Thursday, October 25, 2007

Divided We Fall - Michael Baisden on Jena 6 March

Baisden address so-called divisions amongst leadership and what was accomplished by the march, as he prepares for Un-equal Justice Fundraiser

Divided We Fall:

By Michael Baisden

Within twenty-four hours of the most powerful civil rights demonstration since the 60’s the critics frantically rushed to their microphones and laptops. What should have been a national celebration of unity and peaceful civil demonstration turned into a barrage of negative commentary and ridiculous questions.

Questions such as: What was accomplished by going to Jena, LA? Why wasn’t the march better organized? Why didn’t Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson march together? Since I was the primary person sounding the alarm for millions of my listeners to organize buses and to wear black to symbolize un-equal justice, allow me to answer those critics, loud and clear!

Let’s begin with the question of why Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton didn’t march together. On the morning of September 17 my manager Pamela Exum arrived in Jena, LA for a site inspection to finalize plans for the march. Due to bad weather the prior week her flight into Alexandria was canceled twice so Monday the 17th was the earliest date she could arrange a meeting with the Louisiana State police, who had primary responsibility for security. When she arrived at Ward 10 Park, which was the proposed staging area for the march by the NAACP she immediately called me on my cell phone and stated, “I don’t feel this is safe.”

Ward 10 Park is surrounded by woods, there’s only one road in and out, and by her estimation there was only enough space for no more then 5,000 protestors. Now keep in mind, this did not include parking space for the hundreds of cars, buses and motorcycles expected to roll into this tiny town.

But here’s where the real problem arouse, their original plan was to meet at the Ward 10 Park, march 2 ½ miles from the park to the courthouse and hold speeches, then march back 2 ½ miles to the park. Later Monday afternoon on a conference call lead by the NAACP a decision was made to cancel the march and hold all activities at the Ward 10 Park. All parties were asked to sign off, those groups included Rainbow PUSH (Jesse Jackson Group), Realizing The Dream (MLK III group), National Bar Association, National Action Network (Al Sharpton Group), Congressional Black Caucus, and the SCLC.

It was my decision not to agree to this plan, mainly because I anticipated over 50,000 protestors. And because there was a rap concert planned in the park later that evening. This plan would have been feasible for 5,000 with no vehicles on site, but there was no way I would agree to putting tens of thousands of my listeners in a potentially dangerous situation. Everyone who saw the area located around the courthouse knows it could not hold 50,000 let alone 5,000, and then do an about face back to the park, I don’t think so!

My responsibility was not to any of these groups, my concern was the tens of thousands of listeners who were headed to Jena, LA because of the call I put out along with other radio personalities.

Ms. Exum made her objection, informed everyone that I was not agreeable to this plan and it would not be promoted on my show, but that we would not interfere with their plans. She then took a ride with the Louisiana State Police and mapped out a new route which started at the courthouse to the Jena High school, then to the Jena City Park where buses would be boarded to make a prompt exit. She e-mailed all parties involved as a courtesy. Rev. Sharpton, The Congressional Black Caucus, National Bar Association, and five of the Jena 6 families all agreed to OUR plan. We all felt it was imperative for the protestors to march passed the Jena High school, the scene of the crime. I announced the itinerary on the air and placed it on the banner.

There wasn’t any riff between Rev. Sharpton and Jesse Jackson, or any other organization; they were all free to go along with the original plan at the Ward 10 Park, if they so desired. Everyone chose the plan they felt best suited their organizations, period!

To the question of why the march wasn’t better organized, there is no way to effectively move 50,000 people in and out of a town where the entire population is 3,000, no one was at fault; it was simply overwhelming. Once the vast majority of people missed the original 9:00 a.m. speech at the courthouse, which by the way, was on time, they were left to march once they arrived, and I’m proud to say they all did without a single incident.

Lastly, to the critics who sarcastically ask, what was accomplished by marching on Jena? Over 50,000 men, women, and children of all races made a statement to the nation and to the world that we are fed up with the un-just legal system, that we will not allow our children to be locked away in prison for 20 years for a high school brawl, and the most important statement of all, we will fight for what we believe in; not just sit back on our behind and complain and criticize but actually do something! Every movement has to have a beginning, and this is it. So instead of asking the ridiculous question of why were we there, maybe you should be asking yourself, why weren’t you!!!

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