Many people in black, brown, red and yellow communities across the U.S. know the feeling of being occupied.
Some have compared it to a state of siege. We know what it is to be beleaguered. We experience our land being occupied; we view police as an occupying force; we live daily with the experience of being stopped and frisked, of our cars being pulled over, of the War on Drugs essentially being a war on us; and we are certainly the majority occupants of jail and prison cells.
As such, it is important to examine the current status of the Occupy Movement in relationship to the participation of people of color and its ability to address our issues. Depending on the location, there has been limited success, racial tension, and/or open criticism as well as concerted efforts to be inclusive.
I would like to raise some of the issues here, cite those raised by others, and look at some of the evolving solutions.
Black cultural theorist and writer Greg Tate recently wrote Top 10 Reasons Why So Few Black Folk Appear Down To Occupy Wall Street in the Village Voice in his inimitable style and evoked a twitterstorm of responses. Though he writes with snark and sharp black humor, his last four points on the list are worth considering:
8. THE NIGGAS ARE SCARED OR BORED OF REVOLUTION THEORY Say whut? Since when? When it comes to showing radical heart, we damn sure got nothing to prove. Protest history shows our folk couldn't be turned around by deputized terrorists armed with dynamite, firebombs, C4, tanks, AKs, machine guns, fixed bayonets, billy clubs, K-9 corps, truncheons, or water hoses. Stop-and-frisk has prepped most brothers to anticipate a cell block visit just for being Slewfoot While Black. We ain't never been skeered of fighting the good fight. We love a good dust-up on pay-per-view or in the street just on GP! Out there on the street, though, all we need is to feel like you got our backs like we got yours. Herein might lie the rub. People fresh to daily struggle may need to earn our trust more. Clearly we're in no hurry to make loads of new friends spanking new to police brutality.
7. THE OWS BEST GO GET A LATE-PASS THEORY The sudden realization by OWS-ers that American elites never signed the social contract and will sell the people out for a fat cat's dime—hey, no news flash over here. Black folk got wise to the game back in 1865 when we realized neither 40 acres nor a mule would be forthcoming. Also, as one sharp strapping ready for whatever you got youngblood recently put it, "I ain't about to go get arrested with some muhfuhkuhs who just figured out yesterday that this shit ain't right."
REASONS WHY WE SHOULD RECONSIDER BEFRIENDING NU PEOPLE VIRGIN TO DAILY NYPD ASSWHUPPINGS Repeatedly finding oneself on the business end of a NYPD nightstick and expecting the same result is either a sign of madness or a sign of virtual blacknuss. Either way, even your most hardened Pan-Afrikanist should now be open to giving the OWS-ers a hug of solidarity. Maybe if organized, this form of outreach could function as the larger community's first olive branch. (Air kisses and arms length for some snooty African noses still, I know).
6. THE PRISON INDUSTRIAL COMPLEX CRICKETS THEORY The predominant age range of OWS's paler male participants is roughly 18-29. This age group among African American cats accounts for 40 percent of the country's prison population—a national crisis which predates the bailout by several decades. This disgraceful disparity could likely continue after every OWS-er has been gainfully reabsorbed into the American workforce. Although Wall Street profits from our brothers' massive enslavement by incarceration, so does Main Street. Perhaps OWS should ponder putting prison abolition on their unformulated list of demands. Until then, some black progressives, though duly sympathetic, might not hear a roar coming from Zuccotti but simply crickets.
All humor aside, the crisis of the stop-and-frisk occupation in New York is not funny if you are one of the daily victims. Look at these data from the New York Civil Liberties Union:
Stop and Frisk Practices
The NYPD’s stop-and-frisk practices raise serious concerns over racial profiling, illegal stops and privacy rights. The Department’s own reports on its stop-and-frisk activity confirm what many people in communities of color across the city have long known: The police are stopping hundreds of thousands of law abiding New Yorkers every year, and the vast majority are black and Latino.
