All across the country masses of people are becoming radicalized through their exposure to the violent and dehumanizing tactics of the police, yet many people of color expect to be stopped, frisked, beaten or arrested on any given day. The occupy movement seeks to be all-inclusive, but can we simply re-appropriate without acknowledging the pre-existing meaning of the word “occupy”? We are used to a world in which the military occupies communities of color overseas and the police occupy communities of color inside the US and people of color occupy a hugely disproportionate number of prison cells. As black cultural theorist and journalist Greg Tate wrote in the Village Voice, “Out there on the street, though all we need is to feel like you got our backs like we got yours, herein might lie the rub. People fresh to the daily struggle might need to earn our trust more. Clearly we’re in no hurry to make loads of new friends spanking new to police brutality.”
In Oakland and many other places, people of color are a big part of the Occupy Movement, but there are inevitable racial tensions arising out of culture clashes and mutual distrust. Racial oppression, exclusion, and fear of different cultures are so ingrained in all of us that it may not be possible to achieve a genuine consensus in massive public forums. Therefore it is exciting to hear that some people of color are organizing local autonomous neighborhood assemblies to establish their goals and desires for the larger movement.
An organization calling itself Occupy the Hood (www.officialoccupythehood.org) has established a presence on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, with links to chapters across the country, and Denise Oliver Velez published an inspiring blog posting in the Daily Kos asserting that the Occupy Movement can incorporate the concerns and causes of communities of color. For example, Occupy Flagstaff in Arizona has been raising awareness of a plan to cover a mountain sacred to native tribes with snow manufactured from treated waste-water, as well as a plan to reinstate uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Occupy the Hood Boston was specifically initiated to address issues impacting their own community, in particular police brutality and the system’s indifference to inner city violence. One of Occupy the Hood Boston’s founders said that she, like many others who have lost family members to violence, simply wants peace of mind when it comes to living in the hood; “If they can sit in the South End [Boston] at one in the morning drinking cappuccino and not have a fear of being shot then the same thing should happen here.”
It seems obvious that the Occupy Movement should mean the same thing for communities of color that it does for white people, but the methods and/or tactics used to realize that vision might be very different. Compared to most of the other Occupy movements, which rely on hand signals, stacks, and group facilitators, Occupy the Hood Boston is a bit more reminiscent of the organizational structure of the civil rights movement, but without leaders. Any member can propose an action and those who agree form a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ and take direct action. Participants in the General Assemblies of most other Occupy movements must be on stack and use hand signals for the chance to be heard, while OTHB participants need only to rise and speak. This freewheeling nature of Occupy the Hood allows for vigorous debate and unrestrained free speech.
Despite their differences, it should be noted that all of the Occupy movements are essentially fighting for the same thing, each using the strength of its collective voice to create awareness of social and economic injustice. Occupy the Hood is simply representing the people most grossly affected.