Making Occupy Minnesota More Diverse

Last Friday the New York Times ran a story titled “Occupy Wall Street Struggles to Make ‘the 99%’ Look Like Everybody” which described the movement as “white and middle-class” and implicitly criticized the now worldwide protest for failing to attract minorities in large numbers.

Occupy MN appears to be in the same boat. The local Occupy Wall Street decampment has been in the plaza in front of City Hall in downtown Minneapolis for nearly a month. Like the demonstrators in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, Occupy MN is comprised largely of passionate and devoted — but middle-class, Caucasian — protestors. They have reached out to the antiwar and organized labor communities, but African-American activists from North Minneapolis — where economic inequality and the home foreclosure crisis have been most acutely felt — haven’t showed up in force.

At a rally on Saturday, The UpTake spoke with Occupy MN organizer Nic Espinosa and AFSCME Council 5 director Elliot Seide about efforts to make the Occupy movement more diverse.

More “reaching out” needed

Organizer Espinosa agrees that the Occupy MN crowd is “largely white”, but that will change as his group builds trust with groups such as the African-American activists from North Minneapolis.

“I think one thing we can do to make that happen is go into those communities and show we’re committed to fighting for families who are losing their homes and we’re going to stand with those people.

“With the economic crisis, everyone is effected. and more and more people are losing their jobs and ending up in situations that have been epidemic in Latino and Black communities and other communities of color. I think as we learn to stand together to fight and win together, we’re going to build relationships in those communities.”

“I think there has to be a reach out to communities of color”, says Seide. “I think we need to keep reaching out with our message. And that message resonates in North Minneapolis. It resonates in rural Minnesota and it’s ‘we need jobs’. We need to have jobs. We need to have fair wages. We need to have health care and we need to have a dignified retirement. Those kind of messages are going to resonate in every kind of community in this country.

“These are all folks who have suffered under this great recession and they’re suffering because the richest folks in this country continue to make huge profits while the rest of us don’t have enough to put food on our table. That’s got to change.”

Here’s more from that Times article:

Two weeks into Occupy Wall Street’s takeover of Zuccotti Park, a group of Bronx community organizers and friends rode the subway down to Lower Manhattan to check out a movement they supported in principle.

When they got there, they recalled, they found what they had suspected: a largely white and middle-class crowd that claimed to represent “the 99 percent” but bore little resemblance to most of the people in the group’s own community. That community, the South Bronx, is one of the poorest areas of the country and home almost exclusively to blacks and Hispanics.

“Nobody looked like us,” said Rodrigo Venegas, 31, co-founder of Rebel Diaz Arts Collective, a center for political activism and hip-hop run out of a warehouse in Mott Haven. “It was white, liberal, young people who for the first time in their life are feeling a small percentage of what black and brown communities have been feeling for hundreds of years.”

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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