While Whites Occupy Wall Street, African-Americans Occupy Harlem


Now that the Occupy Wall Street protests seem to be losing support in Zuccotti Park, what remains are the fringe effects of the movement. These effects include groups who have turned the movement into a platform for raising their own concerns. The striking difference, then, between the disparate message of OWS and the solidified message of movements like Occupy Harlem is the distinct ability to dictate the terms of the movement as operating from a core value system with specific goals and regulations in mind.

The great rallying cry of OWS was the disenfranchised 99% as displaced by corporate corruption and capitalism. By choosing an enemy without a face, or a crime without a perpetrator, the protestors undercut their own movement. They victimized themselves without proactively seeking a resolution. As Trymaine Lee wrote in the Huffington Post, "While corporate corruption and the greed of the 1% are dominant themes at OWS, those in Harlem also spoke of the social issues that affect communities of color, including the privatization of public housing and youth violence."

In other words, as the predominantly white youth of Occupy Wall Street complain about corporate greed and financial woes, actual social and racial factors that go beyond economics have gone unchecked and have been debilitating factors for poor communities in Harlem for years.

When faced with problems that are inherent within the community — such as housing and gang violence — movements like Occupy Harem have taken a far more narrowed focus on problem solving.

As Craig Schley, executive director of Voice Of The Everyday People (or VOTE People), a Harlem-based community advocacy group bluntly said, "Our problem in northern Manhattan is more moral and principled and not purely financial or financially driven. We don’t Occupy Wall Street. We Occupy Prisons. Once the protestors in Zuccotti Park get jobs the protest ends."

These are real problems and community officials are looking for concrete solutions in Harlem.

The first meeting of Occupy Harlem took place in St. Philip’s Church on October 31, with 100 people attending. Notables involved in the protest included Kanye West, Al Sharpton, Cornel West. Such luminaries have brought media attention, but they’ve also served as leadership for a movement that isn’t just a flash in the media spotlight, but an ongoing struggle.

Rapper Ness maintains that there has been less participation by African-Americans in the Occupy Wall Street movement because they’ve felt this sort of disenfranchisement from the beginning, and only recently has the economy reached such a precipice that  the white middle class is finally feeling it. "That layer, the middle class and whites still have that sense of entitlement, that sentiment like, 'This can't be happening to me.'" Poor African-American communities have been feeling that economic strain all along.

There is a much larger set of complexities that lie at the heart of every radical movement. It is impossible to target an entire group, either socio-economic or otherwise, as the enemy. If anything can come out of the movements that have evolved long after Zuccotti Park’s disbandment, it is the more concentrated community-based movements like Harlem’s "Occupy the Hood" endeavors.

As Greg Tate wrote in the Village Voice, "Simply put, capitalism is not the "ism" whose evils tends to motivate most American Negroes to radical action, per se. Experience shows that racism can trump even greed in Amerikkka — especially in the workplace." Tate argues that "American black folk have had more than 400 years to neurologically process the whole profits before people thing."

While the original Occupy Wall Street movement may be noted for it is very specific demographic of white, middle class 20-somethings with time to spare, the most immediate effects of the movement have to be a return to community concerns as a top priority. There is still a chance for vanguards to take up their own causes, like those in Harlem, with a more pointed and specific agenda without negatively distracting from the task at hand.

As one veteran Harlem activist, Nellie Hester Bailey, put it, "Occupy Wall Street is not just a white thing."

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons