What the Jena Six Protests Mean for Us

A Trip to Louisiana Unveils Principles and Practical Media Lessons

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I'm writing to you from a hotel room in New Orleans, after a long day in Jena, Louisiana. I have been thinking and looking at this movement that has grown up around these six young brothers.

Karl Carter Karl Carter
You're probably asking what the hell the Jena Six case has to do with marketing & media diversity? It's just another of those travesties of justice that take place all over this country. But surely, nothing that impacts us in our own little world. Right? Wrong. For a generation of black people, being an activist, being politically active, is a big part of their pop-culture identity. Is a baby boomer divorced from his experiences from the 60s? No, it's just as much a part of his identity as anything else. The same is underway now, for the younger generation.

While we're busy trying to figure out how to get to the next trend first, how to best service our clients, or how to sell stuff better, our community is standing up and building an intergenerational movement. And while the movement they're building is about justice, it's a product of its own place and time.

How does this relate to us? Because the organizers are using viral marketing and media – tools of our trade -- to build a movement. These activists are equipped with video cameras, Blackberries and social networking. Up until about two-three weeks ago most people had not heard of the Jena Six. What happened?

The internet, grassroots leaders and urban radio got behind the case and was then followed by the mainstream media. I heard about the case from someone sending me a link to a YouTube video.

By the way, this one video has over 1.1 million views. God, I love the internet.

Of course, I passed it along, as did many, many others. While most of the time we're sending around funny viral videos, this time our viral power was used for good, not BS.

Another important thing to note: a lot of people in this movement are young. Not only are they in that coveted 18-34 demo, the teen 12-17 demo was in full effect yesterday in Jena as well. Because the Jena Six are teens themselves and because of the rebellious nature of the case, this has really resonated with young people. How can we hope to really understand our young people, if we don't also understand the importance of pro-social movements and their connection to everything -- including their choices of brands and uses of technology?

The movement also wisely allowed people multiple entry points. You can send an e-mail, wear black (I hope you did), attend local rallies or get on the bus and join a mass movement. I chose to attend -- to see it, feel it and come back and spread the word.

What's also interesting is how diverse the movement is turning out to be. I saw support from the Latino and white community as well.

Seeing the coverage of the Sept. 20 rally online and on air feels almost surreal. While there, you can't see how massive the event was. But, from the outside in, you get a feel for how pivotal this case and journey was.

When the Latino community showed in force how they felt about immigration reform, it served to paint the picture of a people on the rise, politically active as well as economically powerful. These demonstrations and movements are needed. If communities of color let injustice go by, we run the risk of becoming voiceless and powerless.

As marketers, we have a responsibility to represent our people and culture with respect. This can only help as companies determine how to allocate budgets and develop creative that speaks to our communities. The louder we speak, the better our position will be with clients and the public.

It feels like along the way to greater mainstream acceptance, urban communities lost some of their edge. What we lost sight of is that our edge, our willingness to stand up, led us to become powerful and demand our rightful seat at the table. Asking permission to be at the table has never worked and never will. As we discuss often in the Big Tent, the status quo in business and in government is rarely, if ever, in the favor of the oppressed.

For minority agencies, it's much the same. Like it or not, heat on the streets equates to respect in the boardroom. The two are connected.

I'll leave you with my favorite sign of the day.

Amen to that. Peace.
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