The burgeoning #OccupyWallStreet protest made headlines again on Saturday night when hundreds of demonstrators were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. And once again, the tried-and-true media narrative of protesters vs. police is played up.
It could be argued that the story here is not about police arrests and should instead be about the growing movement occupying public space across the United States as a symbol of disgust with the U.S. economic system. That’s true, but you can’t expect corporate media to focus on the real story. What’s also true is that the media’s focus on that narrative, and #OccupyWallStreet’s revulsion with the New York Police Department’s tactics, is an opportunity for coalition building with marginalized communities in the city.
Kai Wright, editor of the excellent ColorLines website, notes that the demonstrators are “largely young and white.” He also writes critically that the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrators have not included those “millions of people who have been kicked out of their homes, laid off or forced to work multiple part-time jobs, caught in predatory debt traps and, yes, so harassed by cops that they have petty criminal records that make them unemployable.”
These millions are neither lobbying Congress nor marching across the Brooklyn Bridge; they’re trying to make it through the week without another crisis. They are also overwhelmingly and not in the least bit coincidentally black people. And I suspect that until we build our politics around their participation, we will continue to miss the point.
Wright’s point is salient, although there are certainly black people and those who have lost their homes now down at Liberty Plaza. And there are probably few protesters at Liberty Plaza right now who would disagree with Wright’s call. The question is how to garner the participation of those in marginalized communities and build strong links with the protesters who do come from those communities.
Labor’s willingness to get on board the occupation is one way. The Transit Workers Union, which has come out strong for the protesters, has a largely Black, Latino and immigrant workforce. But that’s not enough.
#OccupyWallStreet, which will continue to battle the police in the coming days, should be building bridges with communities who suffer the most from NYPD policing tactics. Anger at the department’s “stop and frisk” policy, which is overwhelmingly directed at poor Black and Latino men in New York City, is high. So is anger at the NYPD’s recently exposed spying program on NYC Muslim communities. What’s a better way to connect the struggles of communities of color and the #OccupyWallStreet demonstrators than marching specifically against those policies and the heavy-handed NYPD tactics used on #OccupyWallStreet?
Last Friday’s protest against police brutality was certainly a start. The upcoming October 22 protest against police brutality, an annual event, could be the next step. #OccupyWallStreet should use existing anger at police brutality and connect the struggle against inequality to the struggle against police brutality. After all, both the policing and economic systems in this country target poor people in communities of color. Making those explicit connections could be a powerful boost to the growing movement to occupy Wall Street, and the United States.
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