I’m happy to say that I have followed The Occupy Wall Street Movement from the beginning of the occupation. Like many of their followers, I found them on Twitter and have watched, cheered, donated and tweeted my days away in slavish fervor in keeping with my commitment and admiration.
I believe wholeheartedly in what they are doing, civil disobedience is our constitutional and human right. Anyone with eyes can see that the government has become less and less effective, reaching a state where one is tempted to call politicians mere titular heads. I agree with many who say that party alignment is irrelevant as there is definitely “Something rotten in Denmark.” It is painfully obvious that government is failing to safeguard and enact the will of the electorate which is their primary function. Nowhere was this more evident than the bailout of the financial sector and the complete lack of accountability for their actions which has affected the nation and it continues to snowball.
The question I kept asking as I watched uprisings around the world unfold was, “When will Americans wake up and take a stand?”
Finally, they have! Do I see issues within the movement? Absolutely. Yet, I take heart that this anger can be fueled for positive change in a world careening towards disaster and that any issues, glaring as they are, will be addressed. The movement is taking shape and needs our help.
There has been a lot of talk about organizational, communication and goal oriented results and demands which are key factors to the success of any movement. Yet the issue which bothers me the most is the seemingly minimal involvement by people of color (POC). The term POC is all encompassing: African Americans, Hispanics, Indigenous Peoples and so on. In this dialogue that has started, “Of the People, By the People and for the People”, our faces are glaringly in the minority. The question is WHY?
The question must be asked because the movement is supposed to stand for the 99%. It does not purport to be about one class, one race or one state. It is now, unbelievably, GLOBAL. Why? Because we all have the same basic human concerns: safety, housing, education, a fair wage, a political system that is representative and corporations which are accountable and do not stampede over us in their unending pursuit of profit.
If the movement fails to incorporate all people, other valid issues which are directly tied to economic policies like social justice and institutional racism will not be addressed and that would be a crying shame.
I’ve been doing my homework, monitoring Tweets, reading articles which have begun to spring up espousing the idea that the 99% is really 99% White, and talking to my circle for the last two weeks. As soon as that was articulated, a dull rumbling began. Smart folks are wary since divisveness is a tool that has historically been used to conquer people and it WORKS. We must work together to unify and so the discussion can’t be truncated to those subjects that are easy to discuss. Who exactly would that help?
I have compiled a short list of issues below that I feel bear discussing, failing all else I hope to raise consciousness.
Disclaimer: The issues listed below are NOT all inclusive. Breathe. However, I do belive it speaks directly to the reluctance of POC to become more actively involved.
1. They have never cared about us or stood up for our concerns.
This, of course, is a generalization as there are White Americans who have stood up and fought side by side with POC to achieve their goals. However, it would be fair to say that those who have are in the minority. America has been since it’s inception a racist country which White Americans, over many generations, have profited from, directly or indirectly. In spite of what some would like to believe with the election of President Obama, we are NOT in a Post-Racial society.
The facts and statistics, excluding the electoral shift, simply do not support this notion of Post Racism, grand as it is. Ask a POC how their life has changed since 2008. You will hear crickets or get cursed out for your pains.
African Americans, Hispanics and other POC still suffer disproportionately in America and anyone who denies this is delusional. Anyone who says this is our fault is at best ignorant of history, societal norms and the deeply embedded stereotypes of racial superiority. At worst, they are bigots.
We are plagued by high rates of unemployment which affects housing, education, incarceration rates and our quality of life. From an African American perspective, there has never been a movement, not started by an African American, to address the fundamental inequalities they face. Worse, their is a history of lies and betrayal has a long memory. So it’s understandable why POC do not trust that this time is different and “colorblind.”
2. A sense of separation pervades our minds.
Many seem to believe that the concerns of Occupy Wall Street are not our concerns. They see White faces on TV, they see Hippies, Intellectuals, Activists and the most of them are White. Therein, lies a disconnect. We need to see someone we identify with in order to feel comfortable. Which can be said of most human beings. For example, feminists don’t want MEN to speak for them because, as well meaning as they might be, it’s accurate to say that they lack something as they have no experience in this arena. Understanding and empathy, while laudable, is not experience. POC have lived with the injustices of the system long before 2008.
The fact that the movement’s concerns are universal is hard to overcome when you are burdened by anger and have felt separate for so long. Be honest, many of us do not leave our Hoods. Our friends, in many cases, are the same race with the same concerns and are the same class. Of course, there are exceptions but I’m talking about the norm. Denying the class divisions, or the justifiable anger of POC, will not make it go away. In fact, the lack of acknowledgement merely makes it worse.
3. Law enforcement does not treat us the same.
Nope, it doesn’t. For those of us that wish to join, we wonder how it will go down, if and when, things get hectic.
We don’t believe that if we turn up in force that we will be treated equally by the nice officers. Say the names Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Rodney King to yourself if you don’t believe that’s a valid concern. Many of us, thanks to the industrialized racism of law enforcement and prisons have records as well. How easy will it be to get us released, or get bail money?
The negative experiences that many of us have had add historical precedence and experience to the mix. The memory of dogs, hoses, plastic bullets, billy clubs and police brutality would cause many to deem that it is simply not worth the risk.
4. NO ONE ASKED US
Because of all the issues above, it is understandable that POC would want to feel included. It is not a question of an engraved invitation, as I originally raved, but the feeling that our input is valued and required.
Understand, that sadly, many of us do not believe that anything we do will matter. That’s the duck down mentality which I don’t agree with but that makes it no less significant.
Historically, the organizers of any movement must make an effort to spread their message and invite others to join. NAACP? Community Colleges? Radio? Schools? Brooklyn? Harlem? Uptown? Any Hood? We have neither seen, nor heard, from anyone other than the distorted messages that are being broadcast by mainstream media. Social media is just the start. Whatever misguided reasons served as the base for this decision it is actively being addressed.
The truth is that there are many people throughout the world who have suffered at the hands of colonization and capitalism. Just looking at the issues above makes my head ache :). Most of us have baggage, no doubt.
The effects of racism and social injustice can not be remedied overnight but if we seek to make a better future we have a lot of work to do. I am hopeful that joining together to fight a common enemy will result in the beginning of a desperately needed national conversation. I believe that it can begin to heal wounds and CHANGE the future.
Silence will not save you.
STAND UP AND LET YOUR VOICE BE HEARD. SPEARD THE WORD. WE ARE THE 99%.