I think we can stand one more article speaking for the Black, Red, Brown, and Yellow….
I’m sure I can’t take credit for the “occupy the hood” idea, however, I immediately saw inherent contradictions and problems with the “Occupy Wall Street” movement. I am encouraged and excited to see so many young people take part in an organized struggle, such as the one ostensibly represented by the Occupy Wall Street Movement. I have long said that it is young people who have to step forward and lead protest movements. However, what is also needed, and has been needed for some time, is a Occupy the Ghetto Movement. That is to say, crowds of white students, liberals and “non-leaders”, should have been sitting in on Martin Luther King Boulevard (every black community has one), demanding that jobs be created there. Couldn’t this “occupation” movement have also implicated corporate America in its refusal to invest in America’s poor black communities? So, where is the outrage by liberal whites at the disinvestment in America’s largely black ghettos? Where was the sense of community and solidarity with the black and brown residents of cities and communities where there haven’t been jobs available for years? In my hometown of Gary, Indiana, the poster child for white flight, we have needed a “occupy” movement for the last 40 years. We have no real grocery stores, no real retail establishments and very few good paying jobs. This is not the result of bailouts for Wall Street, but more a result of white flight and purposeful disinvestment.
Activists in Gary, Cleveland, South Central and other such communities are smart enough to know that the bailout of Wall Street and the endless wars are draining needed dollars for American citizens, but they are also smart enough to know that it wasn’t Wall Street that created white flight from the cities. So, even though we know that wealthiest one percent has gotten wealthier, while those on the bottom have gotten poorer, the question is whether protesting Wall Street is of our immediate concern? That is to say, even if Wall Street didn’t get a bailout, would there have been a bailout for the hood? I think the answer is probably not. Where was the bailout for the ghetto before the bailout of Wall Street? Was it on the table? Did the Republicans filibuster that idea? No, the President and the Congress did introduce the bill, and the “occupation” movement hasn’t mentioned it. The foreclosure crisis in Gary and other urban areas was not simply due to bad loans, but also due to high taxes, sub-prime loans which were disproportionately aimed at black lenders even when they qualified for conventional loans and the lack of good employment opportunities – all of which hit us well before it hit the rest of the nation. You can either love or hate Jesse Jackson, but he long ago called for a Marshall Plan for America’s urban cities. It has been brought up by the President or any of the other democratic nominees for the presidency in the 2008 election. But this is not on the “occupation” agenda, but it would not only condemn Wall Street, but more appropriately, condemn the “occupiers” and their parents. As the Kerner Commission noted in 1968, “What white Americans have never fully understood — but what the Negro can never forget — is that white society is deeply implicated in the ghetto. White institutions created it, white institutions maintain it, and white society condones it.” Simply put, by not being enraged by the condition of the “hood”, the “occupiers” and their parents have implicitly condoned the conditions there. Of course, now that the unemployment rate affecting “Main Street” and not just King Drive, there is a certifiable crisis and something must be done about it.
Case in point -I went to a meeting of a local “occupation” group, which was, predictably, attended mainly by liberal whites. I walked in just in time to hear a young white man suggesting that confrontation with the police was the logical next step because drastic measures were needed. He obviously has had a different life experience than I have had in dealing with the police and therefore didn’t know what he was asking for. I spoke and expressed my sentiments to the group, namely that we in poor black communities need grocery stores, economic investment and jobs, and that the “occupy” movement was not addressing these fundamental issues. I told them that unless they were willing to address these issues, I personally, would not want to “occupy” with them. They listened. Most, though not all, agreed with my thoughts. Then they began to say that they were concerned about the “big” issues like Wall Street and wars and that they probably needed to also be concerned about the people who live in places like Gary. I was insulted by their arrogance. Living in a food dessert IS a big issue. Living in an economic wasteland IS a big deal. Having one’s school system privatized IS a big issue. Rampant crime, underground economies and police brutality ARE big issues. Not having jobs that one can walk to or that are located in one’s hometown, IS a big issue. Are these Wall Street issues? I’m not sure. But I know that there has been little to no outrage by liberals in the surrounding communities at the situation in Gary.
We need to introduce a Occupy the Ghetto platform to the Occupy Wall Street Movement to see if liberal whites would show solidarity with the black and brown people left behind in the remnants of the great cities that they themselves abandoned. I heard Jared Ball say, in an offhand manner, that we need a Flotilla to the hood, like the flotilla to Gaza. He was right. We need a Flotilla to Gary, Detroit, South and West side of Chicago, Cleveland and other urban places, by well meaning white liberal big shots (and their black counter-parts such as Alice Walker, Cornell West, come get arrested in the G), to break the siege on the hood’s economy and to highlight the profound shift in economic resources from black cities to the white suburbs.
We have to be clear in our demands for good public schools, jobs, and end to police brutality, environmental justice, investment, quality, healthy foods, freedom from the exploitation of the criminal, military injustice complex and accountability from the political class and the local economic elites.
So, although I do think that African Americans should join the Wall Street Occupation Movement, we should be clear that our immediate, needs, issues and concerns do not necessarily line up perfectly with the other “occupiers”. Because of this we must be sure that the issues that affect us directly are brought to the table along with the “big” issues, and that they are not drowned out by the justifiable anger at Wall Street. Structural elitism has created the chasm between the wealthy and the poor, but structural racism has created the black ghettos. We must ensure that ALL of the American 99% not only have a voice, but have a chance to address the issues from their own analysis and critique and to set their own agenda within the occupation.
Bryan K. Bullock is a lawyer. He was habeas counsel for detainees imprisoned in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He practices employment discrimination and civil rights law and is a resident of Gary, IN