Crossposted at Kos - Sam.
I can't sum up the events in Jena much better than MissLaura did, even though I was there. I'm still processing everything, and I'm overwhelmed by the experience - I'm a young man, and I can't remember my generation experiencing a civil rights flashpoint such as this (I was in fifth grade when OJ was acquitted, and in light of recent events, that's something I'd rather stay away from).
But I digress. Here are the photos I took while I marched in Jena. They tell an interesting story ... and I'll start with this one:
This is about one seventh of the crowd at the High School at about 11:00 AM CDT. This isn't counting the groups that were marching to the high school, marching from the high school, still on the buses, at the La Salle Parish Courthouse, at the BBQ on East Oak Street, or stuck somewhere else in town. I believe that the estimates of "over 10,000" or "about 20,000" are low. In so many ways, this was bigger than those numbers.
Our group consisted of mostly college students, and after 13 hours on the bus, we were ready to walk ... anywhere. For those who are really interested, here is a map of our walk.
Traffic lights were useless, and mostly flashed yellow. As a side note, the protest was completely peaceful from what we saw, but the Floor Store in the left side of this photo had a broken window when I passed it on the way out of town. Nothing indicated it was anything but an accident.
It was a little over a kilometer from the Elementary to the center of town, and from there it was another kilometer to the high school. The media was out in full force, catching every step. Frankly, I was surprised that no POTUS candidates showed up.
Seriously, there were only 10,000-20,000 people? Look at the map, see how many people were on this small a portion of the route, and tell me there were that few ;-)
The protest wasn't really organized, as you may have heard. People visited Jena High School, and spoke at where the infamous tree used to be, and Revs. Jackson and Sharpton spoke at the courthouse, but there was no organized protest ... and yet, most people stayed on message, almost everyone wore black, the rally didn't stray much from the topic of Justice for the Jena 6, and participants steadfastly boycotted open businesses. While I had misgivings about the boycott, and while residents were very unhappy with the protesters, I was pleasantly surprised by the focus of those assembled (I didn't see any of the "Free Mumia" signs I got used to seeing at protests during the lead up to the Iraq Occupation). Below are two people who strayed a little bit:
Nothing prepared me for the scene once we got to the high school. There were all kinds of speakers, and all kinds of protesters. I found a marching band tower on the practice field to try and get shots.
The speakers at the high school were normal people stepping up to the occasion. Their point was that all important movements for social change started with young people. Amen to that; hopefully we changed young hearts in Jena by giving them a holiday from school, but perhaps that view is too jovial.
The energy really picked up when we made it back to the courthouse. Jesse Jackson called Jena a "biopsy" of the countrywide cancer of racism. I think it's important to note that a lot of the speakers were calling the event "Jena" while avoiding condemning the entire town. Many protesters took a different tack, with the aforementioned boycott and chants of "No Justice, No Peace, No Racist Police." Unfortunately, the distinction wasn't always clear to onlookers ... so I can only hope that the main message, that unequal justice is unacceptable, was taken to heart even if it was mixed with vinegar.
I left the town not knowing what to feel. I talked to a man at the Subway about the boycott. The local businesses were asked to contribute to the legal defense fund; few if any did, so all of the open businesses I saw were surrounded by protesters. I told him it seemed like blackmail to me, but I wasn't going to argue, even if I had to use the bathroom. But I still feel like I did the right thing.
I talked to as many people as I could in between speeches, chants, and shutterbugging. Some people were very eloquent veterans of the civil rights movement, and told themselves, over and over, "never again." Some wore their feelings on the outside:
That's what this comes down to; we either have equality in this country or we don't. I agree with Obama; we shouldn't have to have a national protest to stop this injustice. But Obama (and Clinton, Biden, Dodd, etc.) should have been there. More white Americans should have been there. I hate to be partisan about something as serious as this, but more Democrats should have been there (I proudly carried my North Carolina Democratic Party bag around all day). When we have Americans that feel like slaves yet again, then there is something wrong in America.
That's all I have at this point. Thanks for reading/looking.
UPDATE: A judge just denied bail for Mychal Bell. Bell has been jailed for 10 months, and his conviction has been overturned ... but he's still in (juvenile?) jail. For more, visit this diary.