Banner
Divergences, Revue libertaire internationale en ligne
Slogan du site
Descriptif du site
Demonstration in Jena, Louisiana. Jena Ignites a Movement.
Jordan FLAHERTY, September 21, 2007
logo imprimer

Six courageous families in the small Louisiana town of Jena sent
out a call for justice that has now been amplified around the world.
Yesterday’s mass protests in Jena were unlike anything I have seen in
my life, a beautiful and enormous outpouring of energy and outrage
that may have the potential to ignite a movement.

The basic facts of the case are by now widely known. In this 85%
white town, where the high school yard was segregated by race, a Black
student asked to sit under a tree that had been reserved for white
students only. The next day, three nooses hung from the tree. The
white students who hung the nooses received only a mnor punishment,
and more importantly, no one in the white power structure of LaSalle
Parish, where Jena is located, seemed to take the nooses seriously as
racial incident. There were no lectures to the students on the
meaning of the nooses, or the legacy of racism, slavery and Jim Crow
in the rural south. Instead, the Parish’s district attorney told
protesting Black students that he could take away their lives, "with a
stroke of my pen." He then proceeded to attempt to do just that,
charging six students with attempted murder after a schoolyard fight
later that year.

In the nine months since their children were charged with
attempted murder, the family members of the Jena Six organized
meetings, hosted rallies, sent out press releases and letters and made
phone calls – whatever they could think of. They were determined to
not let this stand. For months, they stood nearly alone, accompanied
by solidarity visits from activists from nearby towns and cities in
Louisiana and Texas. Many of their friends and neighbors were afraid
to speak out, and some reported having their jobs threatened. One
white couple who spoke out said they felt pressured to leave town.
But, in the face of what seemed like overwhelming obstacles, and with
no organizing experience or friends in high places, the people of Jena
continued to struggle. After months of silence from the media and
from mainstream civil rights organizations, the first media stories
began appearing, which were widely forwarded by mail, and amplified by
homemade videos. After Mychal Bell’s conviction at the end of June,
and stories on Democracy Now and in the Final Call newspaper, support
started growing exponentially, with hundreds of letters bringing tens
of thousands of dollars in donations. By September, it became a
movement that even the corporate media could not ignore.

At 5:00am, the buses were already arriving. A full bus from
Chicago emptied out, some people brushing their teeth as they stepped
into the slightly cold pre-dawn air. They seemed exhausted, but also
charged and energized. Next came buses from Baton Rouge, Los Angeles
and Philadelphia. By 7:00am, reports were coming in that hundreds of
buses were lined up outside of town, some having been briefly
prevented by State police from entering. Meanwhile, hundreds of
people, from cars and buses and motorcycles, were pouring into Jena,
while many thousands more were gathering in the streets outside the
Jena courthouse. As simultaneous rallies began in the two locations,
thousands of more people streamed into the city. By 9:00am, there
were, by some estimates, up to 50,000 people in this town of 2,500.
Almost every business in town was shut down, many roads were closed by
police checkpoints, and a sea of protest filled the city for miles.

This demonstration was not initiated by any one national
organization, and there was little coordination between some of the
major organizations involved. The initial call came from the families
themselves, and most people had heard about the demonstration through
local Black radio stations, especially on syndicated shows like the
Michael Baisden and Steve Harvey shows, as well as through blogs and
youtube (one activist-made youtube video, recommended by Baisden, has
already been seen well over a million times) as well as on social
networking sites like myspace. As Howard Witt has pointed out in the
Chicago Tribune, "Jackson, Sharpton and other big-name civil rights
figures, far from leading this movement, have had to scramble to catch
up. So, too, has the national media, which has only recently noticed a
story that has been agitating many black Americans for months."

This decentralization was beautiful, although sometimes chaotic.
As thousands gathered at the rally at the ball field, which was
sponsored by the NAACP, thousands more demonstrators marched from the
courthouse to the Jena High School, and tens of thousands continued to
arrive and fill the streets around downtown Jena. Because this
movement was without central leadership, there were many agendas, and
also some confusion, as people were unsure when the march began, or if
there was a march, and also unsure about parallel events, such as an
afternoon hiphop concert at the ball field, which was mostly attended
by people from the local community. People seemed unconcerned about
the lack of clarity, however, and marched on their own schedule, which
led to a more democratic feel to the day, unlike the more controlled,
and sometimes disempowering, marches that some mainstream groups have
organized in the past.

