We got off the bus and started walking. Even though no one knew exactly where to go, we all went in the same direction. People were moving from the side streets and the highway outside of Jena into the center of town.
Even though we passed many empty parking lots, we could not park there. Brand-new no parking signs were posted everywhere (some misspelled, heh), and lots were protected by makeshift fences of orange construction netting. Yards were festooned with yellow and black police tape. The fear of the white residents was palpable.
The highmindedness of the crowd overwhelmed that ugliness, though. The sheer determination and sense of purpose and justice--oh! I wish you could feel it.
These young men were selling T shirts:
There were stations set up here and there along the route, with people speaking into microphones ("Atlanta in the house! Detroit, Michigan represents!" "Stand up for Jena!" "No justice, no peace!"), and some played music. Almost everyone wore black; the ones who did not were wearing T shirts of their own design that showed support for the Jena 6.
Of the thousands and thousands of people, my estimate is that less than half of one percent were white. Most of the white folk there were journalists, or part of the Red Cross team that was distributing water (it was very, very hot, and there was very little shade).
Here is a picture of my new friend R. from Tennessee and me:That is R.'s sign, but I carried it part of the way--she was toting a hefty backpack.
We flowed with the crowd through the town, chanting occasionally ("Free Mychal Bell!" "No justice, no peace!"), past the courthouse, to the high school, and back around to the courthouse to hear the speakers. We were there for hours and hours, and yet time slowed or sped up, or just seemed nonexistent, as if there were no such thing as time, there was just all the excitement and the fervor and the goodness and what was happening at that time.
The Black Panthers had a strong presence. Mothers brought up their sons for pictures. I saw a Black Panther stoop for a picture with a boy who looked to be about 4. He patted the boy and said, "Go out, young warrior." Beautiful.
There were families and groups of students and elderly people and revolutionaries and very formally dressed, very dignified solid citizens, and dreadlocked rastas. I did not see any extreme saggy pants. Everyone, even the revolutionaries, had a respectable appearance. Every time we stopped, we got into a conversation with people about where they were from and how they'd gotten there and with whom they'd come. There was this sense of unity, of everyone holding hands for the cause.
At the closing ceremony at the convention center, we did all hold hands while Reverend Al Sharpton gave a benediction.
There is so much more to say, but it's almost as if I don't know what to write any more. If you have any questions, feel free to comment or send an email. Next to the day my daughters were born, this was the most spiritual, most beautiful day of my life. I feel like my heart is so full that everything inessential has been moved out to make room for this. This is truly what really matters.
More to see:
pre-protest pictures from NPR
slideshow of the rally from msnbc
Chicago Trib video
Jesse Jackson speaking
Al Sharpton speaking
slideshow of photos from 9/20/07 in Jena
photo essay and story from Michael David Murphy