September 21, 2007

Shake Me at My Core

Today is the next day. The day after you marched. How do you feel? Do you still feel it?

Can you tell me about it? I wasn’t there.

I am reading the media accounts. I am reading a lot about how people were anticipating something great. Something big. Something was about to happen.

Did it happen? Tell me about it.

Because what I am hearing is not shaking me at my core. Why did you march? What was the quality of your intent? The intent determines the results. What results did you hope to achieve?

Why did you march?

I wasn’t there. Should I have been? Why?

Why did you march?

I have heard a few reasons that make me wonder:
"This is our time to get on the bus."
"To some extent, what you can expect to see is a rebirth of the civil rights movement," said Ki-Afi Moyo, organizer of Dallas-based Internet community "Tx Supports Jena Six," which filled 20 chartered buses for the trip to Louisiana. "The grassroots response to this has been phenomenal.”
The Rev Sharpton, who arrived at Jena's courthouse with members of the defendants' families, said it was "the beginning of the 21st century civil rights movement", one that would challenge imbalances in the US justice system.
"Jena is a defining moment, just like Selma was a defining moment."
Tina Cheatham missed the civil rights marches at Selma, Montgomery and Little Rock, but she had no intention of missing another brush with history. The 24-year-old Georgia Southern University graduate drove all night to reach tiny Jena in central Louisiana.

"It was a good chance to be part of something historic since I wasn't around for the civil rights movement. This is kind of the 21st century version of it," she said.
"I want my children to be part of history," said A.J. Walker, 33, a black police officer from Houston who took photographs of her two sons and daughter outside the high school. "I want to show them they have to stand for something."
“This morning I was crying … when we drove into Jena,” said Nadonya Muslim, 40, of Detroit. “I was thinking, we’re a part of history.
Why did *you* march?

Was to be part of history? Or was it to make history?

Did you march because you had to be there? Did you march because if this was beginning of the 21st century civil rights movement, then you couldn’t miss it?

Or did you march to *make it* the beginning of the 21st century civil rights movement?

Did you march so you can tell your grandchildren, “I was there?” Did you take a picture to prove you were there? Did it matter where “there” was?

I wasn’t there. That’s why I ask.

Did you have fun? Is that why you went? Was it hard? Was it easy?

Why aren’t you marching today?

Marching is a good thing. I wish I had marched. I didn’t.

If it seems like I am questioning why tens of thousands of people marched in Jena yesterday, I am. I am questioning them and challenging them to tell me why they marched. I want them speak and shake me at my core. I want the impact of their words to be shattering.

Tens of thousands of people at one march makes one impact on one day. Tens of thousands of people speaking tens of thousands of words in the tens of thousands of places, wherever they may be, makes tens of thousands of impacts.

Make that impact shattering.
Today I want to tell the city of Selma, (Tell them, Doctor) today I want to say to the state of Alabama, (Yes, sir) today I want to say to the people of America and the nations of the world, that we are not about to turn around. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir)

Yes, we are on the move and no wave of racism can stop us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. The burning of our churches will not deter us. (Yes, sir) The bombing of our homes will not dissuade us. (Yes, sir) We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The beating and killing of our clergymen and young people will not divert us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) The wanton release of their known murderers would not discourage us. We are on the move now. (Yes, sir) Like an idea whose time has come, (Yes, sir) not even the marching of mighty armies can halt us. (Yes, sir) We are moving to the land of freedom. (Yes, sir)

Let us therefore continue our triumphant march (Uh huh) to the realization of the American dream. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated housing (Yes, sir) until every ghetto or social and economic depression dissolves, and Negroes and whites live side by side in decent, safe, and sanitary housing. (Yes, sir) Let us march on segregated schools (Let us march, Tell it) until every vestige of segregated and inferior education becomes a thing of the past, and Negroes and whites study side-by-side in the socially-healing context of the classroom.

Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until no American parent has to skip a meal so that their children may eat. (Yes, sir) March on poverty (Let us march) until no starved man walks the streets of our cities and towns (Yes, sir) in search of jobs that do not exist. (Yes, sir) Let us march on poverty (Let us march) until wrinkled stomachs in Mississippi are filled, (That's right) and the idle industries of Appalachia are realized and revitalized, and broken lives in sweltering ghettos are mended and remolded.

Let us march on ballot boxes, (Let's march) march on ballot boxes until race-baiters disappear from the political arena.

Let us march on ballot boxes until the salient misdeeds of bloodthirsty mobs (Yes, sir) will be transformed into the calculated good deeds of orderly citizens. (Speak, Doctor)

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until the Wallaces of our nation tremble away in silence.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march) until we send to our city councils (Yes, sir), state legislatures, (Yes, sir) and the United States Congress, (Yes, sir) men who will not fear to do justly, love mercy, and
walk humbly with thy God.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Let us march. March) until brotherhood becomes more than a meaningless word in an opening prayer, but the order of the day on every legislative agenda.

Let us march on ballot boxes (Yes) until all over Alabama God's children will be able to walk the earth in decency and honor.

There is nothing wrong with marching in this sense.


I know you are asking today, "How long will it take?" (Speak, sir) Somebody's asking, "How long will prejudice blind the visions of men, darken their understanding, and drive bright-eyed wisdom from her sacred throne?" Somebody's asking, "When will wounded justice, lying prostrate on the streets of Selma and Birmingham and communities all over the South, be lifted from this dust of shame to reign supreme among the children of men?" Somebody's asking, "When will the radiant star of hope be plunged against
the nocturnal bosom of this lonely night, (Speak, speak, speak) plucked from weary souls with chains of fear and the manacles of death? How long will justice be crucified, (Speak) and truth bear it?" (Yes, sir)

I come to say to you this afternoon, however difficult the moment, (Yes, sir) however frustrating the hour, it will not be long, (No sir) because "truth crushed to earth will rise again." (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Yes, sir) because "no lie can live forever." (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (All right. How long) because "you shall reap what you sow." (Yes, sir)

How long? (How long?) Not long: (Not long)

Truth forever on the scaffold, (Speak)

Wrong forever on the throne, (Yes, sir)

Yet that scaffold sways the future, (Yes, sir)

And, behind the dim unknown,

Standeth God within the shadow,

Keeping watch above his own.

How long? Not long, because the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. (Yes, sir)

How long? Not long, (Not long) because:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord; (Yes, sir)

He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored; (Yes)

He has loosed the fateful lightning of his terrible swift sword; (Yes, sir)

His truth is marching on. (Yes, sir)

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat; (Speak, sir)

He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat. (That's right)

O, be swift, my soul, to answer Him! Be jubilant my feet!

Our God is marching on. (Yeah)

Glory, hallelujah! (Yes, sir) Glory, hallelujah! (All right)

Glory, hallelujah! Glory, hallelujah!

His truth is marching on. [Applause]
Not long now.

I have to think that, of all the signs that may have been present at Selma is 1965, none of them were like this one at Jena in 2007:
Why did you march?


Sean said...

Very intriguing! Your comparison of these two epithets from then and now impressed me more than the "Jena 6" crowd.

MAD said...

I admire the passion for even-handed justice from the LaSalle Parish DA. But here is where I am left wanting more. What about the sad and far more lamentable state of criminal justice in New Orleans? Now there's something for the national civil rights community to really march against. A civil rights protest against an isolated wrong in a rural, mostly white burg with a white DA appears to be a far easier sell than such a march against an chronically incompetent and racist black DA in a majority African American city.

The German said...

I think if the civil rights movement would be happening today, you would have t-shirt vendors. "Get your 'I have a dream...' shirts."

I question whether this incident merited a march at all. The kids should be charged with assault and not attempted murder. They are not "innocent". And the higher charge is a double edged sword, I don't see how the DA could convict them of attempted murder in court.

