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Rally against “21st Century Confederacy” in Jacksonville, Florida

By staff |
April 30, 2013
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Southern Movement Assembly protest at Jacksonville Court House.
Southern Movement Assembly protest at Jacksonville Court House. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

Jacksonville, FL - Chants of “We all count! We will not be erased!” rang out at Hemming Plaza as over 100 people from across the southern U.S. marched against racism and national oppression on April 28. The protesters marched to the Jacksonville Court House raising banners and signs demanding justice for Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Marissa Alexander and others oppressed by the racist criminal justice system.

The protest closed out a three-day Southern Movement Assembly, bringing together African-American, Latino, labor union and queer activists from around the southern United States. Leaders discussed upcoming projects and the broader struggle against oppression. On April 28, the protesters agreed to a statement about the Assembly’s purpose and united around principles for action.

“There is a 21st Century Confederacy attacking our families,” read the statement, which the crowd repeated together. “We need a decolonization strategy. We commit to our own liberation. We commit to tell our own stories. We commit to unity in our communities.”

The assembly was well attended over the course of the three days. Groups like Project South, Southerners on New Ground (SONG), the New Jim Crow Movement, Dream Defenders, the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, Black Workers for Justice, Alternate Roots and the North Florida Central Labor Council sent leaders and delegations to the event. People from across the South were represented, including activists from Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas.

On the first day of the Assembly, attendees heard from several speakers who talked about the history of civil rights struggle in Jacksonville. In the 1960s, civil rights activists staged sit-ins at segregated stores and restaurants in Hemming Plaza – the site of the Assembly’s protest in 2013 – and faced brutal attacks by fascist Ku Klux Klan members, who attacked them with baseball bats and ax handles. These racist attacks continue in the modern day with the murder of Jordan Davis, an African-American youth killed in November 2012 by a white vigilante in a gas station parking lot. Other family members of victimized African-Americans youth spoke at the opening meeting.

The first Southern Movement Assembly was held in 2012 in Lowndes County, Alabama, to unite activist groups working in this historically oppressed part of the U.S. In 2013, the Assembly chose Jacksonville, Florida, as its meeting location because of the riverside city’s legacy of struggle and the increased attacks on oppressed nationalities in recent years.

Day two of the Assembly took place inside a big tent in a park near the Legends Center. Attendees talked about the source of their oppression and ways that the different struggles could work together to strike blows against racism. Most participants in the discussion identified capitalism and white supremacy as the system that oppresses people in the southern U.S. Later in the afternoon, a group of labor unionists and farm workers met together as a Labor Committee and agreed to plan a conference for southern workers in the summer, which would emphasize building rank-and-file power in the workplace. Spirits were high as activists closed out the day with a delicious fish fry.

On the third day of the Assembly, participants took to the streets and marched from Hemming Plaza to the Duval County Courthouse to demand justice for African-American youth and others victimized by the criminal injustice system. At the rally, protesters heard a speech from Shirley Reed, the mother of Travis Swanson, a 17-year-old African American youth arrested at his high school without warrant on bogus charges.

“Protect your children,” said Reed. “You must be on guard, because you don’t know where JSO [Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office] is. JSO is on a rampage and it seems like no one in power is controlling them.” Reed spoke about the larger issues at play in her son’s case, and said, “Black youth are more likely to be stopped, get searched and get profiled than any other people.”

Addressing this ongoing struggle, the Assembly agreed to a mission statement for the next year. The protesters read aloud, “We are building this Southern force to move us towards intervention and prevention strategies to eliminate the rising 21st Century Confederacy that is manifesting in our local cities across the South.”