Our VoiceCulture

African Americans and the Occupy Movement


Charlotte Williams • Dec 19, 2011

"Occupy Austin" sign seen in top right-hand window

“Occupy Everything!” is a striking image, displayed from an Oakland area window that’s featured in the short video for the December 12 Coordinated West Coast Blockade in Oakland, California. 

Ongoing developments within the Occupy movement coupled with a recent re-reviewing of Inside Job, the compelling documentary that peers behind the 2008 financial meltdown, signal a deeper sense of urgency for community organizing and a “people’s” restructuring of this country’s economy. Inside Job details the estimated $20 trillion impact on domestic and global economies, the loss of millions of homes and jobs, the federal government’s bailout of Wall Street, and the shameful millions paid out in bonuses to top financial industry executives.

As the Occupy movement grows, it has become a vehicle for voicing the people’s concerns while advancing a simple, yet meaningful analysis of economic disparity in this country.  The possibilities are endless as the Occupy movement finds itself in the midst of “organizational” developments.

Also evolving are renewed organizing efforts among historical civil rights groups as they have identified the nation’s swelling economic disparity as a common issue with the Occupy movement. Who best to attest to the impact of said disparities than the descendants of slavery in this country, which impacted some 4 million people and was worth nearly a $4 billion market value pre-Civil war? The African American community has not yet fully recovered from slavery, so it basically could do no more than “weather the storm” of the financial debacle.

The Black Star Project, a Chicago-based organization dedicated to eliminating the racial-academic achievement gap for African Americans and Latinos in Chicago communities, notes that the Occupy movement is certainly active in our communities.  For example, Occupiers-Chicago and community-based organizations recently disrupted a Chicago Public School Board meeting. Protesters, borrowing techniques used by Occupy Wall Street, employed the “mic check” tactic to make themselves heard. Last week’s board meeting protest was a result of coalition building that brought together the Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization, members of the Chicago Teachers Union, and Occupy-Chicago on the issue of education.

“Closer to the ground” African Americans know the impact of the Occupy movement in other ways, as well.

On Chicago’s West Side in the predominantly African American Austin neighborhood, the window of a third floor apartment (pictured above) situated above a corner store at Austin Boulevard and North Avenue holds white poster board signs that read, “Occupy Austin: Housing is a Human Right!” and “Stop Austin Evictions.”

This Occupy protest, local though not isolated, ended in defeat as the building entrances are now boarded up with its entire occupancy having been evicted. The sign in the window is still visible, though.

Although the reasons are varied and complex, African Americans continue to get involved with the Occupy movement. The sign in the Austin community window confirmed what many already knew, many African Americans are an informed, passionate people who are “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Additional, strategic partnerships and actions are on the horizon.

The new agenda: “Occupy everything.”

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