As a NJ activist, I am aware that my state has very few nonviolent direct action-oriented groups, especially in more “respectable” organizations. When I tried to form a large coalition for a marijuana demonstration in October, I successfully worked with over 15 groups, but I was turned down by nearly a hundred other progressive organizations, including every NJ-NAACP chapter. Thus I’m not surprised that NJ once again lags behind her fellow states in organizing die-ins. Camden is no exception to this rule, but I was heartened to discover that clergy members were willing to start taking part in such needed actions. As of now only 3 die-ins have been performed in Camden. The first was performed on the Rutgers-Camden campus by a few dozen students, which no doubt excluded local citizens. The second was organized by Gary Frazier on December 11, which I sadly didn’t learn of until after it was over. Luckily Frazier will continue to work in the Camden area with the help of Bob Witanek of Decarcerate the Garden State (NJ), who sponsored my marijuana demonstration. I hope to work with them in the spring for my next event.
I attended the third and final die-in in Camden on December 12. This was my third die-in, but my first in NJ. Following a national trend, the protest was organized by local religious leaders. The Camden Churches Organized for People organized the “Camden Die-In” in sympathy with protests across the nation, and demonstrators gathered at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church at 9:30 A.M. When I walked in the church I was greeted by warm, smiling faces. There were clearly multiple clergy members of various races present, which led the die-in to be conducted by both blacks and whites. Prior to leaving the church to perform the die-in across the street, 50 of us inside the church held hands and formed a circle as we prayed for the innocent lives lost across the world.
We exited the church and only walked a hundred feet across the street to the Federal Courthouse, where the rally was held. There were several cop cars parked nearby, but the religious leaders who spoke offered only kind words to the police officers. Speakers made it clear they were not anti-police, but in fact supported “good” policing and demanded reforms to prevent “bad” policing. One demonstrator carried a sign with a cross drawn on it, with the words “Let every breath praise the Lord – (Psalm 1506) – I Can’t Breathe” inscribed on it. After several speeches made by religious leaders, nearly 50 of us performed die-ins on the sidewalk, rather than in the street as was planned. The die-in was conducted for 4 minutes and 30 seconds, representing the 4 hours and 30 minutes Michael Brown’s body remained in the street after he was gunned down. Those of us who were on the ground for this period had our bodies outlined in chalk. When the die-in was completed, over 50 outlined bodies were drawn on the sidewalk.
The die-in was successfully organized by Camden clergy members, and I can only hope they are willing to cooperate with other progressive organizations in the future. The protest received significant publicity, considering the small amount of demonstrators that attended. Covering the event were reporters from Philadelphia-CBS “Eye Witness News,”Philadelphia-CBS “Eye Witness News,” NJ.com (True Jersey), Philly.com