At first it wasn’t what I expected. As we rode across the border I saw mansion-like houses, very nicely kept. No confederate flags as of yet, just a few American flags which to me is just as bad. I stand in my seat to see the front of the bus as we are halted by a La. Cop. He tells the driver that the road is closed. If he told our driver to pull over to the side road, I don’t know, but that is what the driver did. As the bus stopped I quickly equip myself with what I need:
Medicine - check.
Camera - check.
Id - check.
Extra camera battery - check.
Extra video tapes - check.
Cell phone - check even though on the ride up here my cell phone reception had decreased more the further south we went. I sent out several text messages to people but they are stuck in the outbox unable to go out. I hope to get a signal soon, I need to call my homegirl lawyer Angela Lockett and I wanted to make sure my homegirl Queenie Jones was able to call just in case. Also we needed to keep in touch with Rev. Al for running instructions. But no reception yet. Well it’ll pop back in soon I hope.
I found my extra knife - leave it behind. I struggled over that one but I didn’t want to compromise the non-violent integrity of the group I was with.
I’m lightly equipped and ready for whatever...somewhat.
I arm my hand with the portable camera and jump ahead of people on the bus to get some shots. As I walk out and start shooting I can feel the excitement in the air, I can hear the noise of the crowd. However I don’t know where to go. The two sisters who are my assistants catch up with me. One of them reminds me not to leave them. "My bad.....I’m a lil’ excited.". While everyone is confused about where to go I point in the direction of a crowd marching with ol’ RBG in front of them. "I’m following that." I think to myself.
Before we stepped off the bus, captains were assigned. I didn’t want to be one due to my emotional state so I never accepted the "job". But something told me I was going to be more than a camera operator today.
I felt a pain in my abdomen, the same pain that has been creeping inside me on the bus ride. Hmmmm, fuck it. No time for pain now.
My assistant (I forgot her name) wants to cut an intro as we march. We do that, finishing up just as we get to the court house where the protest leaders were to speak. The crowd is thick and as a good cameraman I force my way gently through the crowd to get a decent shot. My shots manage to get close ups of the speakers but too many times I am jostled and bumped to prevent a clear steady shot. That’s understandable. The video is good, the audio is good, the battery time is plentiful and the tape availability is good. I just wish I had a steady shot.
Rev. Al Samson spoke first, then Rev. Al Sharpton, then Michael Baisden. The families of the Jena 6 along with two of the boys were brought up on stage. The crowd yells in support
"We love you!!!"
One sista right in front of me is yelling for Michael Baisden, I mean straight up groupie style. I wanted to tell the sista "hey look, this ain’t about celebrity, keep focused on the job at hand." But since I wasn’t entirely sure what that job was, I just kept on shooting.
The crowd screams their love to the brothers and the family. We are getting hype and I can feel it. Now the energy is starting to invigorate me. I should be here no matter what.
Rev Al Sharpton gives an energized speech, as in the back ground I see Congresswoman Maxine Waters, I think I just saw Cynthia McKinney but I could be wrong. I get a shot of Michael Baisden, and a rather odd sight of the Fruit of Islam.....standing WITH the police in the doorway of the court house.
Rev. Al Sharpton orders the crowd to march to their left.....to where? I didn’t catch that. My initial thoughts were, "What’s going on at the court house? Will there be anything for Mychal Bell here since they over turned his adult conviction? Shouldn’t we be staying here, this is where the police seem to be centered.".
I remember on the bus one of the last messages on my cell phone came in from Tanya (Fox). She relates to me instructions from our mutual military minded friend Tone to look out for suspicious people, drones, helicopters, spies, etc. I do that all while shooting what I think will be great footage. My assistants are walking with me and we talk about what’s next. We shoot another march update. Afterwards I take in the vast crowd. Elders, middle aged, children, teenagers, young adults....we’re all here.
Some shouting "NO JUSTICE!! NO PEACE!!".
Some singing that dreaded song "We shall over cooooooome..." Ugghh I hate that fuckin’ song.
I get caught up in the emotion of it all, shooting, walking but never shouting. I’ve been in tons of protests and marches and one thing I remember is to keep my cool. Don’t let the wave of emotion come over me.....that’s when you do stupid shit. So I do what I always do in a protest. Stay alert and watch out for the marchers as well as keeping an eye on the enemy.
Still no signal on my cell phone. Ok.
Our mass of humanity engulfs the street. I can see people as far as the eye can see in front of me and behind me. I see nothing but Red Black Green flags....not one American flag. All being held by brothers and sisters clad in all-black.
We're marching thousands strong, determined to show these Jena 6 brothers and their families that we care and that we have their back. It was awesome, the camaraderie and kinship was seen in every Afrikan face there. We all treated each other like family because that’s what we are!
