Bringing the struggle home

Eric Ruder reports on one of the latest developments in the Occupy Wall Street movement--plans by Black and Latino activists to "Occupy the Hood."

A participator in Occupy Wall Street publicizes the Occupy the Hood twitter feed (Bob Jagendorf)A participator in Occupy Wall Street publicizes the Occupy the Hood twitter feed (Bob Jagendorf)

WHEN THE Occupy Wall Street protest began a few weeks ago, Malik Rhasaan, a construction worker from Queens, went to Lower Manhattan to take in the scene. He immediately liked what he saw--and quickly realized he could make an important contribution. "I noticed there isn't a strong Black and Latino presence, or a strong Asian presence for that matter," he said. "I realized a lot of people just don't know about it."

So Rhasaan got in touch with Ife Johari Uhuru, an Internet acquaintance and longtime community activist in Detroit, and Occupy the Hood was born. Says Ife:

It's not a white fight, it's a people's fight. We can't be counted if we're not there, if we're not present to be counted. Occupy the Hood is growing. I talk to people around the world, and for the most part I'm still hearing the same thing. None of us are saying that people of color are not involved and out there, but we would like to see more of a presence.

People have taken initiative and have taken it upon themselves to start branches of Occupy the Hood because they feel the need for it in their own cities and states. I've had reports from Philly, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Austin and Dallas.

Occupy the Hood grew quickly through Facebook and Twitter, but after Lupe Fiasco appeared on the October 11 BET Hip Hop Awards 2011 show wearing an "Occupy" T-shirt with a Palestinian flag draped over his microphone, the profile of the Occupy movement grew enormously within Black and Latino communities.

After performing his politically charged song "Words I Never Said," BET.com asked him if he thought that the lack of leaders in the Occupy movement limited the movement's appeal. This was his eloquent reply:

OWS does have a leader: the protesters. The agenda is to bring attention to the power that people have in themselves. The power of self-determination. These things can be alien to the common American citizen because the normal concepts of leadership and protocol are so deeply embedded in monolithic and heavily bureaucratic systems of governance. The historical base of the American democratic reality is that of representation, that is someone who speaks on behalf of everybody else...

The Occupy movement literally represents an "occupation" of the power structures that make up this society, the most powerful and meaningful of these structures being the will of the people ourselves. We are attempting to get back in the driver's seat and "represent" ourselves and reinstate the real common good. We are all leaders.

Fiasco also pledged to support the movement in whatever capacity he is able. "In the short term, I plan on giving my total focus to both Occupy Chicago and Occupy LA, but I am making myself available to any and all Occupy movements, no matter the size or circumstance. I hope the Occupy movement becomes institutional and a permanent fixture of the social and political landscape of America."

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LUPE FIASCO isn't the only hip-hop artist boldly supporting the Occupy movement. Talib Kweli played at the Occupy Wall Street encampment on October 6. "When I see things like Occupy Wall Street, I just try to align myself with things that make sense," he told MTV. "Shame on me if I know something and don't spread it, you know? If I know, it becomes my responsibility to spread the information."

For Daphne Jackson, a resident of Chicago's South Side, Lupe's embrace of the Occupy movement was electrifying.

"When I heard about the Occupy movement, I wanted to get behind it 3,000 percent," she said. "Then when I saw those young eyes waking when Lupe talked about the movement on the Hip Hop Awards, it was exciting. It feels good, like a dream. We're such a diverse city in Chicago, and yet we're so separated. I think this is an opportunity to get everybody together. This movement is waking people up."

According to Jackson, Occupy the Hood is mobilizing from the South Side to come to Occupy Chicago this Saturday, and similar efforts are underway this weekend across the country. As she says:

People are feeling the oppression and the depression that is going on. And we need to be there in solidarity with the Occupy forces in every city. I'm grinning because I'm so happy realizing that I'm not alone out there. We all face the same hardships, and how much Wall Street and the system affect us. Our people need to stop listening to our fictitious Black leaders. We need to become more politically aware.