Revolution Online: September 23, 2007
Sept. 20: Protests Around the Country in Support of the Jena 6
As tens of thousands converged on Jena on September 20, there were also protests in many cities and campuses across the U.S. Some were organized at the last minute, and word was spread largely through the Internet and radio stations.
In Brooklyn, New York, nearly 500 people, almost all wearing black, rallied at Borough Hall. Speakers included writer and activist Kevin Powell and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz. There was also a rally of about 200 on the City Hall steps in Manhattan. Chicago saw several protests for the Jena 6, including 300 students at Chicago State University on the city's south side. In Trenton, New Jersey, 250 people marched down the Lower Trenton Bridge. The mayor, Douglas H. Palmer, said in a statement, “The small town of Jena has been thrust into the national spotlight reminding the entire world of the deplorable days when African Americans had limited civil rights and were subjected to random acts of violence without provocation.” In Baltimore, Maryland, more than 2,500 people of all ages packed the New Shiloh Baptist Church. In Cleveland, 600 marched from an inner-city high school, through downtown, to Cleveland State University where there was a panel discussion organized by the Black Studies program.
There were news reports of protest in many other cities in all parts of the country. (See below for reports from Revolution correspondents in Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area.)
Of note was the active role of students on this day. A thousand students walked out of Locke High School in Watts in Los Angeles. Over a thousand rallied at UC Berkeley. At Temple University in Philadelphia, the Black Student Union organized two days of protests. 400 students marched at Hampton University in Virginia, and two-thirds of the student body wore black. In DeKalb, Illinois, 400 students attended a rally as part of two days of protests. In Rockford, Illinois, students at a K-8 school researched the Jena 6 case, including listening to Billie Holiday's “Strange Fruit” in a music class, and wrote their own speeches for a rally they organized. The principal relaxed their uniform rule for the day to allow students to wear black in support of the Jena 6. “How could I, as principal, not give them this educational moment? They learned a lot,” he said. Excel Academy high school students in Chicago organized themselves to form a giant “Free Jena 6” that was visible from the air. Students and faculty at Northeast Iowa Community College organized a rally of 50 people in Calmar, Iowa—a town of 1,000 people that is over 98% white.
Revolution readers who took part in or heard about Jena 6 protests around the country should send in correspondence about what happened. Send emails to email@example.com or write to RCP Publications, PO Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654. There should be no secret protests!
The following are reports from correspondents in Los Angeles and S.F. Bay Area.
Watts, Los Angeles
Locke High School Students Walk Out in Support of the Jena 6
On September 20, students at Locke High School in Watts ran down the hall, pounding on lockers and shouting “Free the Jena 6,” and then burst out through the front doors. Close to a thousand youth walked out of the school and filled the street outside, some holding up homemade signs or Revolution newspaper posters.
Black and Latino students acted together to carry out this protest. One young Black woman carried a sign she had made the night before with clippings from the Revolution newspaper: pictures of the “white-only" tree in Jena, the students at Howard University wearing “Free the Jena 6” t-shirts, and Latino immigrants in foot shackles being led away by immigration police. She compared that picture of the immigrants in chains to what Black people have gone through in history and face today. A Chicana student said, “It’s not just Black, there’s Mexicans here too because we’re all in this together.”
Several hundred of the students who walked out marched about two miles down Imperial Highway to Southwest College where they held a speak-out. Police followed the march all the way, telling the students to get on the sidewalk, but they refused. Passing cars honked in support, and residents and store owners raised their fists and applauded.
At Southwest, a teacher’s assistant told Revolution: “I was overwhelmed. I couldn’t believe all those kids. They were coming out because they believe in a cause. That melted my heart. It was not only the Blacks, but every other race came together. They had been talking about the situation [in Jena] for days and asking ‘What should we do?’ They talked about how they get arrested for no reason, none at all, and how it’s not right. It’s an injustice and people need to protest because the people have the power.” She continued, "I came here to speak up and a police officer told me to lower my voice! I said, ‘I will not lower my voice!’ We won’t shut up. We won’t stop for nothing!”
Rally at Leimert Park
September 20 actions in Los Angeles started with a 6 a.m. march of about a hundred people down Sunset Blvd. in Hollywood organized by the Black Surfers Association. A rally in Leimert Park drew nearly a thousand people from all over the city. College students who had held rallies at their schools and students from nearby high schools came after school. Some of the Locke students made their way to Leimert as well.
A young Chicana from Valley College said, “We’re supposed to be equal, but we’re not… When I first heard about this I just couldn’t believe the nooses… This stuff is still going on. It wasn’t just back then.”
Two Locke students got on stage, and one told the crowd, “We walked out because we feel that actions speak louder than words. We went to Southwest College and now we’re here [in Leimert]. It made me feel angry that they can do this to Black folks. That they can just kill us and grab people up for doing nothing. This is happening everywhere.” A woman on stage with them said, “I’m a student at Southwest College. I was so touched to see these young people come to our school—they walked all the way from Locke High School in Watts—and it just really touched me so much that I wanted to be a part of it.”
Another student from Valley College said, “We need the radicals back on the high school and college campuses. We need to get people to open their eyes to what’s going on in the world. People shouldn’t just look straight at what’s in front of them. People need to be open minded to everything, not just one thing.”