We march past the school. "There's a rally at the school." someone states. When I arrive there the only thing I see are F.O.I. marching in a straight line and people taking pictures of them. The site where the "white tree" stood is now a vacant lot as school administrators had the tree uprooted. All that stands there now is a lump of dirt where the tree used to me. People take pictures of it.
We continue marching.
We cross the bridge towards a field house and I can see the buses parked there. My assistants want to get a few interviews and we do. We interview a brother. Then we get a good segment with Congresswoman Maxine Waters. Excellent. I try to call my sister comrade, still no reception. Now I'm starting to wonder what's up.
After we get our interviews Rev. Al Samson wants me to shoot him with a few of the organizers. Martin Luther King III, Dick Gregory and Maxine Waters again. By this time my mind is wondering, "What the fuck is supposed to go on here we've been marching for an hour?!". I am not the only one noticing this run around of nothing.
Rev. Al Samson pulls me close and informs me that "...the LEADERSHIP HAS LEFT already for Alexandria Louisiana. There's an amphitheater there where we will continue the rally. We must get the people on the bus and get up to Alexandria. When you see people from our bus tell them to wait here or get on immediately.".
"Ok Rev." I reply. The two sisters and I scan the crowd for our travel mates and we manage to spot a couple of them. I'm feeling a slight pain in my abdomen.
After an hour of standing in the same spot waiting for our people we board the bus.
"Where is everybody?" I ask.
"Out there somewhere, we need to get them on here." an elder replies.
I go out to ask the bus driver, "You want the people on board right?"
"Yeah." he responds.
"We're going to Alexandria right?" I ask.
"I guess so." he questionably replies.
By now Rev Al Samson had already left for Alexandria Louisiana. Now our lead is gone.
"So what are we going to do just wait here?" I ask.
A travel mate states, "I guess so.".
Now it all dawns on me. I didn't want the bus captain job because I didn't want the responsibility but I knew something would happen where I'd have to take charge. "Shit." I think to myself, "l'll go get them."
I give the camera to the sister and equip myself with more stuff. No telling how long I'll be.
"Keep the bus here, I'll be back with the people. KEEP THE BUS HERE! DON'T LEAVE!". After that I venture out into the blazing hot Louisiana sun, looking for over 30 lost Black folks among thousands in a potentially hostile environment. With no sleep, no cell phone and a gnawing pain coursing through my body.
Pssssh, is that all I gotta' do?
For the next TWO HOURS I am walking the streets of Jena searching. I ask our security the F.O.I., if they knew what was supposed to happen next. "We don't know brotha.".
What? How our security don't know what's going on?!?!
"Well I think ya'll need to gather the people and direct them to their buses, we're supposed to go to Alexandria.". After several instances like that, it dawns on me that the people don't know what to do. They were all just walking around, taking pictures, laughing, and sitting around.
This is not good, as by now I'm trying another cell phone call and I'm getting a "no service".
"Excuse me brothas and sistas, are ya'lls cell phones working?" I ask a crowd.
They all respond almost as if choreographed, "no, we can't do anything with them.".
SHIT! this is not good. Thousands of black folks with no organization and a dizzy security with no idea what to do and no communication. I immediately start informing people that they need to get to their buses for the next part of the rally in Alexandria. "People! Ya'll need to get to your buses now, they're waiting!".
I see a group of brothers and sisters arguing with white residents on the side of the road. We were all given specific instructions not to engage the white Jena residents particularly with arguments. But here's a crowd of super deep Black folks exercising their chance to argue down and prove a white person is wrong and inferior in front of their cameras.
"Brothers and sisters ya'll got to keep it moving, we're not to engage the residents...your buses are waiting for you, we all have to get to Alexandria right now!!" I yell.
"Oh ok brother, come on ya'll." was the groups reaction. The group walked away from the white Jena resident, stood around, then walked back to continue arguing.
I'm getting frustrated now because we're vulnerable, numbers be damned. I spend another hour walking up to groups of Black folks:
"Where are ya'll going to?"
"Where are ya'll coming from?"
"Yes ya'll need to get on your buses now, they're ready to leave now for Alexandria!"
"Does anyone have a working cell phone?!"
Finally my stupidity or heroism whichever you want to call it runs out. "Fuck this! I can't do all this by myself. I’m going back to my bus.".
More time passes as I walk to where my bus is. Thinking about why would the "generals" leave the troops in the battlefield without orders or information. What's this pain in my abdomen? Why is my cell phone not working?! What's my ex doing?
I get back to the bus waiting area and I freeze.
My bus is gone.
