YESTERDAY NIGHT, I hosted three people from New Orleans who had driven up to Alexandria so that they could get up incredibly early in the morning and drive another hour to Jena, Louisiana. The hotel rooms were all booked around here. The newspaper reported traffic delays in Alexandria at 7AM this morning. That never happens here.
CNN knew what was going on in Jena. They’ve been following the story here for weeks. They’ve been on the ground, scouring through evidence, learning about the area, and interviewing a cross-section of Central Louisianans, including Alexandria’s own Tony Brown, about the case of the Jena Six. And maybe that is why CNN seemed best prepared to cover what happened in Jena today. They were listening.
The State Police estimate that 20,000 people marched on the streets of Jena today, though event organizers claim the numbers were much higher (At one point today, The Town Talk reported that 60,000 people were in attendance). Either way, the event today in Jena was unprecedented, arguably the largest civil rights demonstration in the American South since the 1960s. It was peaceful, it was orderly, and it was an incredible symbol of the power of numbers– a representation of a powerful grassroots movement, people who are committed to expend their own time, energy, and money to support the civil rights of fellow Americans they have never even met before, and a movement that somehow managed to sneak below the radar until suddenly the media collectively realized that the numbers were simply too large to ignore.
CNN also understood that the tens of thousands of people who congregated in Jena today were not inspired to drive into the small town because of mainstream media coverage. The story did not really take shape in the mainstream media. It took shape on the blogosphere and on urban talk radio. And this demonstration did not occur simply because of Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson, though their celebrity and passion for this case lent it credibility. It took place primarily because of people like Alan Bean and his organization Friends of Justice, who have been here since January. It took place because people from Louisiana, both black and white, were inspired to inform people about this story. It took place because of programs like Democracy Now and independent journalists who uncovered an important story that nobody else was interested in.
The story is not over yet, but now, the world is watching.
On a personal note, thank you to the people at National Public Radio, CNN, and PBS for linking to the Jena Six Compendium in order to spread awareness about this issue.
Today, we were reminded of the power of numbers and the power of a movement– a new movement– composed of passionate, intelligent, and motivated Americans, young and old, black and white, rich and poor, Northerners and Southerners, people from all corners of the nation who converged in a small Louisiana town to peacefully demonstrate in support of equal justice.
Lamar, thank you for your respect to the protest that occurred in CenLA this week. Your father would be proud. That is one of the reasons I respected him so much.
Thank you Vincent. That is incredibly kind of you.