The Occupy protests against corporate greed have brought together a broad coalition of people, but there have been questions about whether the crowds assembled are racially representative.
Enter Occupy the Hood, a sub-movement that started in New York and Detroit and is now spreading to other cities, including D.C. The goal is to get more people of color involved in Occupy protests and ensure their voices are heard. Friends Julian Liser, 21, and Drew Franklin, 24, started the D.C. branch last week. They say the protests in D.C., where 61 percent of the population is non-white, should be attracting more people of color, particularly from economically depressed communities since they are hardest-hit by the economic woes at the center of the movement.
“It’s important that minorities are also aware of what’s going on, and they should also feel this movement is important for them, too,” Liser, who is black, says. “It’s kind of hard to explain that to them because they just see people around K Street protesting something. They don’t see how it affects them.”
Liser’s story is similar to many of the white protestors on K Street. He’s unemployed and was motivated to join Occupy DC after learning about the new Bank of America debit card fees. Such fees are “killing my account,” Liser says.
Franklin, who is white, says the protests were “started by white people and there’s already a social divide, so that’s something you really need to work to overcome.”
Liser says people who work can’t necessarily make time to get down to K Street. And the protests are removed from D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods where few whites live, places that tend to be isolated, he adds. “You don’t see anything happening beyond that.”
There have been some efforts aimed at improving the racial diversity of the protests. Anti-racism training has begun at Occupy DC, for example, which focuses on raising awareness about white privilege. Franklin and Liser, who say the D.C. protests are generally welcoming to people of color, want to hold meetings throughout the city and involve organizations based in marginalized communities. Occupy DC has endorsed their efforts.
Some say it’s divisive to focus on race in the Occupy movement, which is largely about class issues.
“Just because certain issues are divisive doesn’t mean they aren’t based in truth and that you should ignore them,” Franklin says. “Class does not supersede race or vice-versa. In fact, they tie together in many ways and we need to acknowledge the complexities of society and the establishment if we’re going to confront these problems.”