Occupy DC


Occupy Movement and Race

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Occupy DC protestors march to the Key Bridge in Washington, D.C. on Nov. 17 during a day of protests in a show of force by the Occupy Wall Street movement.

By Bridget Todd

Originally posted on Racialicious, republished with permission.

People often tell me that I don’t look like your average Occupy protestor. I was initially drawn to the Occupy movement for several reasons. As an educator, anything that gets young people paying attention to the world around them is something that I feel the need to support. As an activist and organizer, I generally believe in the need for all citizens to engage in this kind of political discourse. As a black woman, I feel any conversation about economic inequality is incomplete if it doesn’t also address racial inequality as well. The various occupations across the country present spaces for such conversations to take place. I’ve found plenty of reasons to support the Occupy movement, but does the movement support me?

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Occupy DC Misses Golden Opportunity

Nicholas Kamm / AFP/Getty Images

U.S. Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner (R) and Wall Street Journal editor Gerard Baker (L) at last year's Wall Street Journal CEO Council, held in Washington, D.C. on November 16, 2010.

On Monday and Tuesday, 120 of the world’s top executives convened at the Four Seasons hotel in D.C. for the annual Wall Street Journal CEO Council. The people assembled represented companies generating a combined total of $2 trillion and employing 5 million people, according to the organization’s website. In addition to CEOs, attendees included lawmakers, policy wonks and former ambassadors. The meeting’s theme centered around China’s role in the global economy, job creation and American deficits.

The meeting brought together, in essence, the 1 percent around which the Occupy movement protestors have centered their critiques. And yet, Occupy DC protestors weren’t at the meeting. Occupy DC participant Brandon Darby, a member of the group’s media team, said protestors didn’t know about the meeting.

“As far as I know, we didn’t do anything [at the CEO meeting],” he said.

Darby said Occupy DC has a committee that focuses on finding events where protestors could get involved. It’s no small task figuring out where to go in a city like D.C., where such events happen very frequently.

“If we went to every single thing like that, it would rapidly spiral into us doing nothing but going to those kinds of meetings,” Darby said. “We definitely sort of pick and choose.”

Protestors probably didn’t hear about the meeting “because a lot of the energy was focused on what was going on in New York,” Darby added.

Early Tuesday morning, New York City police cleared Zuccotti Park of Occupy Wall Street protestors, under orders to clean the area. The middle-of-the-night raid outraged protestors around the country. In D.C., protestors spent part of the day Tuesday marching to Brookfield Properties’ D.C. office. The company owns Zuccotti Park.

‘Occupy the Hood’ and How to Boost Protest Diversity

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A protestor holds an "Occupy the Hood' sign in New York City.

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.

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Occupy Protests: Are They Representative?

Andrew Bossi / Flick

A protest sign during the first day of Occupy DC.

The Occupy Wall Street protests have spread to other cities, including the District. Protesters are are calling for an end to corporate greed and proclaiming the vast majority of Americans suffer while the rich haven’t.

More than a hundred people gathered at Freedom Plaza on Thursday, some wielding signs with statement like “We are the 99%.”

It would make sense that such a movement would have particular relevance for communities of color, who are facing higher unemployment rates and are largely on the losing side of the wealth gap. So some have wondered why the crowds in some cities have been mostly white.

Racialicious compiled a number of dispatches from activist reporting many people of color are absent from leadership positions or feel marginalized at the New York protests. Such rumblings helped spur the formation of “The People of Color Working Group,” which issued a statement:

… The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country, and for indigenous communities, since before the founding of the nation. We have long known that capitalism serves only the interests of a tiny, mostly white, minority.

The vast majority of the crowd at Occupy DC’s Thursday protest was white, but a number of people of color said they felt speakers’ messages and the crowd assembled was representative of those who are suffering.

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