Revolution #102, September 23, 2007

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On the Ground in Jena

Talking About Freeing the Jena 6 and Revolution Newspaper

More coverage of the fight to free the Jena 6 is available online at

There’s a lot of anticipation here in Jena about what's going to happen on September 20, when people from all around the south and beyond are coming to march and demand “Free the Jena 6.” There's a real desire from people to know what's going on. The media that people are getting here mainly is either negative or “neutral,” people want to find out what's happening in their communities and out in the world. People are hearing different things, and Revolution newspaper feeds this need.

I talked with some people who were out in their yard last weekend in Jena. Everyone was looking forward to the 20th, and feeling it was about time. I got people copies of Revolution, and they pulled together $40 in ones, fives, and a twenty, and they started talking about their plans to distribute the paper. One person said he'd leave some at a gas station, another said a neighborhood. Then, a friend took us around to introduce some of his family to the revolutionary who had come down to Jena.

I stopped in a bar in Jonesville, about twenty miles outside of Jena. People came up and just started buying the copies I had of Revolution, and recommended different places to go to take the paper. Mostly I stopped where people were sitting on their porches. One place people were hanging out, getting their hair done. People said they were planning to come over to Jena and started talking about who's coming on the 20th from around the country. We talked about getting organized here and acting on September 12 and 20. They asked where they could get t-shirts and buttons -- there's not a lot of materials and they really wanted to get them. Then I went over to the church and then over to a hall where a kid’s birthday party was going on. One woman took a stack of papers and started distributing them around the parking lot to people coming in and out. We all started talking about the Jena 6 case and the need to be out on the 12th and 20th.

One person I was talking to wanted to know what Revolution newspaper is about. I read him the three main points in the paper. After he read this and we had some discussion, he got on the phone with a friend of his who is a preacher and said, “You need to get down here, there's someone here who you ought to talk to.” A little later the preacher came down and got some papers. He wanted to know whether or not people were really going to come out on the 20th or if it was all talk. I shared some of what's happening around the country and locally, and he tended to become less and less cynical as we talked.

At one point I went by a friend’s house who we spent Labor Day weekend barbecuing with, and who made a donation for us to produce flyers of the editorial in Revolution calling on people to support the Free the Jena 6 protests on Sept 12 and 20. He took papers to church to get out, and received $75 to pay for them. All told, we got out 180 copies of Revolution this weekend and $180 raised.

Some of the bigger questions about the struggle to Free the Jena 6 came out in the course of all this. One was, what do we do? When people wanted to act I gave them the editorial in Revolution, “All Out! Support National Days of Protest To Free the Jena 6.” People said they wanted to put the “Free the Jena 6,” back page poster up in their windows.

And people are trying to put this together with other things going on. At the bar in Jonesville one person was commenting that the trial for Mychal Bell was unconstitutional. In response, one guy who was from Detroit remembered a Black man being beat with a flashlight and killed by the pigs. He was comparing the Jena 6 story to these kinds of things that happen all over the country. One person really grasped how this situation is not only a reflection of the history of the oppression of Black people but part of something that is still happening today, and he talked about the youth being criminalized and the role that the police play.

Everybody was talking about coming over to Jena on September 20. It’s on the top of everybody's mind. It’s not something that's “simmering beneath the surface” but actually things are boiling. Even the preacher’s sermons are talking about this. One preacher was full of exuberance as he exclaimed, “If you’re sitting down, it’s time for you to stand up!” He demonstrated that by taking a seat in the pews and then rising up. A very broad sentiment is, “It’s about time.” People were saying that not just for Jena but from the standpoint of it’s about time for Black people to stand up, it’s about time for something like this to happen. From there people are coming together to stand up against this whole thing, and with certain exuberance.

There's a gravitation towards Revolution, and a real need for it to be in this area, for people to step forward to become distributors. And potential for people to actually gather up funds. Even though we're in the Bible Belt, people are open to the paper and we need to explore that more. And even on a broader level, what about small town America and Revolution newspaper. We are learning that while we came here on a specific issue there could be something like a group or a team to tour different areas of the country with the paper to set up distribution in areas like this. What we're finding is a tremendous reception to the paper. It has a lot to do with what's going on here, but I also think it has to do with what's going on in the world too.

We are developing relationships with people through uniting to Free the Jena 6. Then people come to us wanting to discuss our views on abortion, on religion. We get into struggle over these things, while at the same time people recognize that we're here to support and build a movement around the Jena 6, talking with them on the ground, learning from them. It’s not like we don't have differences, but people are really getting to know what we stand for and what a communist morality is. People appreciate it. They support the paper. They read the paper, and not just the Jena coverage. When you’re getting the paper to people they start reading it right on the spot. You'll be talking to a couple people and two other people will be off into the articles.

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