Blacks and Occupy: Dividing the Occupy Movement

angela davis

Angela Davis at Occupy Oakland

Wherever Stacey Patton lives she might consider moving because, judging from what she wrote in the Washington Post last Saturday (“Why African Americans Aren’t Embracing Occupy Wall Street”), she’s been listening to the wrong people.  She’s taken to citing someone’s dubious and quite dated headcount and finding only limited black faces at some of the Occupy protest sites and boldly concluded that African Americans don’t support the new movement.

Patten draws her conclusion from a report she read on the webpage Fast Company, citing as its source one Harrison Schultz whom MSNBC’s Al Sharpton once introduced as an “organizer” of Occupy Wall Street.

It seems over a month ago Fast Company writer Sean Captain reported on an email, received from Schultz about the demographics of the original Occupy encampment in Lower Manhattan, “And so far, according to the survey, Occupy Wall Street would qualify as stuff white people like,” wrote Captain. “The sample of non-white people, according to Schultz, is too small to even analyze. One thing he noticed, however, is that some people identify with nationality, rather than race – another item to keep in mind for target marketing. And in the vein, the organizers have been discussing doing a ‘non-white media day,’ in which everyone who speaks to the media is of another ethnic background. They have also discussed doing an over – 40 day.”

“On a personal note, I have noticed plenty of both at the park and the marches,” added Captain.

On that Patten hung her tale.

(Aside: as a black senior I can attest; not too many of us are into sleeping on the ground)

Clearly, what Patton has written doesn’t reflect the situation around here where the protests do indeed, “resonate” with the African American Community, were most folks are cheering them on. I had to check myself; could it be West Coast exceptionalism? So I called friends in New York and Chicago. Same there.

Yes, the proportion of African Americans and Latinos taking part in the daily actions of the occupiers is not equal to our proportion in the population as a whole. As Patten notes, progressives in minority communities – like Occupy the Hood – are working hard to connect the issues and draw more support.  And succeeding.

I have no way of knowing whether the words Patton cites are full reflections of the views of her interviewees but I was intrigued by the opinion ascribed to Leslie Wilson, a professor of African American history at Montclair State University. “Occupy Wall Street cannot produce enough change to encourage certain types of black participation,” Wilson told her. “The church cannot get enough blacks out on the streets. Some students will go, but not the masses.”

Didn’t he notice that the white “masses” aren’t setting up tents either?

“Black folks, particularly older ones, do not think that this is going to lead to change.”

Occupy LA

We heard that in the early sixties when the sit-ins started. Things have a way of changing.

“This generation has already been beaten down and is hurting,” Wilson is quoted as saying. “They are not willing to risk what little they have for change. Those who are wealthier are not willing to risk and lose.”

That was true back then, too.

I can only wonder why Patton, who has worked at the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, didn’t seek out the opinion on the occupation from the Chair and CEO of the NAACP, Ben Jealous, or his predecessor Julian Bond (or writer Alice Walker, Rep. Maxine Waters, civil rights veteran Judy Richardson, Rev. Cecil Williams, or West Coast waterfront union leader Clarence Thomas)?

Patton rightly criticized Jay-Z but failed to mention the other hip-hop artists who support Occupy. The Bay Area’s Boot Riley, who’s performing in Paris, posted a message on the net Saturday that read:  “I’m in Paris, doing shows. When I say I’m from Oakland, many say ‘Oh! Caleeforneea!’, but half say ‘Oui! Occupy Oakland!’”

Patton can’t seem to make up her mind whether black participation in the Occupy movement is a positive or a negative. First she decries the “lack of leaders to inspire them to join the Occupy fold,” and then says “blacks are not seeing anything new for themselves in the movement. Why should they ally with whites that are just now experiencing the hardships that blacks have known for generations? Perhaps white Americans are now paying the psychic price for not answering the basic questions that blacks have long raised about income inequality.” How a-historical is that?

Patton then quotes New Jersey comedian John “Alter Negro” who must have been still joking when she told her that the banks’ “bad behavior just gets lost in the sauce, so to speak” and “High joblessness and social disenfranchisement is new to most of the Wall Street protesters. It’s been a fact of life for African Americans since the beginning. I actually think black people are better served by staying out of the protests. Civil disobedience will only further the public perception that black people like to cause trouble.”

Like those Egyptians.

occupy oakland

Occupy Oakland's Shake Anderson and Oya Sherrills

Here’s what healthcare provider and community activist R. Dafina Kuficha wrote about the Occupy Oakland’s November 2 General Strike:

“It was a most auspicious day, with Oakland’s infamous diverse population gathered in unity to support a Peoples’ march and rally on behalf of enacting a true occupation. Some of those marching came with groups, organizations, family, friends, co-workers, alone, but they came. It was an awe-inspiring sight and experience. I marched with Angela Davis. She was bombarded with people who knew her place in the Movement was iconoclastic. She didn’t feel that way at all. She was thrilled to see the people united and empowered to provoke, inspire, motivate and march for change.

“Let the world see the spectacular example of a city unified in Solidarity. Look at the number of people who walked and protested peacefully and powerfully. The violence only served to make folks think the overall Strike was a fiasco. NO! It wasn’t! There were over 50,000+ marchers! They were marching to close down Oakland’s Port, and they did!  This was my experience, People Empowered to Stand in Unity! Power to the people!”