An analysis by the NYCLU revealed that about 3 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops and street interrogations from 2004 through 2010, and that black and Latino communities continue to be the overwhelming target of these tactics. Nearly nine out of 10 stopped-and-frisked New Yorkers have been completely innocent, according to the NYPD’s own reports:
In 2004, 315,483 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
279,754 were totally innocent (89 percent)
156,056 were black (50 percent)
90,468 were Latino (29 percent)
29,000 were white (9 percent)
In 2005, 399,043 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
351, 842 were totally innocent (88 percent)
196,977 were black (49 percent)
115, 395 were Latino (29 percent)
40,837 were white (10 percent)
In 2006, 508,540 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
458,104 were totally innocent (90 percent)
268,610 were black (53 percent)
148,364 were Latino (29 percent)
53,793 were white (11 percent)
In 2007, 468,732 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
407,923 were totally innocent (87 percent)
242,373 were black (52 percent)
142,903 were Latino (31 percent)
52,715 were white (11 percent)
In 2008, 531,159 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
465,413 were totally innocent (88 percent)
271,602 were black (51 percent)
167,111 were Latino (32 percent)
57,407 were white (11 percent)
In 2009, 575,304 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
504,594 were totally innocent (88 percent)
308,941 were black (54 percent)
179,576 were Latino (31 percent)
53,466 were white (9 percent)
In 2010, 601,055 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
517,458 were totally innocent (86 percent)
317,642 were black (53 percent)
190,491 were Latino (32 percent)
55,083 were white (9 percent)
During the first six months of 2011, 362,150 New Yorkers were stopped by the police.
317,376 were totally innocent (88 percent)
184,186 were black (51 percent)
119,853 were Latino (33 percent)
33,805 were white (9 percent)
The prison industrial complex is also one of the key issues undermining the stability of communities of color, and we are more likely to be focused on Attica or San Quentin than Wall Street, unless the linkages are made. Occupiers must pay attention to occupants.
The Sentencing Project details the status of this segment of the 99 percent:
Nationally, an estimated 5.3 million Americans are denied the right to vote because of laws that prohibit voting by people with felony convictions. Felony disenfranchisement is an obstacle to participation in democratic life which is exacerbated by racial disparities in the criminal justice system, resulting in an estimated 13% of Black men unable to vote.
More than 60% of the people in prison are now racial and ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, 1 in every 8 is in prison or jail on any given day. These trends have been intensified by the disproportionate impact of the "war on drugs," in which three-fourths of all persons in prison for drug offenses are people of color.
Rarely noted is the disproportionate incarceration of Native Americans:
There are approximately 26,000 Native Americans in US jails and prisons who have been sent there at a rate 38 percent higher than the general population. However, if Blacks, who constitute about half of all prisoners are excluded from the calculation, it is clear that this disproportion is far more egregious, when compared to non-Black ethnicities. In Alaska, for instance, if Natives do not already form a plurality in prison, they soon will, as Native incarceration rates are rising rapidly while white and Hispanic rates have remained relatively flat, and the incarceration of Black people has actually dropped in recent years. Natives are only 16 percent of the general population in that state, though they make up 40 percent of adult inmates. Between 1996 and 2000 in Alaska, the total of incarcerated white males rose just 6 percent, while the total number of Native males rose 23 percent. White female totals went up by 26 percent, but Native female inmates skyrocketed by 41 percent in just those four years. An examination of state-by-state totals shows remarkable disproportion in ethnic representation. In Arizona, where many reservations are policed by tribal authorities and hearings held in tribal courts, the rate of Indian incarceration appears not significantly higher than non-Natives.
In other states, however, such is clearly not the case. In South Dakota, where 10 percent of the state population is Indian, male and female Natives make up 23 percent and 35 percent respectively, of all inmates. In Wyoming, Indians make up 2 percent of the state population but 7 percent of prisoners. In Montana, though only 6.8 percent of residents are Native, they are 18.8 percent of men and 29.6 percent of women prisoners. Still more worrisome is the fact that in the last decade, the general prison population there less than doubled, but total numbers of Indian women went up from 17 to 81, an increase of 376 percent.
Many of us who come from assorted "hoods" are in lock-up, and will never make it down to an Occupy protest location. Or we may be stopped, frisked asked for papers and incarcerated on the way.
These crucial civil and human rights issues were raised at the Occupy Wall Street General Assembly in New York, and out of that, Occupy Harlem protests were born. It is not a coincidence that those protests targeted "stop and frisk" and police brutality.
Occupy Harlem: 'Occupy Wall Street Is Not A White Thing'
The Occupy Wall Street movement went Uptown on Friday night, as more than 100 people filled the second-floor sanctuary at St. Philip's Church in Harlem for the first general meeting of Occupy Harlem. Unlike their downtown comrades, those in attendance were mostly black and Latino, save for a handful of whites who sat and listened intently, a few lifting their fists to shouts of "Power to the People."
