Saturday, September 22, 2007

History is Made in Jena: New Heroes and Methods Emerge

On Thursday, September 20, 2007, tens of thousands of people descended on Jena, LA to express outrage at the racist judicial system that criminalized six Black boys for a school fight that should have been handled in the context of the school. Across the nation, civil rights rallies were held first and foremost to show support for the Jena 6, but also to protest the racist climate in Jena that precipitated the fight, as well as our nation’s overwhelmingly prejudicial system of injustice. I am confident that most people reading this blog knew, or at least now know the well documented facts that make up the Jena situation, including but not limited to the ½ dozen or so acts of violence and intimidation perpetrated by white students and adults against Black students in Jena which created this powder keg to begin with.

While I have been critical of the Reverend Al Sharpton before, one must never forget that he has continuously been at the forefront of all significant protests against racial injustice over the past 20 years. And even though Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, Maxine Waters, and others became the prominent faces and voices on September 20th – the movement would have never gotten off the ground the way it did without young people, mostly from historically Black colleges and universities, leading the charge. In addition, much like the recent massive demonstrations of Latino immigrants that were in part organized by Hispanic radio stations across the nation, Black radio stations and personalities helped organize and spearhead the Jena 6 movement.

In many ways, the role that Black radio played in the grassroots organizing of Thursday’s event was one of the most promising things to occur in decades. Why do I say this? Without getting too far into it (or down that road so to speak) traditional leadership that used to come from Black Churches or Mosques has been virtually non-existant since the civil rights movement. Michael Baisden, usually known for heating up the airwaves with racy conversations about relationships, probably was more responsible than anyone for getting folks to come to Jena, and motivate others across the nation to wear black in solidarity with the Jena 6 on Thursday. While many of us had been writing, organizing, or donating for months in the shadows, Baisden used his platform to bring light to the plight of the Jena 6.

Throughout history, unlikely heroes have emerged, usually in response to oppressive conditions. Baisden’s credibility as a straight shooter without an agenda allowed him to get the attention of people who most likely would have never become involved without his day in, day out coverage of the Jena 6. My hope is that the momentum Baisden helped create turns into ongoing action, as Mychal Bell still sits in a jail cell. While we could spend all day pointing out those absent from Thursday's events (whites, Latinos, Asians, Obama, and rappers for starters) it is more important to recognize the collective power of those present in mind, body and spirit. For those of us who chose the conscience path of struggle and solidarity, there was a special connection and power mutually felt as we boarded subway trains in our black clothes and determined faces.

Tonight I am unusually optimistic, because this just might finally be the tipping point I have been waiting for my entire life. And if it takes new ways and dynamics of organizing and leadership than I'm all for it, because this other shit hasn't been working for a very, very long time. Big up to Michael Baisden and man let's keep it moving and FREE THE JENA 6!


D-Fence said...

Great commentary, LTR. I’m happy to see Black radio use its power to influence the people for good. Too often I think Black media fails to recognize the power the air-waves have to change minds and mold opinions. I have my issues with the media, and Black media in particular, but I’ll reserve those for another time. Hopefully, now that some of these air personalities recognize they have a voice and can affect social change with through the media, they will continue to focus on important social issues as much as they focus on “love, lust, and lies.” Might not happen next week, but D-Fence can dream…

Le Tigre Rouge said...

Thanks d-fence,

Our hopes are one in the same. I should say though that I don't think Baisden should attempt to be something he's not. There should be enough space for him to help organize and communicate with folk through the airwaves, as well as space to discuss relationships in the Black community. In this nation Black people are held to such an unfair standard. One can be political and like to party for example - the two are not mutually exclusive. With Baisden, he doesn't try to be something he's not. I appreciate that fact.

Too often we hold people to ridiculous standards of moral purity that doesn't really jibe with reality.