As to the result of this march, much like the march on City Hall in NO after Helen Hill's murder, NOTHING.

Check out this commentary here.

swampwoman said...

don't know if you've seen this yet, if not check out these pictures

E said...

It's easy to be dismissive and cynical of people's intentions at the march or their sometimes fantastic statements about the role it already has in history.

But I think you might be missing out on what is truly significant about the Jena protest. There is a changing of the guard in African American leadership occurring, young people are stepping up to the plate, and that's why I think people are so excited about this.

m.d. said...

I am not dismissing the marchers' intentions. I wish I had gone. And I am not a cynical person.

But I will be disappointed if nothing more happens than a march in Jena. Not like I am an expert, but marches are only one tool to effect social change.

I can not know what the marchers' intentions were. But I agree with Thurgood Marshall that "our intent always comes through" and that what happens in Jena today, tomorrow, and in the coming years will be determined *by their intentions*, my perceived dismissiveness and cynicism aside.

To me, those who marched made a promise to see this thing through to its end. Read this post as a challenge to keep that promise.

m.d. said...

I added that bit at the end about the t-shirts for sale because it bothered me, not to erode the credibility of the marchers.

This is not 1965, and I think that t-shirts being sold at the march highlights the difference between the marchers then and now.

For Jena to be more than just a re-enactment of 1960s-style civil rights activism, I think those involved need to analyze the quality of their intent and the resulting impact will certainly shake me at my core.

charlotte said...

What mad said.

E said...

Certainly, if this event just gets thrown down into the memory hole of the 24 hour news cycle, it won't have been for anything. There IS now a challenge posed to those that care about the Jena 6 and have been involved in protest mobilization to keep the momentum going. All of the questions in your post are valid. I have been focusing on what IS significant and different about this particular event, but all of your questions still linger until the movement gets results.

The German said...

While I don't think the march was either warranted or (will be) effective, don't let the presence of t-shirt vendors cheapen your impression of the event. They are just a symptom of our times. If MLK were marching today, t-shirt vendors would be there, along with CD recordings of his speeches (which would be a good thing imho). Some enterprising people invested time and money to make shirts to meet the demand of the marchers. I hope they turned a profit. That's what america is all about. I wonder if t-shirt sales would have been "allowed" in 1965?

Cero said...

I'm hoping too that it wasn't a one-off thing, or something people just did for the experience.

On the comparison to the civil rights era, where everyone was so heroic and the downtrodden were so innocent - you know, there was much in that era that felt that way. Virtue on the march, and we would all be free at last. And that was also a *tactic* ... people sitting in at lunch counters, doing nonviolent actions, they were trained to be doing that and they had their reactions planned.

The Jena situation is murkier as is much of life, both then and now. The march wasn't about the absolute innocence of the Jena 6. But the *key* things, I think, is the harshness of the sentences compared to sentences in similar instances on white people (where exactly was the recent case of the white boy who beat up another white boy and got charged with plain old assault right off? - much more appropriate than attempted murder), and the disregard for the symbolism of the nooses - those things *are* threats.


OT but not entirely: It's sort of a well known fact in murder cases that it's the race of the *victim* which correlates best with whether the perp gets the death penalty. I.E. regardless of the race of the perp, if the *victim* is white the death penalty is more likely to be invoked. That is perhaps a more indirect expression of racism [i.e., than applying the death penalty to all nonwhite perps would be] but it still is one.

And so I wonder: what would the Jena 6 have been charged with if they'd beaten up a Black kid?

German: "A civil rights protest against an isolated wrong in a rural, mostly white burg with a white DA appears to be a far easier sell..."

Yes - it's so classic it's kind of easy to rally around. But it's still real ... and given all the incomprehension of the seriousness of noose hanging, it *is* worthy of attention ... and there are a lot of school incidents going on right now (see the blog of WoC PhD, this post:
and several others.

It seems to me that all of these things need to be addressed.