In my home town of Cleveland, Ohio there was a march and forum/roundtable. It was mentioned in yesterday's newspaper and I decided to attend with a few friends. The march began at 8:00am so, my friends picked me up at 7:30 and we drove over to the other side of town expecting to see 25-50 folks gathered for a fairly small demonstration.
Imagine my surprise when we arrived to see 500+ folks having donned Free Jena 6 t-shirts and preparing to march in solidarity with the thousands+ gathering in Jena, LA today.
"It feels like the 60's again" was one comment I heard from the crowd.
"It's about damn time" was another.
As we walked, we chanted and talked a bit about what we were doing and why. I asked a number of people in the crowd how they had heard about the event and what brought them out today. The mention in the newspaper was helpful but it seemed like the organizers had also made extensive use of email and established networks to bring the crowd. The participants were diverse in a few ways, age...gender...religious affiliation but it was a fairly monotone group when it comes to racial diversity. My friends and I were three of maybe 12-20 white folks who were spread among the crowd.
We marched together from east 30th street to Cleveland State University where we were ushered into an auditorium for some more rallying and a roundtable discussion about issues of race, racism, and our criminal (in)justice system.
One of the things that I found amazing about the discussion was the number and diversity of groups that were represented. We heard from the President of Black Studies at Cleveland State University (Mike Williams) and then we heard from a representative of the youth contingent present. Other speakers included an NAACP representative, a member of the New Black Panther Movement, a justice minister from the United Church of Christ, a member of the revolutionary communist party, and a man named Carl Williams who has been on the system-side of the criminal justice system and offered a great deal of insight into what is happening in our prisons and to our black brothers.
Overall the message of the day seemed to be two-fold. The first message was one of thanks, excitement, and appreciation for the number of people that were present.
The second, and really, the more important message was that we are in a critical moment in our cultural development. That we have been asleep at the wheels of justice and they are not turning in our favor. That it is time for us to wake up and unite as a community of God's children to beat down the walls of a racist and oppressive system and DEMAND justice for our children, our mothers and fathers, our sisters, and mostly... our black brothers who are being systematically extracted from the communities that need them.
There was an overtone of revolution and a hint of conspiracy in the mood of the day. I can't imagine how it could be otherwise when so many of the people gathered are watching a replay of events that galvanized a generation 30 years ago. Only this time it seems somehow worse. It seems that we should have known better... we should have kept better watch.
This 'second' message of the day was a call to action. It was a call to organization and mobilization. It asked each of us to stand together, to stand witness... to stand up and be counted and to say ENOUGH IS ENOUGH to the racism and violence that is keeping us all down.
I was proud to be a part of this event today. I was honored to stand in the midst of my african-american brothers and sisters and lift my voice along with everyone as we sang the National Anthem at the beginning and the end of the event. I sang with every breath I had to give....
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun,
Let us march on till victory is won.
Truly...let us march on together.