Revolution #103, October 7, 2007
Sept. 20: A Great Day for the People
Tens of Thousands in Jena Demand “Free the Jena 6!”
On September 27, Mychal Bell, one of the Jena 6, was finally released from jail. He had been UNJUSTLY locked up for over nine months. Reed Walters, the District Attorney, has said he will now try Bell in juvenile court. And the other five youth of the Jena 6 still face charges and possible jail time. Meanwhile, there has been a vicious racist backlash from KKK-types (see sidebar, “Racists Lash Back in Jena 6 Battle”), including death threats against family members of the Jena 6. And Reed Walters has gone on a major campaign in the media, putting out lies and distortions aimed at creating public opinion against the Jena 6. All this underscores the significance of the mass outpouring of support of protest on September 20 and the need to continue this fight, all the way through, until all the Jena 6 are all-the-way free.
Thursday, September 20, was a great day for the people!
It was still dark, the day just starting out. But the small town of Jena, Louisiana was already different than it had ever been before. Buses and vans from as far away as New York and California, were lined up. Thousands of people already streaming in, tens of thousands on their way. The usually lonely two-lane country highway clogged with traffic bumper-to-bumper. Cars were already starting to park every which way, people piling out and walking toward town. Black motorcycle clubs roaring in. Windows of cars with hand-painted signs: “Jena Bound, Follow Us,” “Journey to Jena,” and “Jena 6—We got your back.”
The groundswell of outrage and grassroots organizing that had been steadily, and then by leaps and bounds, growing over the last few weeks was coming together—manifesting in a powerful, visible, and concrete way. Tens of thousands came out from the grassroots to demand that the Jena 6 be freed and that this outrageous injustice be stopped. Nothing like this mobilization—nothing like its spirit or turnout or determination—has been seen in a long, long time.
And in cities all over the country, thousands of people held protests, walkouts, wore black, and organized other actions in solidarity with the demonstration in Jena (see page 12, revcom.us, and future issues of Revolution for more coverage).
After so long of being told “the system is too powerful and we’re too messed up”…after so long of those in power relentlessly hammering on the people…this was a real glimpse and a feel of the people’s potential strength and the potential weakness of those who ride atop this rotten system.
By 10 a.m., thousands and thousands of people were packed outside the Jena courthouse – and more were still arriving. College and high school students made up a big part of the crowd. Looking back down the road, people were walking up the road for as far as you could see. At one point people marched over to Jena High School, where the nooses had been hung and where Black students had taken a courageous stand against racism. Everyone wanted to see where the “Whites-Only Tree” had stood (since removed by school officials this summer). People took turns walking up to the patch of dirt where the tree had stood and touched the ground. Some grabbed bits of the roots still there to put in their pockets. In Ward Park about two miles way, a crowd of 1500 gathered to rally and then marched over to the courthouse.
For hours people kept coming and the outrage, determination, and creativity of the people was evident wherever you looked. The word had gotten out to “wear black” and just about everyone had black t-shirts. Everywhere you looked groups with different messages. People stood together wearing their unique t-shirts: “Enough is Enough.” “Stop the ‘Jenacide.’” “Release to the Captives.” “Get to the Root of the Problem.” “Jena Six Did What Was Right!” “Jena Six, Harlem's Got Your Back.” “The noose is loose, handcuff free clothing, Free the Jena Six!” “No room for racism.” “Stop the Criminalization of our Youth.” “I was there. September 20, 2007.”
“Get on the Bus!”
People piled off the buses, after long rides that were a great experience in themselves. Young people going to their first demonstration mixed in with those recalling bus rides during the Civil Rights Movement. Union members on the buses from Detroit talking about how people back in the plant were wearing black that day in solidarity with the protest in Jena. Some people had just heard about the Jena 6 a couple of days earlier, but had dropped everything to go. A common sentiment was, “It’s about time! This is long overdue.” One 46-yr-old Black professional said she felt that the most important thing that this day represented was “hope for the future” – that a new movement, a new generation of people were determined to change things. This sentiment was echoed over and over – that this was the beginning of something new. There were people with experience from back in the day. There were youth with new thoughts on where the struggle needs to go. People came with experience, strong opinions, deep questions and openness to new ideas. Hundreds of copies of Revolution newspaper got out on the buses and on some buses people watched the track “They’re selling postcards of the hanging” from the DVD of Bob Avakian’s talk “Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About.”
One person on a bus from Detroit told Revolution: “When you cross the bridge over the Mississippi from Natchez into Louisiana, you are instantly in the Deep South. This hit people very strongly. The first thing we saw was a Black man and woman, standing on the edge of this country road, holding up signs that read, ‘Jena 6,’ welcoming our caravan of eight buses. Then a mile or two down the road, we came upon another sight: convict laborers dressed in stripes, doing work on the side of the road and in the median. This hit everybody like a gut punch – people were angry. This is the state where Angola prison has chain gangs. This is the state where the juvenile authorities have been shown to rape and torture youth. This is the future the state of Louisiana intends for the Jena 6. Then we passed through miles and miles of cotton fields. The bus driver, who was from Louisiana, said ‘doesn't that snow look beautiful?’ People looked, then realized it was cotton – fields that had once been worked on by Black people under conditions of slavery. And then we got to Jena! Unbelievable. From every direction poured thousands and thousands of people were pouring in, almost all of them dressed in all black.”
