I have been following the movement since I joined the social organization group called RISE in late September. This group is a grassroots collective of social workers and activists in NYC. Many of the people in this organization support, attend, and participate in the protest. I am amazed to see how this movement has developed from occupying Zucotti Park in New York to an international protest. On November 15 Zucotti Park was raided at 1 or 2 in the morning. Some saw this as a surprise attack and also “brutal” as the police were destroying tents and other property. One of the organizers of RISE received emails hour by hour by telling her what was happening from someone who was witnessing it. Complaints surfaced that the people’s first amendment rights were being violated. But Bloomberg used a technicality stating that the freedom of speech does not include camping out with tents or other aids. Among problems like these, racism seems to always creep its head back into people’s lives even though there is claim that it no longer exists. Is it intentional or just insensitivity?
This issue of racism among the movement poses a contradictory position for the “white allies”. RISE has put together a Google doc about anti-racism in OWS and the articles found there include voices from people of color giving their input on this subject. An article titled “Race and Occupy Wall Street” by Rinku Sen of The Nation and president of the Applied Research Center. Here Sen informs us that people of color felt alienated from the movement at first because it was created by white people. Malik Rhassan and Ife Johari Uhuru who are black activists created the “Occupy the Hood” in order for people of color, including Hispanics/Latinos, immigrants, etc. to join the movement and bring to light the oppression that affect them. I have witnessed a situation like this where race a very influential factor in our society is missing from an organization’s mission statement. RISE was asked to cosign a statement of purpose created by a group called Hollaback! So, we asked that the statement be reworded to include race in its mission but the woman expressed that she would not change it because so many organizations have co-signed it already and may not be onboard with the changes. I found that very shocking because this movement is supposed to be about attaining social and economic equity among everyone including people of color.
Another article is called “5 Tips for White Allies in the Occupy Movement” by an organization called In Front and Center. They point out five things that affect people of color which may not be easily visible white allies in the movement: 1. Pay attention to who is talking in working groups, 2. Listen from love, 3. Share information and resources, 4. Make it clear when there is a risk of arrest and 5. Support POC created events. I think these are very informative and helpful for all people involved in the movement. Some people are not aware of the risks one puts themselves in for simply protesting against the systems that oppress them. It may be a huge risk for them and not so much for white allies who already have a firm stance based on the color of their skin in this society. Conveniently this article is located on wordpress!
Overall I think the understanding of race as a primary factor of discrimination in our society and in the movement is a key point in order for success. It seems that some people do not see race for what it is: a barrier to social justice and equity. I think that anytime anyone speaks on discrimination race should always be mention because in makes the biggest difference in the eyes of the oppressed and the oppressor.
If anyone is interested here are the articles: