Straight outta cyberspace. The Jena protests

The Jena protests are probably the first real world protests that came almost entirely and spontaneously out of the Internet. White bloggers, myself included, were asleep at the wheel. Black activists mainly from the hip hop community showed us how to do it.

Yet this will be a civil rights protest literally conjured out of the ether of cyberspace, of a type that has never happened before in America—a collective national mass action grown from a grassroots word-of-mouth movement spread via Internet blogs, e-mails, message boards and talk radio.

None of the top-tier liberal bloggers paid the Jena situation much attention in the weeks leading up to the march, and those of us on the left dedicated to civil-rights and race issues — like myself — tended to let it slide. The bloggers who made this happen were all “bloggers of color” whose own burgeoning network turned out to be truly potent.

Among the websites leading the Jena activism is Color of Change.

The official website, Free the Jena 6, explains the case.

Last fall, when two Black high school students sat under the “white” tree on their campus, white students responded by hanging nooses from the tree. When Black students protested the light punishment for the students who hung the nooses, District Attorney Reed Walters came to the school and told the students he could “take [their] lives away with a stroke of [his] pen.” Racial tension continued to mount in Jena, and the District Attorney did nothing in response to several egregious cases of violence and threats against black students. But when a white student–who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses–taunted a black student, allegedly called several black students “nigger”, and was beaten up by black students, six black students were charged with second-degree attempted murder. Last month, the first young man to be tried, Mychal Bell, was convicted. He faces up to 22 years in prison for a school fight.

His sentence has been partially vacated because he should have been tried as a minor. The other five, who are old enough to be tried as adults, will be on trial soon.

Wikipedia has an excellent timeline of the events, and includes the following (emphasis added.)

“There is clearly a separate and unequal judicial process going on in the town of Jena. A donation to the Jena Six Legal Defense Fund is my small gesture indicating my belief that a wrongful charge and sentence should be prevented.” — David Bowie, upon contributing $10,000 to the Jena 6 Defense Fund.

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