Call Out to People of Color [#OccupyWallStreet]

by Guest Contributors the #OccupyWallStreet People of Color Working Group

Right Here All Over (Occupy Wall St.) from Alex Mallis on Vimeo.

To those who want to support the Occupation of Wall Street, who want to struggle for a more just and equitable society, but who feel excluded from the campaign, this is a message for you.

To those who do not feel as though their voices are being heard, who have felt unable or uncomfortable participating in the campaign, or who feel as though they have been silenced, this is a message for you.

To those who haven’t thought about #OccupyWallStreet but know that radical social change is needed, and to those who have thought about joining the protest but do not know where or how to begin, this is a message for you.

You are not alone. The individuals who make up the People of Color Working Group have come together because we share precisely these feelings and believe that the opportunity for consciousness-raising presented by #OccupyWallStreet is one that cannot be missed. It is time to push for the expansion and diversification of #OccupyWallStreet. If this is truly to be a movement of the 99%, it will need the rest of the city and the rest of the country.

Let’s be real. The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country, and for indigenous communities, since before the founding of the nation. We have long known that capitalism serves only the interests of a tiny, mostly white, minority.

Black and brown folks have long known that whenever economic troubles ‘necessitate’ austerity measures and the people are asked to tighten their belts, we are the first to lose our jobs, our children’s schools are the first to lose funding, and our bodies are the first to be brutalized and caged. Only we can speak this truth to power. We must not miss the chance to put the needs of people of color—upon whose backs this country was built—at the forefront of this struggle.

The People of Color Working Group was formed to build a racially conscious and inclusive movement. We are reaching out to communities of color, including immigrant, undocumented, and low-wage workers, prisoners, LGTBQ people of color, marginalized religious communities such as Muslims, and indigenous peoples, for whom this occupation ironically comes on top of another one and therefore must be decolonized. We know that many individuals have responsibilities that do not allow them to participate in the occupation and that the heavy police presence at Liberty Park undoubtedly deters many. We know because we are some of these individuals. But this movement is not confined to Liberty Park: with your help, the movement will be made accessible to all.

If it is not made so, it will not succeed. By ignoring the dynamics of power and privilege, this monumental social movement risks replicating the very structures of injustice it seeks to eliminate. And so we are actively working to unite the diverse voices of all communities, in order to understand exactly what is at stake, and to demand that a movement to end economic injustice must have at its core an honest struggle to end racism.

The People of Color working group is not meant to divide, but to unite, all peoples. Our hope is that we, the 99%, can move forward together, with a critical understanding of how the greed, corruption, and inequality inherent to capitalism threatens the lives of all peoples and the Earth.

The People of Color working group was launched on October 1, 2011. Join us at http://groups.google.com/group/POC-working-group?hl=en. For inquiries, we can be reached by email at unified.ows@gmail.com. We can also be found online at http://pococcupywallstreet.tumblr.com. We meet Sundays @ 3 PM and Wednesdays @ 6:30 PM under the large red structure in Liberty Square.

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  • Lxy

    I think it’s important that POC make their presence felt in this movement as more than just “diversity” tokens or “racial window dressing” for what is in reality a White Middle-class backlash movement.

    That means advocating for an agenda that addresses the interests of the most vulnerable sections of POC communities: the working class, underclass, and undocumented migrants.

    Otherwise, the Occupy Wall Street movement will be just a mirror image of the Tea Party, with a progressive mask.

    The worst possible thing is to have another White mainstream backlash movement, where White middle class elites are protesting against White upper class elites to more “fairly” divide the economic pie … among themselves.

