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Why We Must Occupy With Purpose and Intention

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This past weekend, I, along with hundreds of thousands of people across the globe, took to the streets in solidarity with the rapidly growing Occupy Wall Street Movement. In less than a month, what started as a flash mob in New York's financial district has become a world-wide movement dominating the news cycle.

While the anti-corporate meme is the tallest banner on the field, the open source nature of the growing uprising has led everyone from climate change activists and union leaders to a growing legion of Ron Paul supporters to try to claim the #Occupy energy. This is the first time I've seen such an odd collection of allies assemble to take on the corporate elite.

Ten years ago, I would have been one of the first to assemble at Zuccotti Park. The enthusiasm I've seen on Facebook and Twitter reminds me of the radical passion that fueled the original League of Young / Pissed Off Voters coalition. But after nearly a decade of involvement with campaigns to empower disenfranchised communities, I am skeptical of #Occupy's ability to dig deep enough to fight for the truly oppressed in our nation and our world.

After all, the economic conditions that sparked the #Occupy protests have been the status quo for communities of color for the last forty years. The well-intentioned leaders of mainstream progressive causes have rarely picked up the mantle of inner city poverty and the socioeconomic realities of persistent joblessness. In fact, history is littered with examples of the Left declaring victory after a struggle without having first changed the material realities of the very poor people they claim to represent.

We cannot count on others to speak up for us. And that is exactly why people of color, low-income Americans, and inner-city residents who have never seen political participation work for them should show up in full force to occupy #Occupy and demand a seat at the negotiating table.

As a once-precocious youth leader who has grown to adulthood in the Movement, I know first-hand that progressives are comfortable providing a space for disenfranchised communities at conferences and during electoral campaigns. I have been pushed to the forefront of today's social movements by good-hearted union activists, environmental heroes, and liberal leaders. But while I and other individuals may have a bully pulpit to advocate for equality and inclusion for disenfranchised communities, what is missing are the collective voices of poor people, who continue to stand mute before the lack of diversity in our current struggles. #Occupy has a chance to go deeper than sound bites.

Now is a moment when we can ALL be heard.

People of color must turn out to the #Occupy actions to demand that our issues are addressed by our progressive allies. Only by providing our unique perspectives can we push reforms that address the continuing realities of structural racism and exclusion. If this inspiring moment only succeeds in taking us back to pre-2008 economic conditions, we will have failed. It is up to us to fight for the Impossible: equal access to jobs, criminal justice reform, and schools that level the playing field for our children.

The young people who raised their tents on Wall Street have given us ALL an opportunity to dream bigger. We must not let this historical moment close without pushing the discussion, our movement, and ourselves. Now is our time to make sure that our concerns and desires are heard. We may never have a better moment to change the conversation. Speak up!

As originally published at Loop21.com.