Occupy Oakland Protestors Want More Diversity in Movement

Occupy Oakland Protestors Want More Diversity in Movement

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OAKLAND, Calif.--Criticisms of the Occupy Wall Street movement have ranged from its lack of focus to the composition of its constituency.

Mocked for wielding their smart phones and ordering pizza during the protests, the middle-class white youth who have characterized the movement have fed its ridicule.

During Tuesday’s kick-off of Occupy Oakland at Frank Ogawa Plaza, people of color challenged the movement’s mantra, “We are the 99%.” They commented on the need for more of that 99% to represent more of those the movement claims to speak for.

Starting off at the protest’s open mike was Needa Bee, an Oakland resident and member of the Occupy Oakland organizing committee. Noting that the movement originated with white, middle- to upper-class men, she declared, “They felt good because they started something, but it’s going to take us to finish it.”

Oppression New to White Majority

Several minority members there stated that although white middle-class Americans have only recently begun to experience oppression and economic distress, most people of color have dealt with these struggles for years.

George Jackson, a teacher in Oakland, commented, “It’s a new thing for a majority of white people to live under these conditions, but black people have been living with these conditions as long as we’ve been here.”

Several speakers acknowledged that the participation of educated, middle-class whites helped the movement gain traction. Ethnic demonstrators at the Oakland rally were less critical of white protesters than emphatic about the need for diversity.

“People of color need to step up and claim a space in the movement and make sure our stories are represented,” stated Chelsie Brooks, an Oakland resident and fundraising associate at Californians for Justice declared.

Brooks stressed that more ethnic involvement would give the new movement a more historical context than a limited outcry against oppression.

James Mott, a former Black Panther, reflected on the similarities of the protest to the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. “It’s like déjà vu all over again,” he said. “In the ’60s and ’70s it was a populist movement, too.”

While saddened that young people must now carry on the same fight he had been part of 40 years ago, Mott was hopeful that the movement would gain enough momentum to echo the impact of the Civil Rights movement.

Few Protestors of Color in the Crowd

Many protestors saw Tuesday’s events as only the beginning and said they intended to camp out for the long haul. Some, though, recognized the privilege associated with being able to protest at all. They reflected on why more people of color were not in the crowd.

Those struggling with joblessness, oppression and poverty for years, tend not to set protesting as a priority, explained Jessi Thrash, an Oakland resident and retired gerontologist. “We only have so much energy, we’re just trying to survive.”

Naina Khanna, who coordinates the U.S. Positive Women’s Network, said, “There are reasons why brown folks didn’t show up until five.” Some were likely absent out of fear of law enforcement. “HIV positive folks can’t afford to be arrested,” she said.

Khanna added, though, “It is a privilege to be standing out here in the rain.”

Khanna suggested encouraging participation where people don’t necessarily have to be physically present at the protests, possibly through video messaging. “We are going to have a lot more work to do to make this truly representative,” she said.




Posted Oct 11 2011

Show up in small groups, walk up to the white middle-class Americans and introduce yourselves. Talk about sports, or tv, or your families, or politics--the things that people talk about. I spent 11 years in one department at the USPS, and most of the time I had conversations with my black female co-workers, I had to initiate them. The most important thing I learned from spending 25 years at a job where probably 75% of my co-workers were black, is that we all pretty much want and need the same things--food, clothing, shelter, friendship, love, dignity, courtesy (sometimes confused with respect, which, for me, has to be earned). It's past time for us to start talking to each other!


Posted Oct 13 2011

Point of order: the reason that a lot of people of color didn't show up until 5:00 (and who was keeping track) was likely because the event didn't start until 4:00. A lot of melanin-challenged folk also did t show up until 5:00, either. Not sure what Ms Bee was trying to point out, but whatever the point is, it's based on misrepresentation (intentional or not.)

Point of personal judgment: I wholly disagree that few people of color were present at the kickoff or in the days since. If one were looking only for easily identifiable dark faces, I can understand the misperception. I saw quite a few dark-skinned(ed) folk. I also saw a lot of shades of brown and yellow - Asian, Arab, Latino, bi- and multi-racial. The author may have missed the subtler signifiers of non-European or mixed ancestry, but trust me, we were (and are) there.

Point of contention: belittling anyone's efforts because they or their people haven't suffered enough or don't have enough "cred" racked up is blatant superiority, a mentality that keeps us divided and oppressing each other in any way possible. My bloodlines from both Europe and Africa carry both the responsibility for and the suffering from terrible human evil, and are also graced by radiant love and great kindness. The racial situation in this movement and beyond is not black and white. Everyone participating in any dialogue on race would be committing a radical act of revolution to not depict it in such a facile, binary and pejorative fashion as some of the people quoted here have done.

Bob Marley encourages us to stir it up. I say, in order to stir it up, you've got to jump in the pot.


Posted Oct 13 2011

Why do new immigrant don't show on street protest are, because ,most of them goes to Catholic churches were they are often ask to pray and to whiait on God to answer their prayers, as a consequence they are completely newtralice from taking any action which my help them gain some rights in the new country they live .


Posted Nov 21 2011

OWS is fighting for the rights of blacks as well, it's not their fault that blacks decided to exclude themselves from the movement.(hence all the white people) IF the big banks won't listen to the white OWS what makes you think they will listen to them. OWS wasn't excluding black people, black people excluded themselves. I guess they felt it was a "white thing".

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