  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    Great post and I believe that in addition to what’s said here two more things should be made clear to those organizing the OWS protests:
    1). The possibility that POC activists may face harsher recriminations from both the police and mainstream media. It’s already a fact that police brutality targets POC’s more than whites as well unfair prison sentences…hopefully the OWS recognizes this and mobilizes the proper legal resources to that end. Also we know that if OWS remains predominantly white, it won’t be demonized as much by it as it would if it became predominantly POC. According to the media, predominantly white activism is regarded as being a “movement” whereas POC activism is regarded as being a “mob”. Therefore OWS shouldn’t hold the media accountable for these biased depictions should they surface.
    2). In light of recognizing the ongoing colonialist occupation still be practiced today within the United States (particularly against First Nations groups), OWS must also call for ending the colonialist occupations outside the US as well, most notably the ones occurring in Iraq and Afghanistan. Colonialism in general should be given attention and shown that they not only adversely affect the people whose lands are stolen and abused but they also adversely affect the rest of us (environmental degradation, trillions spent fighting useless wars against native populations, etc). I believe OWS has the potential to relate all these issues into its calls for economic change because they’re all pretty much inter-related.

    • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

      Excuse the typo: “OWS SHOULD hold the media accountable…

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_HKMALHO4VARRQRZG4XMUW3OXPA Rachael

    This sums up what I’ve been feeling about the movement lately.

    My question is… if change does happen and the needs of the white middle-class are met, are brown folks going to be left out in the cold again? Why are the demonstrations happening now, only after the majority has gotten a minimal taste of what many have been going through for decades?

  • Anonymous

    Hell yeah!
    Gay, straight
    Black, white
    Same struggle, 
    Same fight!

    • Anonymous

      Actually, this kind of rhetoric is what makes me wary of Occupy Wall Street.

      As a woman of color who grew up poor, I am most definitely aware that
      the “99 percent” are not all on equal footing. I feel that the “99
      percent rhetoric” falsely implies that we’re all facing the same issues,
      but we aren’t. It seems to conflate upper-middle-class white concerns
      with “everyone’s” concerns in the same way that white feminism does.

      But it’s not the same struggle. It’s not the same fight. At all. And if the movement does try to say that it is, it does not speak for me.

      I’m also troubled because the anger behind it seems to share so much with the tea party  — the idea that there’s only now a problem because middle-class white people are affected by the economy. Never mind that they haven’t even borne the brunt of this downtown.

      • Free

        Agreed NellieC. Every post I’ve seen on Tumblr that references the 99 percent, feature images of white people.

        • Anonymous

          Yes, I looked at the wearethe99percent site a few days ago, and I certainly do not mean to belittle what  people posting are going through, but to me many of the stories were examples of the white and middle class posters losing some of their privilege and having their sense of entitlement rocked. As Nellie hints at, the problems many middle-class white people are now facing the poor, working class, and people of color have been experiencing for years. You can’t afford private school or your mortgage payment so your kid can go to the only “good” public school in the city? You have to work all the time or odd hours or multiple jobs just so you can afford necessities? Unemployed for months or years? This has been the default status for many of us for a long time.

          I hope there is some kind of meaningful inclusion in this movement of the poor and working class and people of color and specifically of their unique experiences. Those who seem to be taking the forefront in this movement and providing guidance for it are from predominantly middle and upper middle class backgrounds. I hope more is done to not only not alienate people of color from Occupy Wall St but to also not leave behind the poor and working class.

    • Anonymous

      Actually, this kind of rhetoric is what makes me wary of Occupy Wall Street.

      As a woman of color who grew up poor, I am most definitely aware that
      the “99 percent” are not all on equal footing. I feel that the “99
      percent rhetoric” falsely implies that we’re all facing the same issues,
      but we aren’t. It seems to conflate upper-middle-class white concerns
      with “everyone’s” concerns in the same way that white feminism does.

      But it’s not the same struggle. It’s not the same fight. At all. And if the movement does try to say that it is, it does not speak for me.

      I’m also troubled because the anger behind it seems to share so much with the tea party  — the idea that there’s only now a problem because middle-class white people are affected by the economy. Never mind that they haven’t even borne the brunt of this downtown.