On Thursday (20 September 2007), two buses full of people representing three congregations traveled from Shreveport, Louisiana to Jena, Louisiana to participate in the 20 September 2007 National Day of Action to support the "Jena Six" defendants. These congregations were Evergreen Baptist Church, Steeple Chase Baptist Church, and All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church.
As part of this group, we had 3 Unitarian Universalist ministers traveling with us (Rev. Lyn Oglesby - All Souls Shreveport, Rev. Fred Hammond - UU Jackson MS, and Rev. Eliza Galaher - Wildflower UU Austin TX). We also had several laypeople from All Souls Shreveport who also traveled to Jena as well.
After catching this bus at 5 AM, I'm still a bit tired from the trip and walking around Jena.
The crowd in Jena was huge yesterday. The Shreveport Times was estimating as many as 60,000 people were at the event.
As we exited I-49 in Alexandria towards Jena, there was a traffic jam of chartered buses headed towards Jena. As we drove through Pineville, the local and state law enforcement folks had a large group of charter buses pull over. They were planning on having us go into Jena as a bus caravan.
While waiting by the roadside, I saw dozens of buses waiting for the last leg of this trip into Jena.
Just before getting off the bus, one of Baptist ministers led us in a prayer where he quoted Amos' words that are used in the familiar hymn "Come Build A Land."
We got off the bus just outside Jena near their Wal-Mart and walked into town.
The only retail business that I saw as open for business was Wal-Mart (the only event that Wal-Mart would close for is Jesus' birthday every December). The rest of the local businesses in Jena were closed and many of them had yellow plastic "crime scene" tape and "no tresspassing" signs marking their property boundaries.
A group was "passing the hat" to raise the bail money for Mychel Bell -- they raised over $17,000 of the required $10,000 bail bond to get the remaining Jena Six defendant out of jail (Mychel's bail was set at $90,000). This money was given to Mychel's grandmother and Mychel should be out of jail as he is re-tried as a minor for the incident real soon. Mychel has been in jail since last December -- he's served over 8 months in the parish jail for a schoolyard fight.
We wandered around some more and found that folks wanted to photograph and interview us. Susan said that she hadn't been photographed this much in one day since our wedding. The All Souls members were wearing cream-colored t-shirts that said "Justice for Jena" on the front and had our church name on the back. Susan said that one person thanked her for being there because it meant that our black neighbors were not alone in protesting the racial and class injustice in the Louisiana legal system.
One very puzzling thing in Jena for me was the lack of trash cans for our trash. After finishing a bottle of water, I had to search behind a closed business for a trash can to dispose of my trash. I kept the rest of my lunch trash in my backpack. But it was very puzzling -- if tens of thousands were visiting my town, it would make sense to have trash cans for our trash.
I've already seen a few conservative critics complain on the Shreveport Times web site reader comments about the trash left by the crowd. I expect that some Jena residents are going to complain about the costs of the cleanup. But there were no trash cans on the sidewalks or other public spaces in Jena. I'm not in favor of littering but I realize that the backpacker "pack it in, pack it out" ethic is not a universal one especially in populated areas. The post-event litter is partly the responsibility of the town that didn't provide trash cans for this event.
I've got some pictures from my cell phone camera (I really need to get a digital camera) and from the local paper for this event. I will also get some digital photographs from church members as well. The photo diary on this blog will happen later.