Will Occupy Wall Street Make the Black Masses Move Our Collective Asses
Many are questioning the lack of black support for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) moment. The most clear general answer I can think of is that when black folks in mass are presented with a choice they ain’t about to go sleep in no damn damp park, when for now they still got a roof over their heads. As acts of defiance go, we don’t view it as a visually appealing spectacle. Sleeping in the park is identified as an act of desperation that happens when you are at the end of your economic rope. Sources of income have dried up, you can’t borrow your way out, friends and family members are unable or unwilling to take you in. Shelters are unbearable and what’s left but the inconspicuous public spectacle of making your way in a card board box? Sleeping tents are usually a valuable commodity at this stage. In the Atlanta encampment a few weeks ago, there were plenty of black people in the park, they just were not there by choice, and clearly, at first both groups kept their eerie distance, except as a mutual curiosity piece. It seems that both sides took stock of a possible attempt to engage in a quick hustle. The homeless look to see what the “liberal” park inhabitants would give up, while the OWS folks hope to get some media millage by cozying up to some real poor people.
Most black folk outside of the activist world I know kind of shake their head at the OWS moment. There seems to be general support for the idea, but it strikes many as a Johnny (or Joey) come lately response. Don’t get me wrong, as an activist type I like the gumption of the mostly white rebels as they figure out their demands and next steps and I think it’s important to keep some level of participation. OWS has opened up more space for corporate media to deal with questions of unequal income distribution, free speech issues and now police misconduct. The corporate media learned a long time ago to ignore black protest, as coverage only helped spread the message, in spite of its rigged mostly negative depiction toward black protest and activism. The strategy for the corporate media has been to ignore acts of true dissent until it becomes to obvious to not cover it. Then there is a clear attempt to distort intentions and ideas, as is happening now. However, for black folks the self designated 99ers seem to relish a bit too much in marketing themselves as the Columbus-like discoverers of police brutality, state coordinated repression and the economic un-pleasantries of life under capitalism. Being part of the 99% in mass since about 1619 and struggling since that time for fair treatment, which is a nice way of saying fighting against the horrors of white supremacy, does not lead to a great cheer of oh-wow you get it. It’s more like where have you been.
There is a feeling of “been there done that” circulating amongst older black folks and a question of what changes are they demanding that makes this relevant. Older black folks want to ride out this Obama moment a little longer before making such a public break with the moderate black President. Symbolism for now triumphs over substance. Black folks are still hoping that it’s just that the republicans won’t give him a chance, as opposed to Obama not having the political will to respond to a black economic crises currently taking place.
For younger black people — still under the spell of climbing the hip-hop corporate ladder or just wanting to replenish themselves with some weekend partying and ass sharing before re-starting the grind of life in the 99% — protest politics is a relative non-starter. Ask many 20 to 30 year olds about civil rights/Black Power movements and you get blank stares akin to brain freeze. Individualist thinking of rising to the top outweighs any calls for collective action. Without the overt laws of segregation the Black 1% clearly controls the overall paradigm of thought with few exceptions. Their ability to be barnacles on the much bigger white 1% allows them to help control the messages released to the general black community. That message, again with few exceptions is all about striving for the trappings of nice material things, finding oneself through the purchasing of shiny new possessions, a good yoga class and some self-help books/programs (usually with a touch of spirituality, that’s how we like our self-help messages). Most of us can at least afford the books and a new yoga mat even though we never really get many of the shiny things. Two out of three ain’t bad, maybe that puts us in the 66%.
So the answer to the question is obvious, the Occupy Wall Street moment will not make the black masses move our collective asses. So then what will? See my next posts – “Why Occupy a Park When You Can Occupy a City” for some suggestions.
Right On Brotha! very insightful!
Thank’s that’s much food for thought!
Well written Kamau. We should do a collaboration article on how to Occupy (and keep your day job) . We also need to break down and through those blank stares. I could write on and on about this one but it is time for us to move our collective a*sses but the challenge is we need the youth to be engaged (and enraged) enough to want to lead.
please check out my write up and photos from my days at OWS where I photographed as many Black/Brown folks as I could.
story + images http://www.unakariim.com (under “sight specific”
the very sad reality of why the #OCCUPYMOVEMENT will struggle as all other movements for mass change have is that #HUMANS don’t yet realize that as long as WE keep finding reasons & methods to keep to separate groups of various designation, there will always be a small group of other #HUMANS who are perfectly willing to exploit this pattern of #HUMAN behavior for their personal gain.
it’s quite a simple dynamic of behavior that has literally been exploited for 100’s if not 1000’s of years of history thus far. until a large enough number come to realize this, it will continue as it has…
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what a load of nonsense. This post reads more like an excuse for inaction and condescension about why “older” activists are disdainful of people trying to make a difference. You know, because all those “older activists” have such a history of ongoing “struggle” “riding the Obama moment” a little longer. Something that actually reflects the selling out of communities of color and have created a veritable buffer around the “franchise” of “real” activism, again, you know, the kind that gets you book deals, homes when most of our communities struggle, and at least some future for “gettin’ mine” when too many youth have none. Because you haven’t reached the point of desperation doesn’t mean desperation isn’t happening. You sound like an old fogey rather than an “activist type”. I found it irritating, but telling, that you would describe the Atlanta encampment that occurred in the same space as homeless Black folk as one of engaging in a potential “quick hustle”. It sounded like you were coming down on “liberals” but at the expense of the “real poor folk” who you depict as mutual “hustlers”. And, of course, the truly “tough love” depiction of black youth as under the “spell of the hip-hop corporate ladder”. Where do you get your material, Bill Cosby or Michael Steele, or was that your attempt at being original in your description of African-American youth today?
