Revolution #104, October 14, 2007

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Nationwide Student Actions to Free the Jena 6

It’s spreading. The struggle to Free the Jena 6, Black youth who face decades in prison for standing up against racism after nooses were hung on a “whites- only” tree at their high school (see Jena page at continues with the story of the Jena 6 coming up in many different corners of society—websites, Facebook, Myspace, blogs and intense debate and discussion on the internet; classroom discussions; daytime talk shows; radio and op-ed commentary.

People find out about this case, are outraged, and feel compelled to act. And in the wake of the powerful demonstration in Jena on September 20, there were nationwide student walkouts and other actions on Monday, October 1, 2007 called by a coalition of students, artists, and activists which included artists Mos Def, Common, M1, Talib Kweli; the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement; The Hip Hop Association and others.

The call for October 1 put out a list of demands—the first, for all the charges against the Jena 6 to be dropped. A press release issued by the coalition on the October 1 walkouts stated: “This case has become a symbol for the Black community of the disproportionate arrest and incarceration rate of Black people and the excessive punishment of Black students in schools across the country. Many local organizers say what is happening to the Jena 6 youth is similar to what happens in their cities.” Over 55 schools endorsed the action.

Hundreds of students walked out and rallied in New York City, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst. Dozens participated at University of Colorado at Boulder, Howard University in Washington D.C., University of Louis­ville, University of Texas, Houston-Tillotson University, Oakland High and Watsonville High in California, and more. As we go to press, we are still hearing reports of the many ways in which schools manifested the demand to “Free the Jena 6” on October 1, which included the participation of not only Black students but white students and those of other nationalities as well.

At University of Colorado at Boulder, over 50 students, Black and white, rallied in support of the Jena 6. CU Boulder student Jarvis Fuller said, “A lot of stuff that happened at the Jena 6 happens here. I’ve had a number of incidents from anything from being harassed by the police to receiving a racist death threat.” A student who walked out of her American foreign policy class recounted how she challenged others. “I said, ‘There’s a walkout today, right now, to show support for the Jena 6, and if anyone wants to join me in a stand against oppression, come now.’” Black and white students walked out of East High School in Denver and stood alongside the road, chanting, cheering, and holding signs that said, “Honk to Free the Jena 6.”

At University of Massachusetts in Amherst, high school youth joined university students to rally and march. A spokesperson for the Black Students Union declared, “This is not just about the Jena 6; it’s about racism in America.” Many signs reflected the outrage at the nooses being hung. A poster displayed pictures of nooses and said, “This is not a joke!” Organizers wore T-shirts with a photograph of a lynching and the question “Just a prank?” A student ran down the story of the Jena 6 and then exclaimed, “Let’s all walk through this town and be loud and noisy as hell!” The march went through campus and out to the Amherst Center, taking up two lanes of traffic and chanting, “Hey hey, ho ho, racism has got to go!” and “No Justice! No Peace!” People on the streets saw the protest and joined in.

In New York City, hundreds of students marched from a number of colleges, including New York University, Fordham, the New School, Hunter College, and Columbia University. Students held signs and banners that said, “Resist” and “Jena 6, New York’s got your back!” They converged outside City Hall for a rally.

At Watsonville High School, which is overwhelmingly Latino, students initiated a sit-in at lunch. Senior Viri DeLaCruz, a student organizer there, told Revolution how as part of the nationwide immigration rights demonstrations on May 1, 2006, spirited walkouts took place for three consecutive days. This time a lot of students still didn’t know about the Jena 6, and so a small group of students held the sit-in, saying they thought it would draw attention to this issue more so than a few students walking out. Other students joined them and drew local media attention. One student commented to reporters, “If we don’t take a stand against discrimination and racism, who will?” Watsonville students are now planning other actions in support of the Jena 6. The principal gave what’s known as “Saturday suspensions” (requiring students to come to school for an extra day) to all those who participated in the sit-in, and now the students are planning to fight this.

In Jena the situation continues to intensify. At Jena High School—where the “whites-only tree” once stood and nooses were hung—there is daily repression against those who try to show support for the Jena 6 in any way. Students at Jena High have reported that at the school they are not allowed to even talk about the Jena 6 case or the September 20 protests. Meanwhile, a racist threat towards the Jena 6 with the phrase, “White Power!” was written on the bathroom walls and nothing has been done about it. There is a real need for people around the country, especially students and youth, to find the ways to “have these students’ backs,” to support them in resisting this racist censorship.

Mychal Bell is now set to be tried in juvenile court—with the same judge and the same district attorney who have been fighting tooth and nail to steal away his life. We cannot wait for another unjust conviction of any of the Jena 6. The struggle must grow and make leaps from here, continually and in many ways manifesting the demand of FREE THE JENA 6! Drop all the charges! And students and youth must continue to get organized and come out in mass numbers. On October 1 in New York City, a student organizer commented, “We realize it’s not an isolated incident, this is a cry for our youth to stand up—there is power in the people.” He told reporters that more protests are being organized, possibly every month until the charges are dropped. This is the spirit and determination that needs to continue to become an infectious, organized, and visible force in the growing nationwide struggle to “Free the Jena 6!”  

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