This was a group of veteran activists and young turks alike, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. And it was a moment decades in the making for veteran Harlem activists, like Nellie Hester Bailey, who have fought and protested and rallied for fair wages, tenants' rights and against police brutality here for years.
"Occupy Wall Street is not a quote-unquote white thing. It is a white thing that the 1 percent and the bankers are representing white oligarchy and white plutocrats for the most part," Bailey said. "But this is an organic movement from the bottom up. Now we have to take advantage, seize the time and the moment ... and it is time that we become part of this landscape so we can begin to highlight our issues."
Across the U.S., Occupy the Hood groups have spring up—with Facebook pages, YouTube videos and grassroots organizing campaigns.
It is the Mission of Occupy The Hood (in solidarity with Occupy Wall St) to get POC more involved in the Occupy Movement
Occupy The Hood stands in Solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street
movement... It is imperative that the voice of POC is heard
at this moment! We must not be forgotten as the world progresses to the next economical stage. We can all agree that the voices in our
communities are especially needed in this humanitarian struggle. We
are our future and we posses the energy needed to push the occupy
movement to the next phase.
We are The Least Represented
We are Among The Ignored
We are Among The Unemployed
We are Considered The Under Educated
We are Considered The Minority
We are The Consumers
But most importantly WE ARE THE HOOD!!
The neighborHOODs is where the hearts of the people are. Our homes, our parks, our selves. It is in our best interest to have all abled voices heard to bring forth a peaceful solution in this world we have been given. There are millions of people that are effected by the Wall Street crisis. The questionable, unethical activities downtown Manhattan... and in Corporate America directly effects our economic struggles and the future of all business and personal endeavors.
In Milwaukee, discrimination against people with felony convictions is on the hood agenda:
Milwaukee’s Occupy the Hood says kill the SB207/AB286 bill
State government here is considering a bill, SB207/AB286, that will permanently economically disenfranchise over 62,000 Wisconsinites who have been convicted of felonies. The bill makes it legal for employers to discriminate against them, not only in the hiring process, but also to terminate them from jobs where they are already employed whether or not their felony conviction is substantially related to the job. It would also ban cities and municipalities from creating laws to protect constituents from this type of discrimination. The bill has already passed the Assembly and is on its way to becoming law.
Occupy the Hood, Milwaukee, is responding with a campaign designed to kill the bill.
Occupy The Hood-Pittsburgh is using music to educate.
Philly, Detroit and other urban centers like Boston with large communities of color are moving forward.
talks about Occupy the Hood in Boston:
“I’ve been watching the news and watching the protesters of Occupy Boston and for a long time we needed something like this to jump start a movement in the hood,” said Occupy The Hood Boston organizer Denise Williams who has become more vocal as an activist after the Fourth of July murders of her two nephews, Lashon “Disco” Washington and Joseph Winston. “We got together and decided it was time for us to step forward and make a difference within our community because this is where our loved ones are dying,” Williams told the Herald as protesters chanted “Occupy The Hood! Do something good!”
Williams said she, like many other surviving relatives who have lost family members to violence, want a peace of mind when it comes to living in the ‘hood. “If you let the powers that be tell it, it seems like there’s nothing that can be done. But if they can sit in the South End at one in the morning drinking cappuccino and not have a fear of being shot then the same thing should happen here,” said Williams. “We have to worry in the morning about sending our kids to school or to the store, so something has to be done.”
Dispatches from Dewey Square: What is Occupy the Hood?
While Occupy the Hood Boston stands in solidarity in with Occupy Boston, it isn’t waiting around for the larger group to take up its cause: OTHB is taking the lead on issues that disproportionately affect Bostonians of color, reaching out to other concerned individuals and organizations, and advocating for social change in the communities around Dudley Square. Still, Occupy the Hood is as much concerned with local issues as it is with national ones; for example, low graduations rates in inner-city Boston have been a focal point for protesters.
Compared to Occupy Boston, which relies on hand signal and consensus-based process, Occupy the Hood is a bit more reminiscent of the organizational structure of the Civil Rights Movement, but without a MLK- or Malcolm X-esque figure at the forefront. Any member can propose an action, and those who agree form a “Coalition of the Willing” and take direct action. Whereas participants at Dewey Square must be on stack and use hand signals for the chance to be heard, OTHB participants need only to rise and speak. This freewheeling nature of Occupy the Hood allows for vigorous debate and unrestrained free speech, if only participants have the fortitude to speak out.
