How is Occupy Wall Street Including Folks of Color? [Reader Forum]

As the OWS movement evolves, some of those hit hardest by Wall Street's bad behavior are categorically unable to lend their voices to the protests. Readers chime in on how to include everyone.

By Channing Kennedy Oct 10, 2011

While the mainstream media is only now reaching its ‘acceptance’ stage with the nationwide Occupy Wall Street demonstrations — after lingering for weeks on ‘denial’ and ‘mockery’ — here at Colorlines, we’ve been reporting on the movement as it develops. Which isn’t to say we’ve been unconditional boosters of it either — as Jo Freeman said 40 years ago, a movement with no leader usually skews toward whoever has the most experience being loud. And we know there are plenty of members of the 99% who can’t be at the protests, not just for financial reasons, but for fear of police violence or deportation. That said, OWS is an evolving movement, and we’re here to inform, not to discourage.

As our editor Kai Wright said on Democracy Now! last week:

I agree that having a broad-based outrage is in fact the power of this movement. That is a great thing. I do also believe that race-blind politics creates race-blind solutions. So within the shapelessness – I am not saying that there needs to be a series of demands. It’s a matter of building movements that put the people who are most affected by this problem in the forefront so that the solution that comes out reflects their problems.

I say that because I think one of the key problems we have had in dealing with this crisis is that we have consistently, and I do not think accidentally… The banking lobby and their friends in Washington have consistently pushed those folks out of the spotlight in order to focus on the well-being of investors, the well-being of the President, the well-being of whoever, other than those are losing their homes and losing their jobs. I think it is important our politics put those folks front and center. That is happening. That is exactly what is happening organically through this movement. I think that is fabulous.

Here’s your comments from across several OWS-related articles; look for more coverage and commentary from us in the weeks to come.

Justice for Families on our publisher Rinku Sen’s Movement Notes column, on the opportunity for racial justice in the emerging OWS moment:

Really timely article and much appreciated. I think one way to connect the issues is to talk about the connection between a decimated social safety net and the accompanying rise of a war on people of color (especially black and latino people), immigrants, and queer folk perpetuated through an ever-increasing punishment apparatus. Even as some states have advanced some small measures to reduce the number of people in prison, the federal government continues to dole out money for new immigrant detention centers.

Liberals want a democracy with a social safety net but they also remain silent about, and are willing to accept, a growing police state at home.

Justice reinvestment, or shifting government dollars away from incarcerating poor folks of color and toward investment in these same communities, should be a complement to talking about taxing the rich (recognizing that our country isn’t broke; wealth is being hoarded by the few).

In other words, the 10-point plan should explicitly mention justice reinvestment as a strategy toward racial and economic justice. Quoting Colin Green: "Despite the right’s anti-government rhetoric, their practice is pro-government. But it is government for them." As we shrink their police state, we grow the opportunity for real democracy.

and Kelly Virella:

One unifying message that I think even a centrist politician like Obama could adopt is "we can do better." We don’t have to create an economic system that excludes 25 percent of the population, usually based on race, and carts them off to prisons. We don’t have to create jobs that entail sitting around observing these people living in cages. We don’t have to set up a banking system that follows the latest financial fad over the cliffs like lemmings.

Real technological innovation is possible. Real safeguards can be put in place to protect people’s assets. Real jobs can be created. And prosperity in one community means prosperity and a bigger market in another. I think what is missing here is political leadership that articulates a vision of social justice. If we could get Obama talking like that and bringing people together, we could be powerful.

Republican presidential candidate and Tea Party favorite Herman Cain called OWS "un-American and anti-capitalist," then kept digging. su5 interprets for us:

If it’s "not a person’s fault they succeeded," is he trying to say that success has nothing to do with merit, and that’s it’s more about chance?

If he wants to say that Wall Street deserves credit for "creating jobs" (what about blame for shipping them off to China or downsizing?), then they deserve the blame for not creating enough by the same logic.

Also, plenty of these protestors have already gone to school and have been unable to find jobs despite searching for them.

The problem with his rhetoric of "failure" and "success" is that if success requires that one find a job and that the job supplies enough money to count as a "success," this depends on someone else supplying the job, hiring the person and paying them enough, which is totally beyond the job-seeker’s ability to manufacture ex nihilo. He might as well say that it’s poor people in third world countries’ fault that they starve.

Charlotte86 uses our list of six cities where Blacks and Latinos are facing Depression-era economic conditions to provide context:

Not only did few in Washington care, few on Main St. cared as well. This is why some of us, while glad people are finally waking up to the economic realities with the Occupy Wall St movement, are also skeptical of the protests sweeping the nation and whether they are only a movement for the recently dispossessed middle class and predominantly white. Those whose voices are being heard the most through this movement have been white and middle class, while those who are poor, working class, or non-white have been having to fight to have their voices heard.

Carrie Ross-Stone on the Washington, D.C. OWS protests:

I am a 56 year old grandmother who walked 200 miles over 9 days to join occupy DC. There is a misconception about the people attending the occupations — in NY and in DC, many reports say the occupiers are older anti-war activists or unemployed students. Actually, the occupiers are as diverse as America. We are young, middle-aged & elderly, Republican, Democrat, Independent. We are veterans, students, teachers, firefighters, police officers, lawyers, poets and baristas. Many of us are un- or underemployed. What we have in common is our economic status. We are the 99%.

We may have our own "pet" cause, i.e., the environment, gay rights, jobs, taxes, union rights, and so on. I for one support most progressive causes, but I know there is one issue that MUST be at the top of our priorities list: campaign finance reform. As long as our elected officials are bought and paid for by the wealthiest 1%, we will have no democratic process and the American dream will surely die.

And finally, here’s yes on Kai’s original OWS editorial:

"1% of the population has disproportionate control over our economy and political system and it is time to take it back."

I feel like a good question to address, then, is who is taking control back? Whose voices are being heard?

I hear a lot about "occupying" Wall Street, but isn’t it ironic that our country was founded on occupying indigenous lands? What about the voices of POC and other individuals who are systematically oppressed by institutions in the country? This isn’t to say that these topics cannot be adequately addressed, or that the movement is lacking these voices, but from what I’ve heard coming from the heart of the operations, it seems that these messages might be approached with the same aversion to discussions of race and politics that they are met with outside of such a protest.

Again, this isn’t to knock this flexing of our constitutional rights, since it serves as a potent reminder to those who have slowly been destroying our country and poisoning the globe with their misdeeds that people are pissed off and prepared for action. However, if we’re advocating for a revolutionary change, then we should be thinking about what repercussions that change would have, both purposefully and inadvertently, on all people, right?

[…] I was going to make a picture for the "I am the 99%" Tumblr project, and I was going to write about how I grew up poor, disadvantaged, et cetera et cetera, but I couldn’t help but think about the irony of the whole situation. My sign would have read:

"I grew up poor and white, but the kyriarchy afforded me privileges that I often took for granted. Then I started engaging in discussions about race and class and evaluating my experiences and the experiences of others I knew growing up in a poor neighborhood that was mostly Black and Cape Verdean. We always had debt. Many people went without health insurance. The house my mom and then I grew up in was foreclosed upon and now my grandparents live with my uncle. I work a shitty job where the foreign nationals on non-immigrant visas whom I work with are routinely taken advantage of by my absent boss who seeks profit over all else. And yet, I still have privilege. I am the 99%, whatever that means."

Didn’t seem that catchy though, so I haven’t posted it yet.

Once a week, we highlight some of the best comments from our readers. Want to join the conversation? Talk with us here in the comments on, or on Facebook and Twitter.