"No these negroes didn't!!"
I ask around for the where abouts of a giant Gatling bus and I'm told they all took off.
"No these negroes didn't just LEAVE ME IN JENA FUCKIN LOUISI-FUCKIN-ANA!!!"
Ok, contingency plans run through my head. Look for the bus, maybe they're out looking for me. If they’re gone, latch on to any bus going back to Chicago or anywhere near Illinois. That's what’s happening, even if I gotta sit on the floor of a bus, "I isn't stayin' hurrr!!"
Another 2 HOURS PASS and I'm looking for my bus, all along doing the same thing, telling people where to go and what to do....someone has to.
Well, this is what I wanted, get out of Chicago....see different places....reactivate my so-called activism......see different people, experience new things. ONE OF THEM WASN'T GETTING LOST IN LYNCH-A NIGGA-VILLE U.S.A.!!!!
After hours of searching, I turn around and off in the distance.....there it is. My fuckin' bus. I board it and tell people what happened to me in the 3 hours I was gone as I sit down to rest. The bus is still damn near empty. "We still have to get our people." an elder states. Doris Lewis the bus captain and organizer is complaining about how there was no organization and no proper information distribution. I sit down and catch my breath and listen to the elders talk about where everyone is and what's next.
Again, someone states "How will we get our people to the bus? We gotta go!"
Another elder states that we should go out to look for them. "FX, you didn't find any?".
"No", I reply.
A couple of people volunteer to go out and look for our bus mates. I stand up half rested and state "Ok, but we all don't need to get lost. A couple of us will stay on the corner to act as a guide to whomever we come across that belongs on the bus. The rest will go out in two directions searching for people. When you find them, direct them to this corner to which we will then direct them to the bus."
We spend the next two hours waiting and directing the few stragglers who were lost in the city. During this time I find out that Jesse Jackson is giving a speech at the courthouse down the road. I thought this was a unified effort, but then it hit me......THAT'S THE REASON FOR THE DISORGANIZATION! There's a schism between Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson, they both planned separate marches in Jena! It all made sense now! The disorganization, the lack of information, the confusion among the people. The "generals" of the "army" WERE NOT ON THE SAME PAGE!
Al Sharpton the National Action Network, Michael Baisden and other radio personalities and entities planned a march while Jesse Jackson, the SCLC, the NAACP the New Black Panther Party (the New Black Panther Party? With Jesse Jackson?!?!) planned another protest.
To make matters worse, the cell phone mystery was solved somewhat during the two hour wait. Everyone I asked said that their cell phones wasn't working. People immediately thought conspiracy! I even heard of a person on the stage at the court house with Jesse Jackson stating that "they" are scrambling our cell phones. However before I assert conspiracy I had to find out some information first. Since most of us are not from Jena Louisiana that meant we were roaming and thus our cell phone services may be cut or become limited. In the case of my cell phone, I have T-Mobile but during the travel into Jena, my service switched to "US Cent" and "AT&T" and my service was cut. So to solve this mystery, simply ask a native to the state of Louisiana if they have service. If the natives have service, no conspiracy, we’re just roaming. If they don’t have service,....the caucasian is jamming us all. So that’s what I did. The brothers I asked were from Alexandria Louisiana and they told me that they do have service and that only U.S. Centennial and Cingular work in Jena Louisiana, nothing else. Mystery solved. no conspiracy, just shitty service in a low tech city.
After some time I found my homie Africa Hot and another brother, now our bus was complete. We all pile in. Doris Lewis our bus captain voiced the general consensus...."Fuck Alexandria, go straight home to Chicago!".
The ride home was shorter than the ride to Jena Louisiana, the ride back home always is shorter. I’m staring out the window trying to ignore a Wesley Snipes movie the bus driver playing. Outside is something I have only read about as a youth from the big city......I see a cotton field in Mississippi. The sight of the field conjures up images of my fore parents stooping over in the hot sun picking the branches clean of this economic staple. The same economic staple that would prompt caucasians to hang our brothers and sisters with nooses, the same ones that hung from that tree in the yard of the Jena High School. What did we accomplish? What will happen? So we went down to Jena, shouted, took pictures and got some steam off, which was good in a way. But in the entire scheme of things, what was accomplished? And the question remains.......will what we did on September 20th cease any and all acts of aggression against us from our open and bitter enemy?
No. In fact acts of aggression against us will increase. Why? Simply because caucasians CAN do it.
Funny thing about the cell phones, we talked about how they didn’t work. I told people on the bus about how only Cingular and U.S. Centennial service providers worked in Jena.
“But FX,” a young brother responded. “My phone didn’t work and I have Cingular.”.
Those mother fuckers.