The t-shirts on display reflected the lack of central control –
every community had made their own t-shirt, literally hundreds of
variations on the theme of Free The Jena Six, many personalized to
reflect their school or community. Hours of speakers delivered
messages of solidarity and calls to action, from Al Sharpton and Jesse
Jackson to performers such as Mos Def and Sunni Patterson, while the
enormous crowds marched and chanted, and also simply basked in a truly
historic outpouring of activism. Participants varied from children
and teens at their first demonstration to civil rights movement
veterans. Many people who had never before been to a demonstration
ended up organizing a delegation or booking a bus for this journey.

While the vast majority of the white community of Jena chose to
stay either indoors or out of town, hundreds of Black Jena residents
proudly displayed their "Free The Jena Six" shirts, and continued to
gather in the ball field hours after most out of town visitors had
left. White activists from across the US also largely stayed away
from this historic event – perhaps 1 to 3 percent of the crowd was
white, in what amounts to a disturbing silence from the white left and
liberals. This silence indicates that the US Left is divided by race
in many of the same ways this country is.

Yesterday’s march, however, was not about division. It was a
generational moment – the kind of watershed event that could signal a
turning point in our movements. But what does the gigantic crowd in
Jena mean? For some supporters, it felt like a fulfillment of those
months that the families stood alone – a moment where the world stood
with them, and the power structure backed down. In the last week
Mychal Bell’s convictions have been overturned, and most of the other
students saw their charges lessened. Yesterday was also a moment for
grassroots independent media, who built this story, and kept it alive
until the 24 hour news channels could no longer ignore it. It was a
moment for historically black colleges and universities to shine -
Student activists organized bus convoys – five or more buses arrived
from many southern schools - which were quickly filled by a broad
range of students.

Yesterday was a moment for the unaffiliated left, for people
everywhere concerned about a criminal justice system that has locked
up two million and keeps growing. It was a moment for those concerned
about school systems in the US, and especially the policing of our
schools, what activists have called the School to Prison Pipeline. It
was a moment for those that feel that the US has still not dealt with
our history of slavery and Jim Crow, and our present realities of
white supremacy. Perhaps that is where the power in yesterday’s
demonstration lies; if this undirected and uncontrolled outrage can be
directed towards real societal change, if outrages like Jena can
finally bring about the conversation on race in this country that we
were promised after Katrina, if this united movement to support these
six kids can show that we can unite for justice and win, then Jena
will truly have been a victory.

As writer Andre Banks <http://writewhatilike.typepad.com/> asked
yesterday, "What would happen if every person who wore a t-shirt today
or handed out a flyer or wrote a blog post woke up tomorrow and looked
for the Mychal Bell in their own backyard? He, or she, won’t be hard
to find. What if our outrage, today directed at the small Louisiana
town of Jena, extended to parallel injustices in Detroit or Cincinnati
or Sacramento or Miami? What if we viewed this mobilization not as
the end of a successful, innovative campaign, but as the moment that
catalyzes us into broader and deeper action in every place where we
are?" If this happens, we can say that it all began with six families
in Jena, Louisiana, who refused to stay silent.

Jordan Flaherty

ordan Flaherty is an editor of Left Turn Magazine , a journal of grassroots resistance. His
May 9, 2007 article from Jena was one of the first to bring the case
to a national audience. His previous articles from Jena are online
at http://www.leftturn.org
. To contact Jordan,

- email.

- On myspace.

P.S. :

Resources:

New York Collective of Radical Educators (NYCoRE) and Network of
Teacher Activist Groups (TAG) have developed: Revealing Racist Roots:
The 3 R’s for Teaching About the Jena 6, a curriculum guide for
teachers to address what’s happening in Jena. Download the resource
guide in PDF Version or Word Version for free at: www.nycore.org
OR www.t4sj.org .




Site created with SPIP
with the template ESCAL-V3
Version: 3.87.47