10 Opinions/Observations from September 20th rally in Jena, LouisianaPosted by Shawn Williams on September 23rd, 2007
I have had a chance to collect my thoughts since last Thursday’s historic rally in Jena, Louisiana, and I wanted to share with you some of my thoughts about the events of the day.
1. Black is Beautiful
There were many times when my companions and I had to retreat because the people flow was at a stand still. I don’t trust any of the estimates under 30,000, and 50-75K is probably more realistic.
2. We Trashed Jena
The Jena rally was a peaceful protest, but the day’s events produced a lot of trash. For any future gatherings such as this, there would need to be lots more trash cans in place.
I was on one of the last buses out of Jena, and it was left pretty much like it was found; with the exception of trash all over the streets. Most of the trash consisted of water bottles discarded by attendees.
3. Emergency Response/Red Cross were on Point
The American Red Cross was in full effect last Thursday as were local emergency response teams. It was hot! There were a few people who passed out due to heat related complications. The Red Cross handed out free bottles of water throughout the day.
4. A Deviation in the Program
There was a point in the afternoon right after Jesse Jackson spoke when it seemed like no one knew what was next. Many folks were looking for Rev. Sharpton and Michael Baisden, but as far as I know they were in were in Alexandria.
While a march went on in Jena, there were others who left for some type of concurrent event in Alexandria. I heard Rev. Jackson say “we are going to march to Ward 10 park as was planned.” (twice)
At last I heard, Rev. Sharpton was on his way back to Jena, but I never saw him and I don’t know if he ever made it. I still don’t know why there was a separate event going on in Alexandria.
There were so many young faces in the crowd last Thursday. Kids were sporting their college gear, frat letters, and school colors. They did more walking and shouting than anybody.
5a Black Colleges Represented
The majority of college buses and vans I saw were from HBCU’s. I saw no (visual) representation from Texas A&M, University of Texas, University of Houston, or others though Texas had a large contingent of protesters.
6. Rev. Jesse Jackson still knows how to hype the crowd
In the hot Louisiana sun, Rev. Jackson inspired the thousands who were gathered in front of the LaSalle Parish Courthouse. He was rapping and rhyming as usual, but the people still love him. One of my friend looked at me and began quoting Jackson word for word as he spoke. We laughed, but his words were still timely and relevant.
As we drove in on Hwy 8 Thursday morning, the town was exactly like I had pictured in my mind. As we neared Jena, one of the first things we saw was a house flying an American flag and a Confederate flag out front. Just down the road was a triple-wide church. The courthouse was on Courthouse Road and the high school was on High School Dr.
The ladies pictured at the left seemed to just take it all in stride. I did see a couple of houses who were allowing marchers to come inside, but I didn’t check the extent of what was really going on.
There were a lot of folks who had tape up around their property to discourage folks from walking in their yards. You can see this in the above right picture.
For some reason I didn’t figure that I would make it to the place where it all started while I was in Jena. But as the day progressed people began migrating towards Jena High School.
It was about a mile and a half walk from the courthouse, and this was the first time I realized just how many people had come to town for the rally. The entire street was packed with black folks wearing black.
I plan to devote a post to my experience at Jena High School, but it was quite impactful. The courtyard where the tree once stood was so small.
Not only was the tree gone (left), but there was very little evidence that it had even been there. It began to sink in that everyone in a school this size would know each other, and all of the acts that are chronicled in this saga were more intimate than I had originally imagined.
I’m not sure how it translated to T.V., but there where a number of white folks in Jena last Thursday. Some seemed to be children of the 60’s who were reliving their radical roots from the past. Others were hawking anti-Bush books, newspapers, and posters.
There were also young people who seemed a little uneasy with this unfamiliar territory but glad to be there none the less. But none of them seemed to get the memo about wearing black.
10. On 9/20/07, we drove the media agenda
It is not lost on me that had it not been for the Jena 6 rally, O.J. Simpson would have been the biggest story in the news that day. It seemed like every television station from the South and Southeast was represented with a news truck. Cameras and anchors were all over the place.