I’ve been riveted by Occupy Wall Street taking over the news, and excited that it has spawned supportive local efforts across the country. There’s something wonderful when regular people – our families, co-workers, friends, neighbors – come together to organize in the moment based on shared values.
I headed downtown to walk into Occupy Portland, not only to see what was happening, but to seek my place in it. When I arrived at Pioneer Courthouse Square for the first march, there was such vibrancy in the air, high levels of excitement and promise. I truly felt that this could be a ‘something for everyone’ movement-building moment.
Then I looked around and realized that again, in Portland, what is most noticeable is what you don’t see much of. That ‘something’ was the lack of diversity in the substantial crowds: the absence of people of color, particularly young people of color, save a few scattered here and there. Some of us were in the middle or on the periphery watching, calling out the chants, raising our hands in solidarity. But there were so few present, it was easy to miss or dismiss us.
Where were we, what kept us away? Where was our visible voice in the leadership of Occupy? Were we only expected to appear, be visible in majority minority cities – like Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles?
I did a bit of local research. I called a few community leaders, queried folks in the grocery store, the beauty shop, at church. The people I talked to are paying attention to Occupy Wall Street – and Occupy Portland. Of course, they know what it means to be overlooked, marginalized, dismissed, disrespected — to be the 99% in America. They, too, had noticed the amount of attention the Americans massing outside our major financial districts were receiving. They certainly ‘got’ that!
And, nearly to a person, they wondered what might have been different if people of color had gone on Facebook, tweeted, phoned others and said, “We are going to OCCUPY! Wall Street, Seattle’s Westlake Park, public spaces in Boston, Houston, Austin, Denver and, certainly, Portland!
What if the Occupy crowds had resembled New Orleans post-Katrina, with extra-large numbers of people of color congregating in a public spaces? How far would their Occupy have gotten before the presence of a large number of black people and other people of color – and the subsequent portrayals in the media – raised alarms and public safety concerns?
Those questions have run simultaneously in my head while I witness and support the power and opportunity in this moment. Those are the same thoughts and history that turned me, originally, to social justice organizing, to fight for women’s reproductive rights, the right to access quality education, healthcare, social services.
Those are the same thoughts and dreams that I share with the brothers and sisters who have started Occupy the Hood, to bring forth new chances for participation in the Occupy movement.
As I’ve watched Occupy move forward, I’m struck by what I see and what I don’t. Where my people are, what they’re saying they want, and how that is – or isn’t – being heard. My hope and expectation is that this moment will draw in more who have already tread the ground Occupy is now walking; who have stood steadfast in lines of opposition to those who demonize, minimize and marginalize too many of us.
I challenge each of us to occupy, to join the movement for change that’s in the air. Each of us is going to have to find our own way to be part of Occupy. You may not be interested in sleeping in a public space, but you can bring food or supplies, or write about it, or post your own 99% story on the web. You can move your money from a Wall Street Bank to a credit union.
But, don’t let this moment, this movement, pass by without doing something. There’s something powerful and possible going on here, and each of us has a place in it. Send us your Occupy moments, your thoughts about what could be next, and your commitment to join in.