The Occupy Wall Street movement went Uptown on Friday night, as more than 100 people filled the second-floor sanctuary at St. Philip's Church in Harlem for the first general meeting of Occupy Harlem.
Unlike their downtown comrades, those in attendance were mostly black and Latino, save for a handful of whites who sat and listened intently, a few lifting their fists to shouts of "Power to the People."
This was a group of veteran activists and young turks alike, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement. And it was a moment decades in the making for veteran Harlem activists, like Nellie Hester Bailey, who have fought and protested and rallied for fair wages, tenants' rights and against police brutality here for years.
"Occupy Wall Street is not a quote-unquote white thing. It is a white thing that the 1 percent and the bankers are representing white oligarchy and white plutocrats for the most part," Bailey said. "But this is an organic movement from the bottom up. Now we have to take advantage, seize the time and the moment ... and it is time that we become part of this landscape so we can begin to highlight our issues."
As Occupy Wall Street has spread to cities across the country and the world, the collective face of the movement has remained largely white and youthful, at times shunning or crowding out old-school activists and civil rights leaders. But as the movement has continued to grow, more people of color have gotten involved. There is Occupy The Hood, started by a single mother in Detroit and a substance abuse counselor from Queens. Rappers and entertainers have joined Occupy protests in New York, Oakland, Chicago and Houston.
On October 21, more than 30 people, including the scholar and activist Cornel West, were arrested in Harlem while protesting the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, a practice that critics and community activists say unfairly targets blacks and Latinos. Many of the protesters made their way uptown from Zuccotti park.
According to a recent New York Civil Liberties Union report, about 3 million innocent New Yorkers were subjected to police stops and street interrogations between 2004 and 2010, the overwhelming majority of those stopped and frisked being black or Latino. For organizers and protesters in Harlem, social issues such as police brutality, incarceration, housing needs and various social issues seem to be the focus, in addition to the economic issues at the heart of Occupy Wall Street.
"There is just something in the air now around standing up," said Carl Dix, a representative of the Revolutionary Communist Party in New York. Dix has been deeply involved in planning the protests and was one of those arrested during the protests in Harlem.
Dix said that Occupy Wall Street captured the media's attention after New York Police officers were filmed pepper spraying white, female protesters, and public outcry intensified. These experiences seem to have opened up some common ground between the young white protesters and their more experienced black counterparts.
"We saw that and figured you guys got a taste of this, but these things happen all the time in black and Latino communities," said Dix. "So we went down to the park and did a few mic checks [used the human microphone system] and really shared with that crowd. You know, what is going on is illegal, unconstitutional and intolerable, and we are going to stop it. You should join us."
"I am not of the mind, 'Damn, why are they getting attention?'" Dix added. "I'm more of the 'Let's make this something that can't be ignored.'"
Occupy actions have also spread to minority communities in Brooklyn and the Bronx. In Zuccotti Park, the staging ground for Occupy Wall Street, a people of color working group has been formed. (Organizers of Occupy Harlem have said an encampment would be discussed at subsequent meetings.)
"People of color should be at the crux of this movement," said Jon Stray, 39, who said he comes from a long line of "revolutionaries" and activists. "We are disproportionately affected by the 1 percent you hear everyone talking about now."
Stray said he is a member of the people of color working group at Occupy Wall Street and that the existence of the group within the larger campaign is in itself a "symbol of marginalization," but a way for minorities to get their issues to the forefront.
But Occupy Harlem appears different in more than just its complexion. While corporate corruption and the greed of the 1 percent 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. There also seem to be clear generational differences, with many of those in attendance being seasoned veterans. Only a handful of young black men attended Friday's meeting in Harlem.
As speakers took to the lectern to blast government waste, President Obama's alleged collusion with Wall Street villains and the NYPD's stop-and-frisk policy, many of the elders clapped their hands loudly while the younger people snapped or wiggled their fingers in approval. But there seemed, at times, an uncomfortable tension between the moderator, Bailey, and some of the younger participants who seemed more accustomed to the organizational style of Occupy Wall Street. Many grimaced as their hand signs and gestures went unreciprocated or unacknowledged by Bailey.
"There is a gap in a way they want to organize themselves. Youth seem to be less top down while the vanguard is staunchly top down. That produces somewhat of an organizational stalemate that slows down the process," said Craig Schley, executive director of Voice Of The Everyday People (or VOTE People), a Harlem-based community advocacy group. Schley said the depth of disenfranchisement in the black community and generational gaps in leadership have kept many blacks from participating in Occupy Wall Street and other recent protest movements.
Schley, a former congressional candidate, said that those who would naturally lead or embody a movement that represents the concerns of African Americans would need to be young men and women of color. Many of them are hampered by a number of social factors that go well beyond corporate greed, not the least of which is a history of black protests beaten back with force by the police.
"Our problem in northern Manhattan is moral and principled and not purely financial or financially driven," Schley said. "We don't occupy Wall Street because we occupy prisons. Once the protestors in Zuccotti Park get jobs, the protest ends."
"That's a different paradigm entirely," Schley said. "And if we are going to step out and occupy Harlem, we need to make sure we're going to occupy the needs of this community. And let's make it clear: You can't do it unabashed. When African Americans step out there, things tend to get hostile."
(In mid-October, in a somewhat snarky aside, the Village Voice published a commentary on why so few blacks showed up for the Occupy Wall Street protests. "Thanks to our overwhelming no-show of numbers," writer Greg Tate, wrote, "49,000 shots haven't been fired at OWS yet.")
Nellie Hester Bailey, co-founder of the Harlem Tenants' Council, said that Occupy Harlem stands in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, a movement she said is less about those "young white people" and more about the spotlight they shine on banks and economic greed and inequality. She added though that Occupy Wall Street should serve as a guide, but communities should determine for themselves what issues are important and what strategies could have the most impact.
"I think what is so exciting about this movement is that it is peopled deciding to come together collectively to see what needs to be done, and taking that synergy to come up with long-term strategic planning that is sustainable so that it's not a one-shot deal."
BEFORE YOU GO
03/20/2012 6:12 PM EDT
Trouble At Occupied Apartment Building Splits Occupy Miami
Via HuffPost Miami:
When an Occupy Miami member offered evicted protestors vacant apartments in a building he owns in Downtown Miami's Overtown neighborhood, it seemed like the perfect solution: the 'Peace City' space would provide headquarters for the movement and shelter a small faction of the group's most vulnerable members. But it hasn't gone well. Other tenants say the building has become a cesspool of drug use and violence while non-resident Occupy Miami members are trying to distance themselves from the 'radicals' -- all while the two factions are wrestling for control over Occupy Miami's social media sites and future plans.
The feud between the Overtown occupiers and more mainstream members has only gotten worse. The two factions are now battling for control of Occupy Miami's social media sites. The movement's main Twitter account recently announced it had been "hijacked by a small, non-consensus group of radical members." The Occupy Miami Facebook page was also temporarily hacked by someone inside Peace City. Meanwhile, the Overtown occupation is slowly driving away more moderate members.
"This is a black eye on the Occupy movement," says Shannon Reaze, an Overtown community organizer and Occupy Miami supporter who is now helping tenants move out of Paz's building. "The violence and drugs going on here are way outside of what I thought Occupy stood for. This place is destabilized."
...The supposedly hard-core activists here spend their days drinking and getting high. And as Peace City devolves into lawlessness, the most committed occupiers are leaving. Local landowners and politicians want the place shut down, while cops are suspicious. Yet as long as Paz wants the protesters around, nothing short of a demolition order can keep them out.
03/19/2012 6:32 PM EDT
Occupy DC Protesters Sue MPD
Via HuffPost DC:
WASHINGTON -- Occupy DC has a new lawsuit involving tents on its hands. But it doesn't involve temporary structures in McPherson Square.
Two protesters arrested during a February action outside Merrill Lynch's offices on 15th Street NW near McPherson Square have filed suit against the Metropolitan Police Department, Legal Times reports. (Read the complaint here.)
The plaintiffs, Samuel Dukore and Kelly Canavan, were part of a "targeted occupation" of Merrill Lynch on Feb. 13 where protesters were raising awareness about Merrill Lynch's reportedly close ties with Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issa, for his part, claims that the reports of these close ties are "wildly inaccurate."
Full story here.
03/19/2012 12:20 PM EDT
Occupy Wall Street Attempts To Occupy Union Square
OWS reports via its website:
After the brutal attack on the attempted re-occupation of Liberty Square by NYPD on the 6-month anniversary of #OWS, a number of Occupiers have relocated their base of occupation to Union Square in midtown Manhattan, a point of convergence for several #OWS protests over the past 6 months.
According to reports on the ground, several dozen people slept in the park after the illegal and violent raid on Liberty Square. Over 70 people remain, now on Day 3. Although tents and tables are still banned, Occupiers have brought blankets and sleeping gear. Many are calling it ¨the new Occupation.¨ In addition to holding General Assemblies, Union Square Occupiers are providing vital jail support for those arrested on #M17 as they are released from NYPD custody. So far, the NYPD has made no attempt to remove Occupiers or prevent them from sleeping in the park.
03/18/2012 10:35 AM EDT
Watch: Another Video Documenting Woman's Arrest
03/18/2012 10:34 AM EDT
NY Observer ID's Victim
The woman had the apparent seizure has been identified by the New York Observer as Cecily McMillan:
Cecily McMillan, an Occupy Wall Street activist once profiled in Rolling Stone, suffered a seizure Saturday night during protest action near Zuccotti Park. Many on-scene reported Ms. McMillan had trouble breathing after she was tackled and handcuffed by law enforcement.
A video uploaded to Youtube late Saturday night purports to show the attack. Two women can be heard commenting, “There’s Cecily,” then there is confusion as the police clearly perform a violent take-down on someone in the crowd.
According to Jeff Sharlet’s November, 2011 article about the Occupy Movement, this may be Ms. McMillan’s second violent encounter with police.
To read the full story, go here.
03/18/2012 10:33 AM EDT
Watch: Woman Who Had Apparent Seizure Brutalized By Police
Cops caught on video about 10 seconds in taking down the woman who had the apparent seizure:
03/18/2012 10:32 AM EDT
'Stop Pushing Us!'
Watch video from inside Zuccotti Park as police moved in late last night:
- Show quoted text -
03/18/2012 10:31 AM EDT
New York Times Reports Alleged Police Abuse
The paper reports from last night's chaos at Zuccotti Park:
At one point, a woman who appeared to be suffering from seizures flopped on the ground in handcuffs as bystanders shouted for the police to remove the cuffs and provide medical attention. For several minutes the woman lay on the ground as onlookers made increasingly agonized demands until an ambulance arrived and the woman was placed inside.
By 12:20 a.m., a line of officers pushed against some of the remaining protesters, forcing them south on Broadway, at times swinging batons and shoving people to the ground.
Kobi Skolnick, 30, said that officers pushed him in several directions and that as he tried to walk away, he was struck from behind in the neck. “One of the police ran and hit me with a baton,” he said.
To read the full story, go here.