Revolution#110, November 25, 2007
The Jena 6, the Nooses, And Why We Need a Revolution
Enough is enough! The statement was made again on November 16 when thousands of people—mostly Black people—marched around the so-called “Department of Justice” in D.C. chanting No Justice No Peace! The marchers were demonstrating against the whole wave of oppression going down on Black people: in particular, the rampant police murder and unequal justice; the prosecution—and persecution—of the Jena 6; and the epidemic of nooses that erupted in response to the struggle to free the Jena 6, and which has been winked at by the authorities.
The rally in D.C. came two months after tens of thousands of people marched in Jena, Louisiana on September 20. Nothing like that—nothing like its spirit or turnout or determination—had been seen in a long, long time. Things have been way too quiet in America for way too long when it comes to the situation for Black people. But now a sleeping giant is waking up.
The battle to Free the Jena 6 is shining a light on the reality of the situation for Black people in America: A “whites only” tree in a schoolyard. Lynching nooses hanging from the tree. And then, when Black students stood up, the system hit back with vicious criminal charges against the Jena 6. This is America, 2007.
And then there is the reactionary counterattack. Nooses springing up like dead ghouls coming back to life in a horror movie: Pittsburgh, Jacksonville, Cincinnati, and New London, CT. At Columbia University in New York City, an African-American professor found a noose hanging outside her door. Nooses were hung at the University of Maryland near the offices of several Black campus groups in early September. On September 29, a noose was found hanging in the locker room of the Hempstead, NY police department. On October 2, a noose was hanging on a utility pole at the Anniston Army Depot in Alabama. In Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, parish supervisors refused to dismantle a display in a public works department office that included a noose and a bullwhip. The display came down only after a Black worker expressed outrage and went to the media.
Meanwhile, Mychal Bell was thrown back into prison in what amounted to a secret court proceeding supposedly on the basis of “probation violation”—despite the fact that his conviction was overturned, despite the fact that he has already served 10 months of his young life for a crime for which he has not been convicted. On top of that, the establishment has been using the media to demonize Mychal and the rest of the Jena 6 as well, spreading totally unsubstantiated and, frankly, irrelevant rumors as if they were the truth—while covering up and even prettifying the reality that is Jena, Louisiana—and that is also America, 2007.
Yes, things are dividing out. Everyone has to choose where they stand. To stand on the sidelines is to stand on the wrong side, with the white supremacist status quo, with the nooses, with the powers-that-be.
Fight the Power, And Transform the People, For Revolution
Where’s this all coming from, where’s it all going, and what needs to be done?
This system has failed—repeatedly—to deliver on its promise of equality. First there was the Civil War, which was supposed to finally end slavery. But just a decade later, the plantation owners were back in power in the south, and Black people were working in near-slave conditions.
Then, there was the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ’60s, followed by the Black Liberation struggle, aimed at overcoming inequality. But after all the sacrifice, where do things stand? The policeman’s bullet has replaced the lynch mob, and a death sentence still hangs over the head of young Black men in the United States. From the nearly one million Black people in jail, to the apartheid-like educational system, to the relentless and deepening discrimination in every sphere of life and the pervasive demonization of African-Americans in political campaigns and the media, the oppression has taken on new forms, becoming in many respects more entrenched, more grotesque, and both more subtle and more blatant—at the same time.
What politician of any influence at all is even talking about radically changing any of this? Who, anywhere near the halls of power, is calling for freedom for the Jena 6? The Attorney General, the one who is supposed to enforce whatever civil rights laws are left on the books, says he cannot tell that waterboarding is torture. What does that tell you?
The problem is that since Day One in this country, the oppression of African, and then African-American, people has been built into the economic functioning of this system, and this has been reflected in and reinforced by the whole political system and culture. When faced with massive movements of millions to demand change, the system refused to grant Black people equality. As Bob Avakian has put it, “It was not simply a matter that the ruling class would not do this, but more profoundly it was the fact that they could not. They could not because it would have torn up their whole system, it would have undermined their whole economic base and their whole superstructure to do this.” (See “How This System Has Betrayed Black People: Crucial Turning Points,” online at revcom.us)
To really get rid of inequality and the oppression of Black and other minority nationality peoples, as well as all the rest of this system’s outrages and abuses, we need nothing less than a revolution, one that brings in a whole new system—socialism—and a whole new form of state power, which would support the masses in challenging every form of exploitation and oppression.
