Posted by Errol King; The Black Institute – on October 19, 2011
Occupy Wall Street has been going strong for over a month. People from all walks of life have occupied Zucotti Park, which has been nicknamed Liberty Square, protesting bank bailouts, corporate greed, and the unchecked power of Wall Street in Washington. The protestors say that they represent the 99% of Americans and seek a political agenda that is more attuned to the 99% rather than the wealthiest 1% it currently seems to cater to.
As part of the larger Occupy Together phenomenon, 100 movements have sprouted up nationally and there have now been 1,500 “Occupy” inspired protests in 82 countries worldwide. Among the faces are college students with excessive student loan debt, elderly people who have lost their homes to foreclosure, and people who have been laid off from their jobs and have spent months unemployed while searching for new opportunities amidst this vicious job market. Given how heavily the recession has affected Black unemployment rates and how large a percentage of Black America occupies the 99%, one might assume that Black people would be on the front lines of the “Occupy” protest. However, this has not been the case.
Perhaps Black America simply does not believe in the movement yet. Many have criticized the Occupy protestors for being disorganized, and not having a set of clear goals. Footage of the chaos on the Brooklyn Bridge where 700 people were arrested during an Occupy march is all over the web. Videos of women being pepper sprayed in the face, and police officers beating protestors indiscriminately have also gone viral. Given these images, it is possible that Black America feels the stakes are too high to support a movement that has yet to definitively define itself.
Some see the ability to protest in this fashion as a sign of privilege. Camping out in Zucotti Park is simply not possible for everyone. While there may be Black moral support for the Occupy movement, physical support may not be something they can afford. There are many people in the 99% Black and non-Black alike doing their best to hold on to the jobs they’ve got. Still others are working multiple part-time jobs just to make ends meet. Many have families that they need to support. Occupying any space besides a workplace might simply feel unrealistic to them. But what about the unemployed masses of Black Americans that are constantly being talked about?
Black celebrities such as Kanye West, Russell Simmons and Danny Glover have publicly supported the Occupy movement, but even with such an endorsement, Black people have had relatively low attendance. Some believe this is in part because when Black people turn on their televisions or search the web, they look out into the crowd and see mostly white faces. This gives Black Americans the sense that the protests are not about them. However, someone must take the first step. If Black people want to see themselves in the movement, Black people have to put themselves in the movement.
The main tenets of Occupy Together are wealth inequality, poverty, the burden of debt and unemployment. There are multiple reasons why Black people have not supported the Occupy movement in mass, but many more reasons why they should. Black unemployment has reached rates that have not been seen in decades. Elderly Black people are being ousted from homes they have lived in since the Civil Rights era. Almost half of Black children live in poverty. The wealth gap between Blacks and Whites continues to widen. Black families around the country continue to be torn apart by the prison system from which Wall Street earns billions each year. Black people have every reason to become a part of this movement. Black people must stand up and be counted because Black voices need to be an integral part of this movement to ensure that Wall Street and the government are held accountable.