September 22, 2007

Black NJ Stands In Solidarity With Jena 6

The case of the Jena 6 has finally been forced to the surface in the political life of the United States. On Thursday, September 20, the media had no choice but report on the arrival of tens of thousands of protesters, almost all African American, in the small, majority-white Louisiana town of Jena (pop. 2971).

Let me underline just how remarkable this is. With no coverage in the mainstream media, no advertising, no celebrity concert, none of it, an army of Black people schlepped hundreds and, in many cases, thousands of miles on very short notice to a rural Louisiana town where six Black youths face the cracker version of justice that not so long ago held unchallenged sway in the South.

Another development brought this home to me the same day—right across the Hudson from me, in Newark, NJ. Folks from the People’s Organization for Progress knew that few from North Jersey would be able to make the long trek to Louisiana, and decided they had to at least call a rally in solidarity with Jena in Newark on Thursday.

Like most POP rallies, it started with a dozen people or so arriving a little early to get things set up and, again as usual, soon grew to 40-45. But it didn’t stop there, as it sometimes does. As lunch hour arrived, and people poured out of the downtown government and business offices, it became clear that many were wearing black. And they flocked to the POP rally, excited to learn that something was going on they could participate in. Hard-hatted workers from a nearby construction site joined the throng.

Then the junior high school classes started to arrive, their teachers seizing the opportunity to teach the history of racism and segregation in real and urgent terms, High school students seemed to find their own way to the rally, without benefit of teachers. The 500 signs that POP had optimistically printed up were gone in the first half hour. Those brought by the NJ section of the National Organization of Women went as well. Labor union contingents showed up with their banners.

Rally organizer Larry Hamm and others who spoke from spoke from the steps of City Hall found themselves addressing a crowd of over 1200 people. And a word about those speakers: organizers gave priority to young men and women who represented their classmates. Politicians and others had to wait their turn.

And politicians there were. Even Newark’s mayor, Corey Booker, felt compelled to show up and try to get his face on the evening news. Appearing at this kind of event, unless his people have organized it, is hardly normal behavior for Booker. This is a man who built his campaign chest from wealthy donors around the country by presenting himself as what we might call “post-Black” and, in particular, by attacking public education and fronting for voucher-promoting school privatizers.

This case has sparked the biggest outpouring of Black concern, anger and protest since Katrina, and it has spread though the Black nation via media like Black talk radio, and through the Internet and the blogosphere. Those black clothes I mentioned that folks were wearing in Newark on Thursday—that happened in cities and towns across the country. We can only count it a loss that there are so few organizations like POP, capable of taking the many thousands who decided to wear black last Thursday and galvanizing them into powerful protest to defend the Jena 6.


Anonymous said...

The A. Philip Randolph Institute was one of the labor organizations at the Newark "Free The Jean Six" rally. This is significant because they provided the second most popular hand-out poster. After POP's 500 placards were distributed, the APRI's "After All We've been Through, How DARE You NOT VOTE" was grabbed up by more participants than any other sign. Along with Local 1233 of the International Longshoremen's Association, individuals from the Communication Workers of America, the Newark Teachers Union and a variety of other unions, the APRI's participation added an important element of labor participation.

Go to the webpage to see more photos from this exciting march and rally.

Anonymous said...

Rahim, thanks for the link to the People's Organization for Progress "Free the Jena Six" march and rally web page.

Clicking on "Free the Jena Six" above is the easiest way to access that page.