Many buses had traveled all night and when they got close to Jena, lots of them pulled over to the side of the road. No one knew what was happening and people started piling out, gathering on the side of the highway. Looking up and down the highway, buses were lined up for miles. The sentiment began to build and people began to call out, "Let's march! If they won't let us drive to Jena, we will march there!" Some people began to form up into a column and begin walking. The prospect of marching over 20 miles didn’t seem to faze anyone. Finally the buses got back on the road toward Jena.
People shared with each why they had gotten on the bus. On one bus some said they saw this as being about the future of Black youth in this country. A number of women said they came because they had sons or brothers or grandsons the same age as the Jena 6 and that the same thing could so easily happen to them. One woman said, "They are all my sons, these boys in Jena are my sons too, and I have to be there for them just like they are my own." Some college students spoke about how they had been lucky enough to get into school, but they had to be in Jena for all Black youth.
One student from Louisiana said, “Well I think its kind of America's ugly little secret, they don't want to admit that racism still exists and especially in little towns where city officials may feel like no body's watching them and they can get away with certain things that you maybe can't get away with in larger cities and its just exposing a lot of different things, just like Katrina.”
A Day of Struggle, Pride and Accomplishment
Mychal Bell’s conviction had been overturned a week before – in response to the growing nationwide movement in support of the Jena 6. (And he would be released a week later.) And this day gave people a real feeling of the power and potential of the people. A student from Louisiana said, “Just us being here today will make huge strides in this case because even before we came, look at the changes we made, just the news buzz that we were coming and how many people were coming.”
Going home on the buses, people felt really proud at what had been accomplished on this day, as well as a renewed determination to continue the struggle until the Jena 6 are all free. One person said: “On the bus headed home people got up to testify about why they came and what they learned. This was very powerful. People spoke about how important it is to see Black people coming together to resist. One person spoke about how this was a statement to Black youth, that there is a way off the street, and that is to fight for something worth fighting for. One woman got up and said that her son had convinced her to go – she said she'd always wondered when ‘they’ were going to fight back, then she realized that she had to be part of ‘them,’ that the only way things could change is if everybody decides to be part of ‘they.’ She said even though she is in her 70's, that this is what she is going to do with her life. One autoworker spoke about how he felt he had to come, that he had heard there were no seats on the buses, but came down anyway, determined to find a way to get on the bus. Some youth talked about how they had not known anything about the Jena 6 until they looked it up on the Internet and then knew they had to be part of this fight to the end, going right back to Jena if necessary. An older man spoke about how he had lived under Jim Crow and faced Bull Connor's dogs, been beat by the police in the North and the South. He said he wouldn't rest his whole life until all this was ended.”
Continue the Struggle to Free the Jena 6!
A man from St. Louis being interviewed by Revolution, handed us his camera and asked that we video it for him—he wanted a record for his five-day-old granddaughter to show to her friends when she got older, showing that her grandfather had been part of this historic event. He said, “This was much bigger than I expected. I'm in awe, I'm in shock, I'm so ecstatic, it will probably take me a year to come down off this high. It’s just so many people, the expressions, not just the shirts, but what people had to say. We’re not just creating history, we are history.” Then he added where he thought things should go from here: “Being that this is so successful, we need to don't just stop right here. This is not a one-time event as far as I'm concerned. If we need to come back, let’s come back and double the numbers, triple the numbers... And then, let’s just say after Jena's over with we need to move in masses! There are a lot of different cases like this.”
Indeed, this is not just about Jena. It’s about the whole way this system chews up so many Black and other minority youth, and everything else they’ve been bringing down on people for years and years and more. And it’s a fact: the only thing that has prevented these young men from being totally railroaded already, and that has won some beginning concessions, has been the power of the people in struggle. Coming out of Jena, we have to redouble our determination to completely free the Jena 6. And, as we do that, we have to redouble our determination to call out to people to “Get with the revolution” – to take up this battle and to take up as well getting into why this system does this to people, where is it going, and how does this righteous fight for justice relate and contribute to getting rid of this system and getting to a whole different society.
Right now, immediately, we have to continue to support and build outpourings against the injustice in Jena. And the struggle to free the Jena 6 should be one big part of October 22 – the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression and the Criminalization of a Generation. And we have to get out this paper, far more widely – especially into the high schools and campuses, as well as the communities – by the hundreds and hundreds, and getting others to take 20 or 50 or more to sell in turn. We have to get out the DVD of Bob Avakian’s speech, “Revolution: Why It’s Necessary, Why It’s Possible, What It’s All About,” showing it in classes and on the streets. As we do, listen to people’s outrage at this injustice, as well as their joy for what was accomplished with this demonstration on September 20. Work with them to give all that further political expression. Build the resistance to the injustice in Jena, and spread the idea of revolution.
Now is the time to push forward. There are real stakes in this struggle. There is a real battle yet to WIN. The people cannot allow this injustice to go down. The people have begun to show an inkling of their strength and must stop, through mass political action, this violent enforcement of white supremacy and prevent yet another case of Black youth disappearing into the system’s dungeons.
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