A number of weeks ago, Black Agenda Report suggested that expanding the Occupation agenda to target “the goods in the hood” (foreclosed homes and shuttered infrastructure, the tangible–and cruelly tantalizing–local evidence of Wall Street’s malfeasance) would appeal to larger numbers of blacks and Latinos than the original OWS strategy of creating centralized, high-profile urban encampments. A number of New York City activists and organizations are thinking along the same lines, among them Organizing for Occupation, whose mission statement declares, “We intend to create housing through the occupation of vacant spaces and to protect people’s right to remain in existing housing through community based anti-eviction campaigns.” (Read more at http://www.o4onyc.org/about_o4o/)
An intriguing new site I just discovered, organizingupgrade.com (“left organizers respond to the changing times”–it appears truly committed to promoting dialogue about strategy among a range of activists), has posted a thought-provoking brief essay by Max Rameau called “Occupy to Liberate” that takes up some of these issues as well:
Rameau argues that the “Occupation” strategy originating predominantly among working- and middle-class whites is complementary to a “Liberate” strategy based primarily among low-income communities of color. While the former tends to focus on the perpetrators (Wall Street, the banks), the latter targets land use issues (including housing) to defend the rights and lives of those most at risk in the economic crisis. He sees the two movements as parallel and potentially mutually reinforcing, warning that it would be counterproductive either to pit them against each other or attempt to conflate them.
In Tuesday’s anti-foreclosure action in East New York, Brooklyn–part of a National Day of Action against foreclosures–we saw energetically illustrated Rameau’s notion that Occupy and Liberate strategies can productively combine. East New York is a predominantly black, working-class neighborhood that has been grievously wounded by the foreclosure crisis. It’s a part of Brooklyn I can’t recall ever visiting–I just ride through in a car service on my way to and from JFK Airport. I knew the day was going to be a success, at least in terms of numbers, when I realized that two women sitting next to me on the #3 train, whose conversation made it apparent they’d just met each other, were both headed to the Pennsylvania Avenue stop to join the march. I introduced myself and we took it from there.
When we came out of the train, there was already a big crowd–huge, for a neighborhood rally. Organizers said a thousand people, and I could believe it. Neighborhood people were invited to lead the march. It took 10 or 15 minutes of milling around before I saw another activist I knew, my friend Eleanor from Brooklyn for Peace (though I did recognize a number of people I’d seen at other OWS rallies over the past two months). There were a lot of people of color, and a lot of white people. Picture the Homeless had a big contingent in bright blue caps. An organization I’d never heard of, called VOCAL, stood out prominently. (Turns out VOCAL grew out of the former NYCAHN, NYC AIDS Housing Network; their new mission reads, “Voices Of Community Advocates & Leaders (VOCAL) is a statewide grassroots membership organization building power among low-income people affected by HIV/AIDS, the drug war and mass incarceration, along with the organizations that serve us, to create healthy and just communities.”) We started marching through the neighborhood of generally neat, mostly two-story rowhouses. Periodically, the march leaders would stop to mount the stoop of one of the many homes that showed signs of distress (a FOR SALE sign, or in at least one case, junk in the yard and boarded up windows). There’d be a mic check, and a short talk by one or two march leaders in combination with some of the people from the community who told their stories about the housing crisis. Neighborhood reception seemed overwhelmingly positive–from curious to glowing–with people standing in doorways or lingering in their yards on this eerily warm though drizzly December day. (A couple of the younger march participants were actually wearing shorts.) The only negative reaction I heard about was when one of the woman I’d met on the train, Anita from the Transit Workers Union, came up to me and said, “Can you believe it?–I just talked to a black man who said he couldn’t understand what this protest was about, and then he tells me he’s a Republican!”
At one point, we stopped in front of a tall brick building, Thomas Jefferson High School. Kids poked their heads out of upper story windows, waving happily, one of them holding up a sign written on a regular sized sheet of paper, too small to read at that distance.
There’s lots more to tell, too long for this post. I will follow up tomorrow with Part II.