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Occupy Wall Street Fights for Diversity

A new working group is fighting to make the movement more diverse, and to reach out to those hit hardest by the Great Recession.

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Instead of allowing the bottom 99 percent to be divided and conquered by race lines, the People of Color Working Group is re-igniting the conversation through critical, educational dialogues on systematic racism and oppression. Through these conversations in Liberty Square, as well as outreach to neighborhoods of color with their affiliate movement, #OccupyTheHood, they hope to represent their specific experiences with economic injustice and poverty through a race lens as a means to ultimately expand and strengthen the movement.

“They say that when a white man catches a cold, we in communities of color get pneumonia,” Holder said, “We are organized to ensure that our issues are heard—not just heard, but on the forefront of the movement, because if our issues are addressed, everyone’s issues will be addressed.”

After the economy crashed, although many white, formerly middle-class Americans stood in line for food stamps and lost their homes in foreclosures—an experience once exclusively reserved for blacks, Latinos and immigrant communities—communities of color still experienced disproportionate consequences of the recession. Thousands of all demographics lost their jobs and incomes, but nearly 40 percent of the nation’s collective unemployed are black or Latino—while they make up only 29 percent of the total population. Although the overall unemployment rate is 9 percent, when broken down by race it becomes 8 percent white unemployment, 11.8 percent Latino unemployment, and 16.1 percent black unemployment.

It is not only that communities of color—especially those that make up the forgotten majorities of places like New York City—need movements for economic justice like Occupy Wall Street. Movements like Occupy Wall Street—movements that have the potential to be historic, but are still reactionary, developing and criticized for being immature and directionless—need communities of color, both as additional bodies of support but as critical histories of oppression and resistance to create empowering critical dialogues and inclusive change.

“This is our outlet,” Holder continued. “We all need to question the status quo that we have accepted up until this point, because this is not a beautiful struggle that will fade into tomorrow with half actions and half solutions. We are the United States of America. We are one and we pledge allegiance to liberty and justice for all, yet our black and brown people have been drowning in a cesspool of misery for so long. Occupy Wall Street is our chance and time for us to come together and occupy the America that is on paper.”

Anna Lekas Miller is a student, freelance writer and activist. Follow her on Twitter, @agoodcuppa.