If the goal of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) is to take back the nation by getting Wall Street out of Washington, including the voices of those Americans most affected by the recession is imperative.  Janelle Ross observes that the crowd currently assembled at Zuccotti Park is “overwhelmingly white,” as is virtual and face-to-face participation nationwide. Yet African American and Latinos represent nearly 40 percent of the nation’s unemployed.

Cornell West at Zuccotti Park (9/27/11)

Core organizers are aware of this racial imbalance and have set up a working group focused on recruitment, strategy and action plans for “Communities of Color.”  But the motivation behind and method of this outreach will be a key determinant in the overall success of the “revolution,” as I see it.

The disproportionate racial demographics of the #Occupy(ers), Ross hypothesizes, might be linked to issues of economy, access, or despondency.  So building consensus among the most historically disenfranchised people in our nation and those (white) middle class Americans who, due to the recent economic downturn, are slowly but surely joining their ranks needs to be pursued for the right reasons and with sensitivity.

Ross describes a sympathetic profile of an unemployed white man recently featured in the New York Times. His plight after losing his $100,000 a year salary — of having to settle on a job at the Gap and being asked by his wife to sleep on the couch — would not be “news” in the black community, where, an interviewee points out, such stories are more commonplace.

If OWS is to look like something other than caterwauling about the erosion of the (historically white) middle class (which I do believe its most visionary participants believe it is), organizers would be wise to begin by picking up where the Civil Rights movement left off.  To be truly successful, the revolution will need to be about changing a system which has always relied upon the suffering of one portion of the population at the expense of another.

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2 Responses to Race, Representation, and #Occupywallstreet

  1. Jim says:

    I was at #occupywallstreet in NYC on Wednesday and I don;t think the crows was over whelmingy white, in fact there were a lot of different folks from around the spectrum. The real problem with occupy wallstreet in my opinion was the hippie aesthetic. I’d hate to see us relive the ineffectual hippie revolution.

    • Cynthia Sarver says:

      Perhaps the crowd has become more diverse since Ms. Ross wrote her column. Unfortunately, I missed the opportunity to go to Zuccotti Park when I was in NYC at the end of last month, so I am not speaking from firsthand experience.

      Still, I’d be interested to know more about the class demographics of the protesters: primarily working class or (formerly) middle class (insofar as those categories apply to Americans). I’m not trying to quash the movement with negativity or criticism; I do realize that the most important thing that we can do right now is to celebrate folks coming together in order to foster growth. But as you imply about the “hippie aesthetic,” the mainstream media will pick apart the movement in any way possible… which is precisely why I think it is so important that the movement be very clear about what it is. And to me it’s ultimately about economic equity, a thing that nobody was protesting about (that much) before a lot of middle class (white) people lost their jobs (or couldn’t get one).

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