Saturday, September 22, 2007

Questions and Conversation about Jena 6 Activism

1. What did you do on September 20th, the national day of protest for the Jena 6? How were your actions received?

2. In a campus setting, how do we educate others around the issue? Films, distributing flyers, tabling? What is our ask for interested newcomers? What can they do to feel invested in this case?

3. What is our ask besides justice? This sounds simple but even the NYT didn't report this clearly until yesterday's. I think there are at least three clear things: 1) throw out the charges, lower bail, or release him from his bail 2) federal legal protection and supervision 3) Remove J.P. Mauffray Jr, the judge who set Bell's bail ridiculously high. These three things are necessary in providing justice and healing for Bell's family and they also reveal deeper judicial injustices.

4. How useful are petitions at this point? Early on, the petitions were important for awareness raising and demonstrating the fullness of our protest. Frankly, they introduced a lot of people to the issue. What is their place now? Is there a critical number we are aiming for nationally and should we create one locally to carve a goal into this movement?

5. How does a campaign like this become multifaceted? This case is obviously is about the failures of the judicial court system, racial equality in schools, and the lack of representative coverage in the media. How can we work these larger issues into the narrative about Jena? And what is the first way we want these three issues to change?

6. Since the Megan Williams case is suffering from a lack of coverage and justice, is it relevant and/or appropriate to tie her into this ongoing "new" Civil Rights Movement rhetoric?

7. How do we add nuance and a truthful complexity to the claims of the "new" Civil Rights movement?

8. What should our role be in pressuring others to speak out about this issue? Is that a useful strategy. Jesse Jackson tried it on Obama with mixed results. Who has not spoken and how can get them to use their voice?

9. Are we able to self critique at this time? How do we improve and sustain energy while still fighting on the ground?

10. How can TNS and our campus organizations collaborate with your campus or organization to create a more unified voice? Any ideas?

These are some of the questions. Please start the conversation.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Jena is the Past, Present, and Future

I don’t know about the Jena 6.
Well, I know about it. I know it’s another stain of injustice on our nation and world.
But what does it all mean?

As I glanced at The New York Times on the college dining table, I saw this picture.

‘It’s like the Civil Rights Movement,’ I thought. The excitement filled me. Is that a problem though? Am I and are we rejoicing because we are looking for our romanticized version of the Civil Rights Movement? And is part of this joy and relief derived from a straightforward issue with direct offenses committed by whites?

I can’t help but be a little frustrated when Don Imus and a small 85% white town produce the largest social change we’ve had around racial issues since OJ and Rodney. Did we do anything after the horrendous education Supreme Court ruling? Can we at least bring Megan Williams into the fold and address coverage bias in the mainstream media since they finally turned their eye to Louisiana…after a year? America did not suddenly get worse. What is it about a noose, a fight, and an unjust charge that grabs our attention in a way that housing segregation, unjust prisons, voting disenfranchisement, anti-affirmative action initiatives, and even genocide in Darfur has not? Don’t get me wrong. I am excited and energized about the organizing and action around The Jena 6, but we need to see it through a larger lens. In fact, we need to see this as part of the narrative of American injustice and social movement strategy.

Some might say I’m being picky or asking for too much. However, I have realized recently that we might be the only ones asking for something beyond a cliché about justice. Our progressive voices matter and they have to speak into spaces that do not want us there. I do not care if CNN only wants me to march or if Damon Winter and the NYT only want my upraised fist in a sea of blackness. I will march for local change in Louisiana and organize the dismantling of the media’s unjust structures because they are part of the problem. Our collective action is the only real solution.

Yes, Jena got me riled up.
Yes, I am glad President Bush is sad because of it.
Yes, I am hopeful that more people will finally recognize that racism DOES exist in the 21st century.

Yet, I was upset the day before I heard about Jena because of racism.
Yet, Bush has only advanced “reverse racism” cases in the Civil Right department during his tenure and the situation in Jena has not changed that.
Yet, I am still disturbed by the people who think we can avoid talking about race in favor of a colorblind society aka silencing people of color from testifying their lived experiences, many of which include racism.

“This is the first time something like this has happened for our generation. You always heard about it from history books and relatives. This is a chance to experience it for ourselves.” - Eric Depradine, a 24 year old senior at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette (NYT)

This is not the first time nor will it be the last. We’ve had our chances before, but it is encouraging that we are choosing to act now. That does not mean, however, we can buy into the claim that there has been nothing “Civil Rights worthy” in the last three decades. We need to ask ourselves why we haven’t been marching. This is not an effort to cast blame or slow down the movement. Instead, we can use this question to improve our future actions and to decide how we sustain and expand upon this momentum.