It was not the first time Davis had connected up with the Occupy movement. In late October she addressed the occupiers who had set up hundreds of tents on the plaza outside Philadelphia City Hall:

“In the past, most movements have appealed to specific communities – workers, students, black people, Latinas/Latinos, women, LGBT communities, indigenous people – or they have crystallized around specific issues like war, the environment, food, water, Palestine, the prison industrial complex. In order to bring together people associated with those communities and movements, we have had to engage in difficult coalition-building processes, negotiating the recognition for which communities and issues inevitably strive

carl bloice“In a strikingly different configuration, this new Occupy Movement imagines itself from the beginning as the broadest possible community of resistance – the 99%, as against the 1%. “It is a movement arrayed from the outset against the most affluent sectors of society – big banks and financial institutions, corporate executives, whose pay is obscenely disproportionate to the earnings of the 99%. It seems to me that an issue such as the prison industrial complex is already implicitly embraced by this congregation of the 99%.”

“Indeed, it can be persuasively argued that the 99% should move to ameliorate the conditions of those who constitute the bottom tiers of this potential community of resistance – which would mean working on behalf of those who have suffered most from the tyranny of the 1%. There is a direct connection between the pauperizing effect of global capitalism and the soaring rates of incarceration in the US. De-incarceration and the eventual abolition of imprisonment as the primary mode of punishment can help us begin to revitalize our communities and to support education, healthcare, housing, hope, justice, creativity and freedom.

“There are major responsibilities attached to this decision to forge such an expansive community of resistance. We say no to Wall Street, to the big banks, to corporate executives making millions of dollars a year. We say no to student debt. We are learning also to say no to global capitalism and to the prison industrial complex. And even as police in Portland, Oakland and now New York, move to force activists from their encampments, we say no to evictions and to police violence.

“Occupy activists are thinking deeply about how we might incorporate opposition to racism, class exploitation, homophobia, xenophobia, ableism, violence done to the environment and transphobia into the resistance of the 99%,” continued Davis in the November 15 commentary in the Guardian (UK).  “Of course, we must be prepared to challenge military occupation and war. And if we identify with the 99%, we will also have to learn how to imagine a new world, one where peace is not simply the absence of war, but rather, a creative refashioning of global ‘social relations’.”

Carl BloiceThere is nothing Pollyannaish about Davis’ approach to the Occupy movement, about the urgency of supporting it, about the need to make it even more inclusive or the need to stand up to those who arrayed against it. “The “most pressing question facing the Occupy activists is how to craft a unity that respects and celebrates the immense differences among the 99%.” she wrote. “How can we learn how to come together? This is something those of the 99% who are living at Occupy sites can teach us all. How can we come together in a unity that is not simplistic and oppressive, but complex and emancipatory, recognizing, in June Jordan’s words that ‘we are the ones we have been waiting for’.

Carl Bloice
Black Commentator

About Carl Bloice

Carl Bloice was a writer in San Francisco, a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism and formerly worked for a healthcare union. Carl Bloice died on April 12, 2014 in San Francisco, after a long battle with cancer. He was 75. Carl leaves behind a world enriched by his contributions, with friends throughout the world.

Comments

  1. Joohyun Kim says:

    I wonder if Occupy is fundamentally a movement for allies? And
    because it does not itself address directly the fact that it is a white
    movement and how this might affect participation and even provoke fear in those
    who have been historically marginalized and downtrodden by whites, who have
    historically endured violence and white hatred…the fact that these groups might
    be reticent is not easily overcome under the banner of collaboration. Why might
    blacks not want to work with whites? What kind of sociopolitical critique is
    necessary to outline the specificities of black experience in America and why
    it might be relevant to an agenda which targets banks? How does the Occupy
    agenda take away from black-centered concerns? How does it make itself
    invulnerable to critique and perhaps restructuring? Should the movement be framed
    primarily in terms of economics? Perhaps it the very terms under which the
    Occupy movement is structured that deal with distribution of wealth. What of
    black experience does not fall within the economic normal? What of their history
    shows the multiple degrees of displacement and servitude which have made their
    labor “unproductive”? That is, if blacks as a group have not been economically marked
    as incorporated and this unmarked status has provided a historical platform of
    resistance and an incentive to black cultural success, then what of the
    positionality of historical blackness is not being addressed in Occupy’s
    concerns? What of the black political imaginary is not being critiqued and
    addressed? What of blackness refuses co-optation into the revolutionary
    narratives of transforming white America? What of black consciousness is tied
    in with the revolts of Africa? There is something specifiably different about
    black experience that has been described historically, and black cultural
    movements have desired to prevent white intrusion into black space…what sort of
    new politics of solidarity and historical erasure does the Occupy movement
    present? What are the identificatory ties that blacks have with this very
    recent past? Why might blacks be unwilling to participate in a movement started
    by whites? 

  2. The problem is that there is no real scientific study that has been done on the population of those people attending the protest.

  3. I read Stacey Patton’s article when it was first published. The supporting documentation was a study done by Fast Company…that is where the 1.6% figure came from. The first thing I did was check the statistical model that Fast Company used. It is so seriously flawed as to be useless. What they acually measured was a sample of 1619 people who had visited the website; they did a later survey of 5006 visitors to the website. Thats it…Their conclusion that only 1.6% of participants in the Occupy Movement is from a sample of people (and who agreed to take the survey) that had visited ONE website. Sloppy research by Fast Company is one thing…That a reporter wouldn’t even take the 2 minutes it took me to locate the actual data and methodology is shameful.

Speak Your Mind

*