Despite those differences, it should be noted that both groups are essentially fighting for the same thing, each using the strength of its collective voice to create awareness of social and economic injustice in Boston. Occupy the Hood Boston is simply the group representing the people most grossly affected.
Internet forums and websites are raising these issues, in posts and comments. In Which Occupy Movements Are Doing Right by Race?, a poster named "urbanskin" asked:
As a Lakota, I just want to know how you can "occupy" already illegally "occupied" lands? I know most Leftist like to demonize Israel for "illegally" occupying Palestinian lands, BUT you all are participating and benefitting from a 500+ year old illegal occupation of our Native lands. The discovery doctrine remains the center piece to the illegal claims to our lands.
Where occupiers are protesting in cities that have Native as well as black and latino populations, questions have been raised about the history and use of the term "Occupy," in, for example, Thoughts On Moving Forward With "Occupy Oakland", Indigenous People's Day, And All Of Our Struggles (Community Voices):
Yesterday at 4pm in Frank Ogawa Plaza, the Oakland version of the Occupy Wall Street movement was born after approximately a week long gestation period of serious strategizing and organizing. I attended a few of the meetings, am on the media/communications committee and am looking forward to being present at what is turning into a national and global movement against economic injustice. So the thing that seems to be consistent about the "occupies" is that although the rallying cry is for the "99%", most of the occupiers, and especially organizers thereof tend to be male and white. Although the movement has been open, inviting and encouraging of People Of Color (POC) involvement, it still requires POC organizers to enter a space that can be culturally alienating, and the power dynamic of POCs bringing POC issues to a predominantly white forum, even with the best intentions of progressive and radical white folks.... can be problematic.
Even the wording of the movement, "Occupy" evokes histories of European domination and colonization. Movements to rename it "Decolonize Oakland" "Liberate Oakland" & "(re)occupy oakland" have arisen on the tongues of Native folks and POCs. And Monday was, after all, Indigenous People's Day (in some parts known as Columbus Day...boo).
I give props to the other POCs who I have seen organizing in this movement, making sure that the lens of racialized economic oppression is present in the living documents. I know it's not easy and a lot of us have been torn. This feels like an opportunity for change, but is this the opportunity? After some meditation on the whole thing, and getting some wisdom from a particular Native elder, I have come to a new place on this. This new place is still evolving, but I am feeling some things pretty strongly.
This is not the only revolution. This is a movement around class and economic oppression.
Love & solidarity,
The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow issued this Statement of Solidarity With Occupy Oakland and the Occupy Movement Everywhere:
he Campaign to End the New Jim Crow (New York) stands in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and denounces the brutal attack by the police on their encampment. Oakland is predominantly a city of people of color, and this recent assault — while not the first against the Occupy movement nationally — reached new levels of violence with stun grenades, tear gas, and rubber bullets. The attack by police in Oakland was aimed at those most victimized by the racial and economic violence in a city devastated by police brutality, foreclosures, and unemployment. Carried out in Oscar Grant Park — re-named for a 2009 victim of a police murder — the raid underscored the depths of repression meted out against the poor and people of color. We condemn this racist violence and pledge our solidarity and support with our brothers and sisters in Oakland both on the November 2 National Day of Action in solidarity with Occupy Oakland and beyond.
We further stand in support of the Occupy movement everywhere. The 1% has long prioritized building prisons, criminalizing people of color, and policing our neighborhoods over the kinds of investments that sustain our communities: jobs, housing, and social programs. Nearly $70 billion is spent each year to keep people in cages and in the grip of the prison and parole systems, institutions that only perpetuate economic injustice through the collateral consequences of a felony conviction and the new Jim Crow. A society where the majority of those behind bars, where the disproportionate number of those unemployed, hungry and without fundamental rights are people of color, speaks for itself: this is a world we are struggling to transform.
The 99% are the incarcerated and the formerly-incarcerated, the victims of racism and the police, the unemployed and the evicted. We ALL stand to win when these injustices are uprooted. The Campaign to End the New Jim Crow is in solidarity with the Occupy movement everywhere and joins the resistance to the 1% who aim to destroy our lives.
