as the occupy movement sweeps the world, i’m surprised by the near silence from black progressives, radicals and revolutionaries. aside from cornel west, glen ford, and omali yeshitela, little analysis has been given to developing a principled response to occupy wall street (and others) by people of color.*
while i recognize and embrace this moment of protest, i’m slow to join a movement led by members of the status quo–it’s a common criticism that white men predominate the occupy movement. this absence of color is a barrier to creating legitimate systemic change, as people of color–not whites–are those most affected by this country’s social, political, and economic oppression.
aside from the privileged status of the movement’s leadership, i find other contradictions in the occupy movement:
1.) the majority of the protesters can go home: although i’ve seen pictures of protesters holding signs denouncing the big banks’ roles in the foreclosure crisis, most of the white people who hold them have a home which they can return. massive foreclosures after the housing crash disproportionately affected blacks and latinos, exacerbating this country’s wealth chasm. historically, protests like the occupy movement are dominated by students and people with enough material resources to escape the chains and responsibilities of wage slavery.
2.) our demands are unique: of course, points of unity exist, but the white men who lead occupy wall street cannot personally testify to the harms of mass incarceration, police brutality, legal kidnappings by child welfare agencies, and poor education systems. therefore, people of color cannot expect whites to lead a movement that seeks to overturn the foregoing socio-political contradictions. we are our own liberators.
3.) laying with dogs will give you fleas: without any clear demands, the occupy movement is headed towards the kind of liberal reforms seen in the 1960s. while these reforms may have widened the social safety net, they failed to reach the structural racism and discrimination that creates inequality. coalescing with the power structure by seeking reforms will only give rise to limited gains.
i recognize that putting an end to perpetual wars and military occupations, deregulated corporations and banks, corporate citizenship, etc. are all causes which overlap among many movements on the left. also, i welcome the spirit of radical change which the occupy movements have embarked upon. however, people of color have the responsibility to create and participate in revolutionary spaces that speak to our needs as an oppressed people. we cannot allow the occupy movement to “occupy” our liberation struggle.
for more on this topic visit people of color organize.