|People of colour work to make the ‘Occupy’ movement as inclusive as possible, as it begins to spread globally [AFP]|
Just one week into the Occupy Wall Street movement, some activists identified what they considered a major flaw in the organising process, saying that people of colour in the United States were left out of the initial mobilisation.
From the start, the Occupy movement has prided itself on representing “99 per cent” of the population, meaning they have vastly different experiences from the highest earning one per cent, who have a much stronger ability to control and affect both the financial system and the government.
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But some activists view the 99 per cent claim critically, saying that they were not included, and therefore the claim is problematic.
As soon as Malik Rhaasan began to use Facebook and Twitter for his idea of “Occupy the Hood”, an Occupy sub-organisation that would aim to bring people of colour into the organising process, it began to catch on.
Between the two outreach tools, the group has more than 7,000 followers from around the world, and at least five major US cities have organised their own chapters.
Al Jazeera spoke with Ife Johari Uhuru, a mother and activist in Detroit, Michigan, who signed onto Rhasaan’s idea early on, and began coordinating outreach for the group.
AJE: What is Occupy The Hood and why is there a need for it?
IJU: When Occupy Wall Street started it just focused on capitalism and classism, and I think that some social issues were not brought up. You can’t separate capitalism from racism – even if we did away with capitalism there would still be racism – so I posed this question to people of colour on Twitter and Facebook: Do you think more people would be involved if racism was included in this movement along with capitalism? And the overwhelming consensus was yes.
Occupy The Hood was born out of a need that we saw to try to get people of colour involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement – not just in New York, but all around the world – to get involved in the general assemblies where decisions are made.
Without everybody, it’s not a true representation of the 99 per cent. I don’t know if the doors are being closed to people of colour, but this does involve us – come out and get involved in it. It’s not a white fight, it’s a people’s fight. We can’t be counted if we’re not there – if we’re not present to be counted.
“It’s not a white right,
– Ife Johari Uhuru
Occupy the Hood is growing. I talk to people around the world and for the most part I’m still hearing the same thing. None of us are saying that people of colour are not involved and out there, but we would like to see more of a presence. People have taken initiative and have taken it upon themselves to start branches of Occupy the Hood because they feel the need for it in their own cities and states. I’ve had reports from Philly [Philadelphia, Pennsylvania], [Washington] DC, Chicago [Illinois], Austin [Texas], and Dallas [Texas], giving me their perspectives on the need for a bigger presence of people of colour.
AJE: What’s new about the Occupy movement that’s interesting and inspiring to you, that stands out above the left activism that’s been going on in your hometown of Detroit?
IJU: Occupy Wall Street has the world’s attention. You’re right – there are already great things that’ve been going on for many, many, many years, not just in Detroit but in every city.
|Activists say people of colour are disproportionately affected by the US financial crisis [AFP]|
The fact that this movement has the world’s attention gives it a springboard for everything else – from social to economic issues. The fact that it has the world’s attention makes it bigger [than] some of the local things that people have been doing in their own communities.
Here in Michigan, they cut thousands and thousands of people off from welfare on October 1. If you’ve been on it for four years, you were automatically kicked off with no questions, and you can never get back on it again.
Personally, I have a friend who has three children, one of them is severely autistic, and she can’t work because she can’t afford to have a caretaker and helper. When she was cut from assistance, it really affected her. She can never apply for it again.
In Detroit, Native Americans have begun to speak and give their perspective [on the Occupy movement]. They don’t feel good about the fact that their land has already been occupied for far too long. There’s a lot of voices that have not been heard, and we all need to be included in the 99 per cent.
This is just Detroit, but I know that around the US, and around the world, people are facing a lot of the same issues, and this gives us the opportunity to bring a voice to them.
AJE: Most of the Occupy protests are geographically based – at Wall Street or in Detroit, but Occupy the Hood is different. If Occupy Wall Street were to die down, what would happen with Occupy the Hood?
IJU: We’ve definitely been talking about this – where we want to take Occupy the Hood once things die down, because people are falling in love with it. It’s a responsibility to them that we feel like we have. This is not to discredit all the work that’s been going on in these communities. We want to get involved in and be in contact with organisations that are already on the ground in different communities and work with them because – again, not to discredit the things they’ve been doing for years – maybe they have not gotten the media’s attention, and the world doesn’t know about them.
With Occupy, it’s getting more people involved. I definitely think that Occupy the Hood will continue on and continue to grow. Hopefully it will start up in many other cities. And hopefully people will take it on and organise on their own, and take initiative and see that this is something they can use in their communities. I see it growing. It’s only been two weeks, and what has happened in two weeks has been amazing. I look forward to the next two weeks.
Follow Jesse Strauss on Twitter: @AJEsseStrauss