And as part of that whole revolutionary movement, this has to be clear from the git: the day is long over when these oppressors are going to be able to get away with outrages like the railroad of the Jena 6.
Which Side Are You On?
When ten thousand people got on the bus to Jena on September 20, there were hardly any white people on board. And again, at the march in DC on November 16, there were very few whites or people of other nationalities in the crowd.
A guest editorial printed in this paper (“The UNITY WE DO NOT NEED & the UNITY WE DO NEED,” Revolution #105, October 21, 2007 available at revcom.us), posed this challenge to people of all nationalities: “Who are you standing with—those standing up against oppression, or with the oppressor? While the vast majority of white people, even those caught up in reactionary things, are not actually the same as the relative handful who actually owns, controls and runs this society and fundamentally benefits from exploitation and oppression, in a basic sense, you can be part of the solution or part of the problem.”
White people who say they oppose racism but are standing on the sidelines need to understand, and act on the fact, that there is no sidelines. Silence is complicity. When you stand by in silence, you are allowing the system to maintain white supremacy. And you are leaving Black people isolated in the just struggle against all this. On the other hand, large numbers of white people standing with the struggle against the oppression of Black people—as happened during the 1960s—would be a powerful thing. It would give heart to people struggling against white supremacy. And this kind of unity—based on opposing white supremacy—can contribute to the revolutionary movement we need.
We Don’t Need to “Clean Up Our Own Backyard” — We Need Revolution!
Ever since the early capitalists kidnapped millions of people from Africa and put them in chains, their apologists have come up with racist excuses to justify what the SYSTEM has done. Back then, they said that it was in the nature of Africans to be slaves—and they quoted from their Bible to justify it. And with every new form of oppression, the system has come up with new bullshit to justify it.
Today—when the decent jobs have been taken from the inner cities, when Black people continue to be discriminated against in hiring and housing and health care, when unequal justice puts African-Americans behind bars way out of proportion—flunkies like Bill Cosby run around playing this same game: blaming the people for what the system has done. Cosby may have been a comedian, but today he’s the butt end of a tired ventriloquist act, sitting like a dummy on his master’s lap while his master’s words come spilling out of his mouth.
And any conciliation with this crap is poisonous. Even in the form that “well, discrimination is wrong, and Cosby is going too far, but Black people still share some of the blame for their situation.” This is not true, and because it is not true, it cannot lead to liberation, and indeed it can only lead to defeat in the crucial battles we face right now. It will lead people to confuse right and wrong, to compromise and give in at the very moment they should fight harder, to lower their sights, and to round-off the sharp edges of the truth. This kind of thinking reflects the social position of the petty bourgeoisie, or middle class, which is “caught in the middle” between the basic people and the imperialist rulers. The middle class may have made it a little bit, but their position is precarious, and they still face oppression. They can play an important and positive role in the struggle—but their social position pulls them towards viewpoints and programs that blame the masses for their own oppression and that do not see (or sometimes shrink from and even oppose) the fact that the only way out of this oppression is revolution, and a whole new system.
Cosby and his type say that Black youth need to “take more responsibility for their situation.” Well, the Black high school students in Jena did take responsibility—they stood up against the nooses, and they need to be supported. That’s the kind of “responsibility” people need to take. That’s the kind of “good choice” you can make for real. And the movement to free them has to spread, and become more determined, as part of building a revolutionary movement. Every time youth do the right thing, people need to have their backs. And if you want to be “responsible,” and make “good choices,” then you need to be supporting that struggle.
Battles like the one to Free the Jena 6 are extremely important, and can play a vital role in building a revolutionary movement. We cannot allow the system to crush people, and beat the rebellious spirit out of them. And through this struggle, and through the role that communist revolutionaries play, people can learn about the real nature of this system: who are our friends and allies, and who is the enemy. What is the problem, and what is the solution. And they can begin to see the need and basis for revolution.
A pillar of this whole system is the vicious exploitation and oppression of Black people in this country. And the struggle against the oppression of Black people can be—and must be—a powerful component of a whole struggle to end that global system of plunder.
Get involved in the struggle and take up this paper, and as you do get into the works of Bob Avakian. In short, spread revolution and build resistance!
Fight the Power, And Transform the People, For Revolution
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