Angela Davis addressed the intersectionality of race, class, gender and sexuality needed in the Occupy movement to a mostly white group, and reported on the call for the Oakland General Strike at the Occupy Washington Square Park site on Oct 30. She asked the group, "How can we be in a unity that is complex?" and answered by quoting Audre Lorde:
In Tucson, questions have been raised about the lack of Latino protestors in #OccupyTucson: Are we the 99%… white protesters? and Occupy Tucson underrepresented by city’s Latino population:
The reported lack of Latino protestors not only at Occupy Tucson, but at occupations throughout the country is particularly strange given all that the Latino population has to protest. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for Latinos in this country stands at 11.3 percent, over three points higher than the white unemployment rate of 8 percent. In addition, the poverty rate among Latinos stands at 26.6 percent, whereas that rate for the U.S. white population is only 9.9 percent.
In addition, those fighting for immigrant rights also have many reasons to protest, as these activists frequently cite the ways in which U.S. corporations benefit off of undocumented immigration. In addition to profiting off of the cheap, flexible, underground labor of the undocumented Latino population in this country, corporations also benefit off of laws, which put these individuals into the nation’s privately owned detention facilities.
Many national Occupy Together organizers are recognizing the tremendous contributions the U.S. Latino population has the potential to make to this movement and are actively reaching out to these individuals. In New York City, where many Latinos complained that they did not understand what was happening with the protests, organizers used Spanish language media to get their message out to these individuals. Tucson occupiers as well have attempted to communicate in Spanish to those gathering in Armory Park in an effort to make the event more inclusive.
In the weeks and months ahead, it will be important for all of us to take a look at the Occupy movement in our own areas and regions and look at what we are doing right, where we can do better, and how we can ensure that the concept of the 99 percent is a truly inclusive and representative group.
At The Nation
, in Race and Occupy Wall Street
, Rinku Sen wrote a hopeful critique with positive suggestions for moving forward:
We must now move from questions of representation to ask, How can a racial analysis, and its consequent agenda, be woven into the fabric of the movement? We need to interrogate not just the symptoms of inequality—the disproportionate loss of jobs, housing, healthcare and more—but, more fundamentally, the systems of inequality, considering how and why corporations create and exploit hierarchies of race, gender and national status to enrich themselves and consolidate their power. As the New Bottom Line campaign has pointed out through a series of actions across the nation launched the same week as OWS, the subprime lending practices of Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo have devastated communities of color. A 2009 study found that 85 percent of those hardest hit by foreclosures have been African-American and Latino homeowners. If racial exclusion and inequity are at the root of the problem, then inclusion and equity must be built into the solution. OWS has resisted making specific demands, but local groups are taking up campaigns and actions. The challenge and opportunity of this moment is to put these values at the center of their agenda.
The signs are promising. In Boston, Occupiers joined a march that protested gentrification and financial abuse from a racial justice standpoint. In Oakland, the organization Just Cause/Causa Justa has inserted an anti-discrimination agenda, illustrated by a beautiful poster by artist and activist Melanie Cervantes reading, Somos El 99%, which is a prominent feature of the encampment there. (The poster exists in multiple other languages too.) New Bottom Line has asked Occupiers to make pointed, tangible demands of regulators and banks. Occupy Los Angeles has taken up actions supporting homeowners in the midst of foreclosure. A hearty response from other cities would go a long way toward legitimizing OWS as a movement that recognizes the fundamental role of racial discrimination in shaping our economy.
As some Occupy cities are demonstrating, addressing race is far easier when there is already a history of white activists and those of color advancing common goals. In Flagstaff, Arizona, a city where activists have worked alongside Native communities for years, the local Occupy website features calls to resist a fake-snow-making scheme on a mountain sacred to Native tribes, as well as a plan by Senator John McCain and Representative Paul Gosar to reinstate uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. At Colorlines.com, which has covered the role of race in the Occupy movement, one commenter offered the example of Occupy Los Angeles—a city with a long history of collaborative economic justice campaigns with a clear race angle—as a model to emulate. “The LA folks seem to be able to reconcile how to fold race, monetary and social issues all into their messages,” she wrote.The Occupy movement is clearly unifying. Centralizing racial equity will help to sustain that unity. This won’t happen accidentally or automatically. It will require deliberate, smart, structured organizing that challenges segregation, not only that of the 1 percent from everyone else, but also that which divides the 99 percent from within.
If we do not address these fundamental divisions of race and ethnicity along with social class within our own ranks, we will never achieve a truly mass movement. Let us not forget that "the people" in the 99 percent come in many colors, and some can't come out to demonstrate, since they are locked up. It is our job to be a voice for the voiceless and the invisible, and to make sure that we are inclusive and not exclusive.
There is an old slogan that makes a lot of sense for us all to use: "¡El pueblo unido, jamás será vencido!"
The people, united, will never be defeated.