Occupy Movement faces racism

From the July-August 2012 issue of News & Letters:

Occupy Movement faces racism

Chicago—On June 18, Occupy Chicago held the first of a series of discussions on “The Elephant in the Room: A workshop about dismantling racism in the Occupy Movement.”

Discussion was lively, and comradely, among the majority Black, Latino and Native American participants, but represented just the beginning of an effort to “voice the unvoiced.” One Latino former prisoner said, “You have to give credit to the white youth who came out to occupy the streets. But we have to bring the struggles together. Our people have been facing these problems for years.”

Winbush, Occupy the South Side: Race plays a part in so many of the things we talk about—economic justice, political rights, any of the things we’ve been dealing with in Occupy. You can always dig a little deeper and find that there are racial tones. The loss of jobs helped produce the current crisis, and if you are Black or Latino the legal system will label you to keep you unemployed.

Visitor from Un-Occupy Albuquerque: I am from New Mexico. We changed our name to be in solidarity with those communities in New Mexico that have long been “occupied” by the U.S. There was a split over that in Occupy Albuquerque. But we wanted to deal with all forms of oppression.

Jennifer, Occupy Rogers Park: I’m disheartened by the people not at this event that I’ve seen so many times at other events. You can’t say you are the 99% when we people of color only make up about 2%.

David Orlikoff, Occupy Chicago: Race is a key component of what led to Occupy, the housing collapse. The media and Republican Party narrative is that banks were forced to make mortgage loans to irresponsible Black people and that broke the economy. The opposite is true. Banks spent hundreds of millions of dollars to lobby Congress to change the laws, and then committed all kinds of fraud. Blacks and Latinos have lost about 70% of their wealth since the crash. But they are the scapegoats.

Wynne: With Occupy in the fall I felt there was disrespect towards people of color. I noticed a lot of women doing secretarial type work and a lot of white boys talking into bullhorns. When I pointed this out I was told I was a “whiny girl,” oversensitive. I come from a working-class background. My mom, after having been a nurse for 25 years, just had her house foreclosed on. There are a lot of white workers struggling—how can we bring them into our movement?

Marissa Brown, Occupy the South Side: Looking at my community, I know how good Occupy is, and I can’t quite blend bringing this good stuff to the community and the community to Occupy. I’m here because I’d like to bridge that gap and involve more people of color in a movement that could impact them so much. If we don’t address this issue of racism we’re going to be very limited in how far we can grow.

Tom Rainey, Occupy Chicago: I’ve been active as an organizer in Occupy Chicago. I have thought of myself as a dissident in Occupy, and sometimes have been surprised by how retrogressive some ideas I’ve heard were. A lot of people don’t know the history of revolutionary struggles in America and the relations of race and gender.

We do need to be called out on racism and sexism. I will be Old School and talk about the ideas of Karl Marx. Capitalism tries to separate us by class, race, and many other ways. At every stage of a revolutionary movement we have to face the internal contradictions.

§

That last point is key. It isn’t just the fate of Occupy at issue. The real question is: will the current generation that has become active through Occupy be able to carry revolutionary principles forward into the struggle? A genuine challenge to the logic of capitalism is emerging from today’s movements. What is still missing is the unity of these movements from practice with the movement from theory, into an overall philosophy that can point the way to a new society.

Fred Mecklenburg

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