Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Day After

This morning I was starting to write this post in my head, and it went something like this:

The protest in support of the Jena 6 will likely come to be known as the most important civil rights event of three decades. To be a part of the peaceful gathering of so many people* as a show of strength and support against such injustice was a powerful, intensely moving experience. (To be welcomed--as I was by many--was grace.)

And then I was going to go on and on. And there is so much to go on about -- the excitement and anticipation, the people gathering in the darkness at 4 o'clock in the morning at the Coliseum in Alexandria, the masses of cars and buses, the sense of marshalling the forces, the reigning sensibilities of the day, which were not anger and outrage, as might be expected; instead, everyone unified in this implacable, quiet, powerful strength and a solid sense of resting in truth and justice against persecution** -- and once I get home, I will write a post that simply describes the day from o-dark thirty to the celebration at the convention center, led by radio host Michael Baisden. (I saw the Reverend Al Sharpton arrive in his limo, only to be surrounded immediately by reporters and photographers and loving supporters who wanted to shake his hand or give him a hug or have a picture taken with him. I was only a few feet away. I got a picture of people taking pictures of him. Heh. I've got other pictures, too, of the lines of buses on the highway, a sight that was so moving, of the crowds, of my new friend R. from Tennessee, of these two Big Brothas selling T shirts. All of which I will post when I get home. I was also only a few feet away from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who was flanked by bodyguards and police officers and moved through the crowd at Jena as if he were royalty, while a few lone voices cried out that Jesse Jackson was "the tool of the Democratic party" and that he betrayed his people.)

But I went to have coffee this morning in downtown Alexandria, and a woman came in and told the barista about a story reported this morning on CNN, that a couple of teen-agers were driving around downtown last night -- near the convention center, through where the crowds were gathering -- with nooses dangling from the tailgate of their truck. This woman (who, by the way, was wearing a bright forest green T shirt with bright orange sweatpants and looked so fabulous her appearance defies description) was the one who made the call to a friend of hers who is a sheriff, and the sheriffs apparently handled the matter.

Me: I can't believe that. They coulda been killed.
Beautiful Woman (expressively): Mmmm-hmmm. You got that right.
Me: And they woulda deserved it.
Beautiful Woman (expressively): Mmmm-hmmm.
Me: They're just stupid. There should a stupid law, and
they shoulda been arrested.
Beautiful Woman: Oh yeah, I'll be the first one to vote in
a stupid law. And I know a bunch of folks who'll get arrested.

As someone told me yesterday, some folks is so foolish, you can't even contemplate their foolishness. You just got to keep moving and do your own thing. And that pretty much summed up the feelings of everyone who talked to me about their feelings about what was happening, that this mess in Jena is foolishness, a foolishness indicative of a sickness, because racism is a sickness, and in a way, you only feel sorry for people who are sick like that, but when they hurt you, and especially when they hurt your children, you've got to step up and make them stop.

* The media are underreporting the numbers. I saw articles with headlines like "Hundreds Overwhelm Jena." Tens of thousands. Tens of thousands. I am not experienced in estimating crowds, but all of the streets were full of people. The organizers were estimating 50,000 to 60,000, and there may well have been more. The city of Alexandria, where many of us stayed at least one night, got a sudden, unexpected, and--I am sure--much-needed influx of cash. No wonder the mayor of Alexandria stood on the platform with Michael Baisden to welcome the crowd, express his support of the cause, saying, "Alexandria is not Jena." (That sounds so cynical. Forgive me. He seemed like a good guy. Talked about how reading W. E. B. Dubois in college opened his eyes.)

**It was beautiful. I wish my description could give you a sense of the overwhelming tone of the day. It was the feeling of justice and rightness. Imagine all of your better impulses and everything about you that is good and beautiful uniting and going to war against evil. It was like that, but multiplied thousands of times in this vast crowd. Like all of what is good in human nature all in one place at one time.

UPDATE: More about the noose incident at

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