How is Occupy Los Angeles Working With Communities of Color? [Reader Forum] readers talk about how immigrant rights groups and Occupy Los Angeles came together on May Day.

By Channing Kennedy May 07, 2012

On May Day, we premiered a new Colorlines video, in which Oakland’s activists of color talk about Occupy’s role within the Bay Area’s long history of organizing. In the accompanying post, Rinku Sen and Yvonne Yen Liu looked at Occupy’s place in the context of established immigrant rights work across the U.S.; while there’s a lot of good work being done, write Rinku and Yvonne:

There are also places where a partnership between Occupy and immigrant rights isn’t taking hold. In Los Angeles, there will be two events; a morning march led by immigrant rights groups, as has been true for a decade, and another in the afternoon organized by Occupy L.A. Michael Novick, a spokesperson for Occupy L.A. pulled up a generalist argument for the separation in an interview with CNN. May Day isn’t just about immigrants, he said; "It’s for labor rights, for economic and social justice, for economic equity, and for peace. And we think that will build a strong force downtown to say this is going to be a day that could change the world a little bit and hopefully for the better."

It’s unfortunate that a march led by immigrants with those same messages doesn’t count as broad and inclusive in L.A.; that doesn’t seem to be an issue in New York, for example, where the immigrant rights groups and OWS have merged their major events.

In the comments, we received a lot of thoughtful pushback to this assessment of L.A.’s May Day, pointing towards multiple groups and marches bridging the gap between Occupy and immigrant rights in innovative ways. As reader ncdisqus wrote in a comment, there’s a story here "about how the Occupy movement is making political choices in its ongoing development and how those choices are redefining Occupy and its relationship to other political forces."

Below is a comment by Los Angeles-based researcher and organizer Diana Pei Wu. I’m featuring Diana’s note because it hits many points made by others (also, it got the most upvotes from you all). But do click through to read and participate in the full conversation.

Here’s Diana Pei Wu:

Hi, friends,

Thanks for bringing up the continuing challenges of race and Occupy, and also the relationship of movements like Occupy to other social justice movements including immigrant rights, labor, and racial and economic justice movements. I am writing this because Colorlines is one of the places I go to for better reporting on racial justice issues, and I am invested in it continuing to be a source I can go to for good reporting on the work that we all do together.

I agree that there are huge challenges to organizing and coordination between the various movements who mobilized yesterday. However, with respect to Los Angeles, I would like to correct several assertions that have been made in the mainstream corporate media, that have affected wider understanding of the current conditions in Los Angeles.

First, as you know, Occupy’s do not empower individuals to be spokespeople for anyone except themselves as individuals. OLA is no different. I think if CNN is reporting that Novick is repping for OLA, then the veracity of what they are reporting is highly suspect. Novick has been organizing around anti-racism, among other things, for around 40 years. In a message on an OLA listserve, Novick clearly and emphatically stated that the CNN report misrepresented what he said and thinks.

Second, the corporate media overreported the divisions between OLA and the immigrant rights marches. In fact, through months of negotiation, OLA’s 4 winds caravans were timed to meet up with the two immigration marches + the separate DREAM Act action at multiple points throughout the day yesterday. That is to say, the different marches were, in fact, coordinated.

The truth is that it would have been impossible to simply merge with "the" immigration march, because there was no one single immigration march here in the city to join. The multiple marches and caravans were successful in gumming up traffic in downtown throughout the day and also allowed many people to participate in different ways, at different times. Multiple decentralized marches helped us succeed in the goals of a May Day General Strike. I think this is an exciting practice: a model for mass actions and mobilizations where many decentralized actions – including ones led by organizations with different organizing styles – can fit together and strengthen each other.

Third, and contradicting their written articles, all the photoessays and most of the blogs recorded by both the LA Times and the local ABC affiliate show the brilliant, bold, creative and celebratory confluence of immigration marches and Occupy caravans. This is in fact quite a win for our movements. The May Day Queer Contingent clearly was PoC-dominated, and the well-known red shirts and rainbow flags dominated several photos for May Day. A banner on an aquamarine Occupy bus echoed the same sentiments: "Pro-fabulous, Anti-capitalist." This is important: the photographers and bloggers saw us as unified.

To be clear, the corporate media does not just reserve the biased reporting for Occupy: the LA Times this morning was quite disparaging in their tone in covering the immigration marches, talking about how the marches keep shrinking in numbers and how those shrinking numbers reflect how the immigration rights movement in LA is divided. Occupy and unions are divided, occupy and immigrant rights are divided, unions and immigrant rights are divided, the immigrant rights movement is divided .. there might be a pattern here – that dates back to COINTELPRO. I urge us not to play their game.

Another example of corporate media bias: if you listen to the local Pacifica affiliate, KPFK, you will hear reports of from 5,000 to 20,000 people totaled across the multiple marches. In contrast, this morning, the LA Times reported the numbers as about 1,000 people "who attended the rallies." This may give you some indicator of the level of distortion and bias all social movements regularly experience here in our city from much of the corporate media, except in rare moments of thrilling clarity.

Finally, there are real material and political ways that people and groups are supporting and continuing to support each other (Occupy, unions, immigrant rights). OLA legal support organized an all volunteer legal support hotline that took calls from anyone and everyone throughout the day, including the SEIU action at LAX with 10 arrests. OLA legal fund has a policy that undocumented people and other vulnerable people get bailed out ASAP if the funds are available, pre-approved, if their friends and families can’t raise the $. OLA livestreamers covered all the different marches throughout the day. The drum and chant crew of the Labor/Community Strategy Center has shown up at Occupy before we were evicted, and also repped hard in the immigrant rights marches yesterday. These types of powerful collective and collaborative action do not get media coverage but are essential to keeping each other safe, to winning our goals, and again, evidence of real material support. To underscore the Ruckus tagline: Actions Speak Louder Than Words.

Of course, the challenges of organizing together continue to arise, and white privilege and patriarchal privilege continue to be real challenges to justice-based organizing and walking the talk. Here in LA, all our movements may not ever be totally shacked up in blissful domestic partnership, but I do think we are building movements that see each other and respect each other: intergenerationally, as brothers and sisters and cousins, given and chosen family. To queer it up: we owe it to ourselves as movements to be able to recognize and practice many types of relationships, arrangements and agreements with each other.

To paraphrase Assata Shakur and the Wobblies, we must continue to challenge each other: to fight and to win, to love each other and to protect each other.

Let’s get rid of these chains.

Love and respect, Diana Pei Wu

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