, analyzing the actions of his adversaries and then seen him react with his own quick action in response.
After commissioners and the jail trust had met behind closed doors for an hour, Voast looked at his watch, said, “That’s long enough,” and then added, “they’re trying to control the narrative.”
Suddenly he changed that.
He reached up to the high windows outside the commissioners’ office, removed a protest sign there and began banging on them, repeatedly.
The tactic appeared to be effective, because soon the front door was unlocked and those in the building invited in those outside for the conclusion of the meeting.
Even the music playing outside while county officials were deliberating inside was well-planned and kept the crowd’s interest.
Some songs had people breaking into dance, others had them singing along with the words.
Then came this: Blues singer Billie Holiday in 1939 performing “Strange Fruit.”
The lyrics compare fruit hanging on trees to the lynching of Black Americans. The song has been called “the beginning of the civil rights movement.”
Is Voast really able to mobilize thousands of people to march?
Officials say yes. Not only can he do it; he has done it before in other areas.