“We Need to Start a Movement”
A couple weeks ago most Locke students didn’t know about the Jena 6, but when they found out they became outraged and active. On Tuesday, two Chicano students from the school boarded a bus for the long trip to Jena. One of them had started announcing it in her classes from the minute she decided to go. A teacher proudly told her to go to Jena and represent Locke there. The student told her classmates that they had to do something important at the school on September 20.
One of the students who started organizing early on described the transformation at the school. “I did a current event on the Jena 6 and people couldn’t believe that this was happening here and now. People were dumbfounded…then we started to get out the word of the walkout and things spread really fast.” She said, “Revolution was really important because it showed people the truth that they don’t get anywhere else. That’s how they [the students] found out about this. The teachers told us that they support us and that they’re behind us—that we should keep it up.”
In the days leading up to the walkout, students covered the hallways with posters and signs saying “Free the Jena 6.” As the students gathered for the walkout on Sept. 20, one of them explained, “We need to start a movement. We wanted to, but we couldn’t go down to Louisiana. But this [walkout] is how we can support this.”
Near the end of the day, a freshman from Locke who had gone to the rally at Leimert Park said, “I feel that it was important to make a statement by walking out—we’re showing people that we do care about what’s going on to the people, no matter how far away they are. I’m standing up for something I believe in.”
The student who had done the current event said, “The fact that this is happening now really got people fed up. We’re fed up with what the system is doing to us. It’s not just the Jena 6. We’re fed up with what’s going on in the world.” She ended her comments by saying, “We have to keep on fighting.”
SF Bay Area
Black high school and college students were the driving force behind the protests in the San Francisco Bay Area on September 20, and they were joined by people of all nationalities and ages.
Over 1,000 students rallied on Sproul Plaza on the UC Berkeley campus, joined by scores of high school students from Berkeley High and Oakland Tech who had walked out of school. Later, over 300 marched through the campus and surrounding neighborhoods.
“Racism just needs to stop. You’d think that after so many years it would have died down but the truth of the matter is it hasn’t,” Britany, a Black student from Berkeley High, told Revolution as she walked with her friends to UC. Her sign, signed by many other high school students said, "racism is a sickness which we must cure."
Revolution spoke with Josephine, a freshman UC Berkeley student who was the major organizer of the rally at Cal. During her speech she put out a challenge to other students: “Now that you know about the Jena 6, what will you do about it? Will you think about it and say that’s too bad and get on with your life? Or will you call a news station and demand that they investigate the story so other people will know about it? Will you get the word out to all your friends? Will you send the letters? Will you make the phone calls? Or will you decide that you are too busy with your own life to support the cause? The decision is up to you. But when deciding please remember that the Jena 6 are just like you and it would be a disgrace to spend another day in an American society where nooses hang freely from southern trees.”
“The day I found out about it I couldn’t even sleep that night, I was so frustrated and so upset that something like this could still be happening in 2006 and 2007,” Josephine told Revolution. “I really felt the need to act. This is my first year here and I’m from the Bay Area and I’ve always seen protests and rallies at UC Berkeley. I didn’t have that much experience but I really had a passion for this.”
Eighteen students from Casa Magdalena Mora, a Chicano theme house at Berkeley, came together on the steps to deliver a statement of support saying, “If we do not unite and speak out against these injustices then this country will remain socially backward. We have to ask ourselves how this could have happened. How teenagers would have to ask permission to sit under a tree. How nooses hanging from a tree could be considered a prank.”
A student from the theme house told Revolution, “We are always dealing with these things portrayed in the media, this Brown vs. Black. We’re here, Casa Mora, to stay, ‘Stop with that!’ We need to be united in order to deal with these kind of issues… We have oppression in common, we’ve both faced many years of genocide. We have to get together and fight the situation.”
Several hundred people came together for a rally and speak-out in downtown San Francisco in the late afternoon. Speakers included Reverend Arnold Townsend, Rhema Word Christian Fellowship Church; Willie Ratcliffe, publisher of the San Francisco Bayview newspaper; Revolution correspondent Larry Everest; activist and former Black Panther Kiilu Nyasha; Maria Christina Gutierrez from Companeros Del Barrio; a day laborer; students from San Francisco State, Berkeley High, UC Berkeley, and City College; and an activist with World Can’t Wait. After the rally about a hundred people took off for a march through the streets of the financial district, the Union Square shopping district, and the Tenderloin, one of the poorest areas of the city.
Other protests in the region took place at San Jose State University, Laney College in Oakland, San Francisco State University, University of San Francisco, and California State University Fresno.
In the week leading up to Sept. 20, Revolution Books in Berkeley organized two vans going to Jena. Those traveling over 30 hours to go to Jena included 5 Berkeley High School students, a physician, a high school teacher, a human relations commissioner, and supporters of Revolution newspaper. Students from Berkeley High who couldn’t go to Jena went to the Berkeley City Council and asked for money to support the trip and for the Council to take a stand against the injustice.
The day before the Sept 20 rally, several dozen Berkeley students marched from Berkeley to the nearby city of Oakland to build support for the case of the Jena 6 in the community. They were surprised by a group from a Pentecostal storefront church who had heard about their march and were gathered outside the church to welcome them with bottles of water with “Free the Jena 6” labels pasted on.
When Revolution newspaper distributors went to ESL schools and day laborers in one city, they got an enthusiastic response. Many people signed a banner in Spanish which was sent to Jena. A day laborer organized a showing of the “They’re selling postcards of the hanging” section of the DVD Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About where Bob Avakian speaks about the crimes committed against Black people throughout the history of the U.S.
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