Communities of color–at least the more conscious part–are making efforts to ally with Occupy, but, yes, it is difficult when some of the more politicized in our communities continue to be in the thrall of the “Obama moment”. Thinking “big picture” about “occupying a city” can easily become a formula for thinking even “bigger” like, hey, let’s occupy the President and occupy the Twin Parties of War and Plunder (aka, the Democratic and Republican Party)? But, then, we’ve already “been there, done that”, huh? How’d that work for us? Perhaps one reason Black (and Brown) people have not “gotten of their collective asses” is because the people in our communities to whom we look for leadership–at the moment–are all too willing to disdain fresh new voices simply because they didn’t come to us “older folk”? Maybe the problem is the older folk who thought (and still think) that “working within the system” is smarter, more “real” ‘stead of all those tents? ‘Stead of waxing “eloquent” about how the present movement is all about “young white rebels” figuring out next steps, maybe it’s time for “us” to stand to post? Maybe it’s time to point up the fact that the Occupy movement has really more in common with young African rebels in Tahrir Square and young black youth in the U.K. who rebelled against police brutality just a few months ago, or the young Latino rebels in Chile and Argentina, or a thousand other places where people around the world are rebelling? ‘Stead of downgrading the Occupy movement, maybe we help everyone else and get off Our collective asses and help out?
From one Old Chicano “activist type” who will stand with young white rebels against the 1% any day.
You raise some good points. From what I have seen and experienced, OWS has created intense debates within the black community over what to do (if anything at all). I watched an 18-year-old kid with a doo-rag, grills on his teeth, and dressed in Rocawear from head to toe absolutely destroy an older black cultural nationalist who was trying to argue that all the problems of the community “start in the home” i.e. blaming black parents for their “irresponsibility” towards their kids and black kids for being delinquents. I also saw middle-aged black women postal workers walking home from their rally against the coming layoffs saying, “yeah, we ARE the 99%” and talking about how “things will have to get like they were during civil rights” if we want things to change.
The best way to go at this problem is if the Occupy movement starts taking militant action and mobilizes those big numbers against stop and frisk in Harlem, gentrification, and other issues that areas that are screaming for something to be done in communities of color. Issuing nice statements containing the words “we acknowledge white privilege” etc. isn’t going to cut it.
Sleeping in the park may not be an appealing method of protest to many people of color, but it isn’t for many whites either. Getting beaten up for siting at a lunch counter or riding on an interstate bus didn’t sound very appealing either at the time.
I feel that the reason more Blacks have not gotten involved may be a problem with timing and narrative than the more temporary matters of the Obama administration and the rise of commercial Hip Hop.
Are the wealthy, banks particularly in this case making money to the detriment of their customers? Are politicians enabling them as well as protecting their own agendas by compelling law enforcement to make brutal crack downs…. you don’t say… funny, I thought that these elements have been well documented and quite tolerated aspects of the Black experience for generations. How many people from any inner-city do you imagine are surprised when peaceful students are sprayed? How many sharecroppers do you think are amazed at the legal and moral abuses perpetrated by the banking industry? How many current or former factory workers can you find for whom disappointment in the entire political landscape is fresh?
Not been there, done that
live there, everyday, by a thread, for decades.
Until the vision of OWS et. al. can be raised just a little higher to engage how universal Civil Rights are being crushed by the economic/political machine, rather than merely being the domain of the circumstantially disenfranchised and exclusively tech savvy brigades of the white, young adult demographic than this fight will continue to be as singular as it is anemic.
I believe they will see it, I think it is only a matter of time (every instance of inexcusable violence shortening the span) when it becomes quite clear that the same mechanism which allows and excuses the abuses of law enforcement (which many of the protestors are and have become more familiar with) is the same mechanism by which more Black men are in prison than were slaves. The same collusion of politics and money which allowed banks unchecked power allows them to invest in coal mining and oil projects in which the poor are compelled to sacrifice their health and communities for, and which prisoners are compelled to clean up when there is a problem.
The eyes of OWS must be turned to see that our current predicament is merely symptomatic of long running themes, and that to engage such systemic moral corrosion requires more than an occupation of any number of parks. Once they realize that a law or two overturned in the 90s, or giving sweeping powers here and abroad without oversite are only recent revelations rather than simple betrayals… they will begin to see the scale of the dragon they face is roughly the size of the congressional/military/industrial complex of the last superpower.
I think the moment this bit of enlightenment strikes OWS, when the message is not just of college loans but of the future of education, not just of banking laws and practices but of what the wealthy owe the community and the country regardless of how the economy is doing, then more Blacks will pay attention… because we have been intimately familiar with these issues since we got here.
I do not believe overt militarization is the answer. I think it would kill the movement as well as allow it to be killed. Building community and awareness is the only substantive and longterm strategic option in my opinion. Use the political currency and technical ability to highlight other inequalities in order to build bridges into other cultural experiences such that the oligarchs in question will need to fight as many different people with as many different resources as would see how their own suffering, and that of their ancestors has been engineered, refined and sold.