By Tyneisha Bowens
FIST photo Tyneisha Bowens
One hundred and fifty anti-racist activists continued the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 21 as they confronted members of the white supremacist organization, the Nationalist Movement, in Jena, La. The event took place on Martin Luther King Day in this small Louisiana town that has been the stage for what is being called the new civil rights movement.
The Nationalist Movement was in Jena for what they called “Jena Justice Day,” which was in opposition to the September 2007 mobilization of tens of thousands people in support of the Jena 6 and the overall message of equality that Martin Luther King Jr. preached. The white supremacists recently won a suit with Jena giving them the right to march there without a permit, carrying nooses and white cross flags and even firearms. Various anti-racist organizations, groups, and individuals drove into the city to say “No to nooses!”
WW photo: Sara Flounders
The diversity of the anti-racist group, which included Black, Latin@, Arab, Asian, Native and white folks, showed the unity that is being forged between oppressed nationalities in the United States. People came out from Los Angeles; Chicago; New York; New Orleans; Atlanta; Jersey City, N.J.; Durham, N.C.; and Jena.
At 9 a.m. the anti-racist activists met at two checkpoints outside of Jena and caravanned in for safety. “We have been harassed by the police, pulled over and ticketed almost everyday,” explained one of the organizers from the January 21 in Jena Committee. After caravanning into the town, the anti-racists held a rally in Jena’s park where the crowd listened to speakers including police brutality activist Juanita Young, Rev. Raymond Brown of Louisiana’s National Action Network, a representative of the youth group FIST—Fight Imperialism, Stand Together, Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party, a member of the Common Ground Collective and activists from cities across the country.
WW photo: Sara Flounders
After the rally the group of about 150 marched from the park to the courthouse where 15-30 white supremacists were holding their rally. En route to the courthouse, the march received acknowledgment, support and adversity from the residents of Jena. However, the people of Jena did not come out in support of the white supremacist rally.
As they climbed the hill toward the courthouse chanting “No Nazis, No KKK, No Fascist USA!” the anti-racists saw a wall of police. The strong police presence was an attempt to force the march into a “free speech zone” in the back of the courthouse. But the march successfully pushed back the police line and asserted its constitutional rights of assembly and free speech.
WW photo: Tyneisha Bowens
At the front of the Jena courthouse the protesters confronted the racists, drowning out their message of white supremacy with the message of justice, unity and equality.
Though there were only 15 Nationalist Movement members present, the overwhelmingly racist presence of the state—the police, courts and prisons—was much larger. Agents from the local, state and federal law enforcement agencies protected the armed and threatening white supremacists from the unarmed crowd speaking out against racism and hate.
Peter Gilbert of FIST, who participated in the rally with a delegation of FIST and International Action Center members from Raleigh, N.C., and New York, said: “The collusion of the state was apparent at every level. It was the state that gave the white supremacists the right to march unpermitted and armed; it was the state that gave them the front of the courthouse; and it was the state that was protecting them.”
The anti-racists effectively drowned out the Nationalist Movement’s message and showed the white supremacists and the state that this kind of racism will not go unanswered. The march, having achieved its goal, moved back to the park where a rally and caravan into the community ended the event.
The presence of the white supremacist Nationalist Movement, whose leaders are small businesspeople from outside Jena, in a small and economically underdeveloped town like Jena, shows the rising tide of racism as a reaction to the economic crisis. However, the relatively higher numbers of anti-racists shows that a multinational, unified movement is becoming more prepared to counter these attacks.
Bowens spoke at the anti-racist rally representing FIST.
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