Well, okay, not quite live. And not quite Jena either. I've actually been following today's proceedings, not on CNN or any other corporate owned juggernaut, but at a more bootleg level, listening to Radio One's live coverage of the event on wolam.com most of the morning here from my Day Job. You gotta love technology.
I've been pretty critical of this whole Jena Six phenomenon, not because I don't agree with the cause (I totally do), but because I think it reveals the inherent issue with modern day activism in black America. It seems like we can only organize on a large scale when there's racism involved.
Translation: Unless there's a white person doing harm to blacks, we just don't really care.
My biggest problem with this whole "movement" is that it's reactive, rather than proactive. If you're always laying in the cut, and only responding when something wrong is done to you, your situation will never improve as a whole. It's like the parent who goes storming down to the school when their child gets a failing report card, but doesn't bother checking homework every night, which might have prevented the bad result in the first place.
Everyone jumped on the first bus to Jena, and left behind the all too familiar, all too real problem plaguing our communities. And surprise, it ain't DA Reed Walters, disgusting a human being as he is. Nope, it's Tyrone. I'm still waiting for that march though. Sign me up now.
So, while I definitely support the push for justice for Mychal Bell, and the other 5 young men, I just wonder what the long term result of mobilizing 30,000 people for one day will be. Color me skeptical.
Naturally, since I couldn't make it to Louisiana today (ha!), I decided to monitor the minute by minute report via Syndication One. For those of you unaware, S.O. is Radio One's syndicated black talk radio network. It probably airs in a city near you, but you probably wouldn't know since the stations aren't well promoted and are usually stuck in AM purgatory. Anyways, I listen frequently, since I'm not a big Hot/Jammin/Power/Kiss/Jamz/Big FM "where Hip-Hop and R&B lives" station listener. No offense, but by age 30-something, if you're still taking in hours of "Ay Bay Bay", "Suicidal", "Sexy Lady" and "Crank Dat Soulja Boy" on the daily, just go ahead and kill yourself right now. Life isn't going to get any easier.
I'm currently listening to Keepin' It Real with Rev. Al Sharpton, but The Warren Valentine Show, which comes on from like 10am-1pm EST was more enlightening in terms of on-the-ground happenings in Jena.
Among the many nuggets I gleaned from listening [forgive the choppiness, I keep updating this as the show goes on]:
* Jena looks like Freaknik. It's unorganized, there are people, music, and stages all over the place, with little uniformity or apparent purpose.
* Lots of stars are there in the name of "support". They also happen to be promoting their new music/movie releases. Frankie Beverly and Maze, UGK (see above pic of Bun B), and others are out and about.
* There are lots of "party fliers" for Jena 6 after parties in nearby Alexandria, being passed around. MySpace rappers, with their demo tapes and those cheap CD's they pressed on their mother's computers are all over the place. Bootleg t-shirts, rib tips, and probably nice dime bag can all be procured with ease. It's like we never left home.
* Reverend Al led a colossal sang-a-long to Bill Wither's "Keep On Usin' Me (Till You Use Me Up)". It's a great song, but I think I missed it's significance in the grand scheme of things. The net result made me wonder if I was listening to a rally for justice, or the Tom Joyner Sky Show. I know music has always played a role in the civil right's movement (James Brown's "I'm Black and I'm Proud" is an athem), but this shit just seemed so out of place.
* Michael Baisden then lead the crowd on a sing-a-long of Robin Thicke's "Lost Without You". Yes. Really. I damn near threw my laptop out my 10th floor office window.
* Later in the day, on The Michael Baisden Show, with the rally long over, and congregants back in Alexandria, Baisden opened the 6pm segment of his show by announcing "It's a Par-taay!!!". In between angry phone calls to AverageMom, AverageSisterInLaw (missed you), and my AverageSiblings, I faintly heard "The Double Dutch Bus" and that new Alicia Keys playing in the background. I was pretty pissed about this. I mean, 6 black men have been inordinately (but not wrongly, there was after all an assault here) charged with a crime. What the fuck is there to party about? I called AverageMom for the skinny. She said Civil Rights Marches of her time were an all day affair, a serious deal, because despite the cause of solidarity, danger was always just around the corner. I seriously doubt folks left for the March on Washington and packed "club gear" with them.
* I heard Baisden also threw a pre-party the night before with $10 admission, as well as a book signing.
* There was lots of bellyaching about why athletes and actors didn't donate more money for buses to get people there. Classic "pass the blame" excuse.
* The "main stage", where Sharpton, and Michael Baisden are hosting their radio shows, has turned into nothing more than The Soundbyte Olympics 2007. Every bootleg preacher, politician (including disgraced Congressman William Jefferson), and straight to DVD Hollywood star (like "Next Friday"'s Kym Whitley) had taken their 15 seconds on stage to spout lots of irrelevant rhetoric. I get the distinct impression that many of these people don't really have a good grasp of the particulars of this case.
[I'm sure many of you will read this and say "well, you weren't there, how do you know what happened?" And yes, that's partly true. But if you can dispute any of what I wrote here, or tell me anything, and I mean, anything that this march accomplished, do tell. Kill me in the comments section. Educate me.]
As I kept listening, I couldn't help but feel that my prediction of more Drive-By Activism today in Jena was going to prove true. Because as far as I can tell, there was no organized push for mobilization on a local level. None. Maybe some of this will just rub off by osmosis, but I doubt it. After all, what exactly, other than Spike Lee's horrendous "Get On The Bus" is the lasting legacy of the Million Man March? Yes, it was a powerful statement for one day, but our communities, a decade later, aren't any better off as a whole.
Real change requires a call to action, which I didn't hear yesterday between all the yellin' and sangin'. Perhaps the organizers of this thing could have signed people up for coaching, tutoring, or mentoring programs, financial awareness seminars, classes on parenting, hell something, anything that would make a lasting difference. And since there were SO many young people there (a point overly emphasized throughout the day), did anyone consider signing these kids up for service organizations in the communities around their schools? Did anyone consider signing these kids up for a class on financial literacy so they don't ruin their credit (and thus employment opportunities) before they even graduate? Did anyone do anything to empower these people once they go home? Maybe so, but unless I completely missed it, all anybody was focused on was the After Party.
Tomorrow, all 30,000 of these people will be gone. White-owned businesses throughout the county will be laughin' straight to the bank, despite calls from event organizers to not support these very businesses, thus giving these very oppressors an economic boom. The streets will be littered with Popeyes' boxes, party flyers, and probably more than a few blunt roaches. Reverend Al will be on to his next media-whoring cause. Baisden and his tired show will go back to talking about down-low brothers, shady preachers, and triflin' baby mamas.
And everyone who trekked to Jena will return back to communities still filled with crime, still filled with underachieving students in underfunded schools, still living in homes financed by predatory lenders, still listening to radio tainted with the vocoder stylings of T-Pain and Akon. Until, of course, the next rally/march/par-taaay.
This ain't a movement, it's just an event. And there is a big difference.
In short, September 20th, 2007 won't change shit.
Epilogue: If you really want to help these kids longterm, keep praying for the Jena Six after today, and while you're are it, pour out a lil' liquor for their Legal Defense Fund. I'm sick of David Bowie getting all the credit, like this is Dangerous Minds, or Finding Forrester or some other White Guy Saves The Darkies idd-ish.