I have been approached by a few groups and individuals to come down and rock at Occupy D.C. since it took over and set up camp at McPherson Square back in a few months ago. Thus far I have declined all invitations to do so, primarily due to cultural reasons. Personally, I have reservations as to the way "Occupiers" operating in D.C. have strategized to connect with community grassroots forces already engaged in social justice advocacy work.
Simply put, though I absolutely support and encourage the Occupy movement's tenacity to bring attention to America's increasing gross wealth distribution inequities and the institutions in place that support it, when it comes to large groups of people from other areas of the country amassing and "occupying" my hometown to start a movement, it makes me uncomfortable.
Why? Well, it's because where I am from, we wipe our feet on the rug before we enter someone else's home. That's the prescribed culture of doing effective grassroots organizing and activism here in Washington, D.C. and I imagine many places around the country. As an artist and activist having worked with great organizations in D.C. for the past decade to empower and uplift fellow residents I must acknowledge, respect, and defer to the experience and wisdom of the experts working on social justice issues in our progressive community. If there's one thing I've learned over the years doing this work, it's that organizing for effective social change isn't easy, and that it's best left to the professionals.
Everyone in the 21st century with a conscience wants change in the way our society operates. As very rightly expressed, the Occupy Wall Street patriots are calling out the 1% on its enslavement of the rest of us to enjoy wealth and prosperity beyond measure. This dynamic of American social order is nothing new, as it first began with the founding of our great nation; rooted in genocide of its native population and the enslavement of Africans to build its wealth. These acts, committed long ago and in many ways still continuing today, were crafted and managed by the 1%-minded "founding fathers," formerly of the 99% of Europe who came to this land to escape the tyranny of that region's own 1% rulers.
As a result, the system of capitalism established that would allow a group of people to reason away respect for human rights of another, to prosper from their work, became the accepted and practiced way to build a new nation. From slavery, to sharecropping, to child labor and women's suffrage, the story of America IS labor, and how the 99% of citizens making up America's labor force have been arriving at a place of collective consciousness and effort to receive a more equitable share of our nation's prosperity.
Descendants of indigenous peoples, enslaved Africans, and every other race/culture disenfranchised by the 1% have been trumpeting analysis, organizing and fighting to be heard (and for reparations) since the country's inception, and the struggle continues. And now, here in the United States the discussion around who the 1% is and what they do to take advantage of the rest of us is holding center stage in public discourse. This current social movement is undeniably influenced by the Arab Spring that has seen the toppling of decades-old socially oppressive regimes. Kudos!
I can't speak to the other Occupy movements happening around the country, but here in the nation's capital the inclusion of input and leadership from people who understand the importance of talking about D.C.'s social and economic disparities with regard to race and class is woefully and noticeably missing. Culturally and affectionately known as Chocolate City, Washington, D.C., with its nearly 50% population of descendants of enslaved African population, is a Black Town.
The issues of disparity that exist here are directly related to historic and institutional race and class discrimination. What makes these issues difficult to bring to the table of discussion is the fact that our last three elected Black mayors and Black City Council members over the last 16 years have been the driving force behind gentrification programs initiated to drive low- and moderate-income Black and Brown residents from the city. Me personally, I don't know a Black person in the D.C. Metro area who hasn't been affected by, or who doesn't have a stinging opinion about, the way Washington, D.C. has been governed since the Anthony Williams administration -- which was inaugurated with Congress' Control Board takeover during Marion Barry's final mayoral term.
Occupy D.C. has attempted a few actions that, while grabbing local and national media headlines, have not lead to a sustainable momentum-building movement forcing the city leaders to address issues of public space use and homelessness. The Franklin School takeover lasted less than a day, as well as the erection of a structure at McPherson Square that was quickly dismantled by local law enforcement. There currently is an Occupy D.C. participant-organized hunger strike for D.C. statehood that's in its second week. In fellow Huffington Post contributor Ben Zucker's coverage of the hunger strike, he writes: "The activists say they see this as an opportunity to empower Washingtonians to be active in their city and improve their communities."
It's a valiant and honorable move but, just like the Franklin Shelter action, it's the wrong move to motivate D.C. residents to action. D.C. statehood is a serious subject in this town, and there are many groups working in various capacities to popularize the movement. To my knowledge, none of them have signed on as officially endorsing the hunger strike action initiated by Occupy D.C. participants. It seems they just kind of went out and did this on their own, which is not conducive to effective organizing.
There is an Achilles heel of expectation by activists and organizing groups who come to the nation's capital to redress their grievances, that just because they are here producing events we as progressive people all advocate for on social justice issues, D.C. residents are just supposed to drop everything and come join them. In fact, D.C. residents, especially those of us who work in the activist and organizing communities, resent the expectations, the failure and unwillingness to follow critical, culturally recommended ways to connect with the heart and soul of Chocolate City. When approached, we always find ourselves asking the same question: where are these same brave patriots on the important days when we asked them to come out and support the leadership of our actions to redress the government on local issues?
Culture is everything. In this heavily propagandized "post-racial" society we now supposedly live in, it can be a battle to get even progressive brothers and sisters working the "movement" to recognize just how important it is to consider culture in every aspect of organizing strategy if we are to have a true solidarity and people's movement. Amongst people of culture, it is widely understood that we can't talk about the country being dysfunctional now, without talking about its dysfunctional beginnings and how it all relates to where we are today. Many of us feel that this is what has been missing from the outreach strategies used by Occupy D.C. decision makers.
So, when I received a call from Faye Williams of Sisterspace and Books asking me to come rock this Wednesday, December 21st 2011 at Occupy D.C. with none other than internationally known Black Love Pan-Africanist agenda-driven hip-hop legends Dead Prez to do a "Keep D.C. Wal-Mart Free" presentation and rally, I eagerly replied "Yes." I've known Sister Faye to always be on point with her activism and small-business advocacy work to support and nurture the self-determination of D.C.'s largest disenfranchised group: it's majority Black and Brown residents of low and moderate income designation.
Dead Prez's work as hip-hop's prolific providers of societal analysis and solutions for those looking to invest more in their own self-determination speaks for itself. Also, Ward 4 candidate Renee Bowser (not related to incumbent Muriel Bowser) will be speaking out against the dangers of allowing the world's worst corporate employer, Wal-Mart, with a history of opposing D.C. statehood aspirations, to do business here in Chocolate City. There will be many other prominent members of D.C.'s grassroots activists on present and on deck to espouse their views and shed light on the work they do locally to combat the advances of the 1% and those who do their bidding here in the nation's capital.
I will be rocking in full uniform, wearing my Empower D..C. shirt, and hope to see many others who support the work of what I like to label as "D.C.'s most gangster community-organizing group" in attendance. And if I didn't mention it before, the action tomorrow is centered around the call for D.C. residents, being ignored by city and community leaders, to "Keep DC Walmart Free!"
The action begins at McPhearson Square at 11:30 am and is scheduled to go on until 1:30pm.
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