As ‘Occupy Wall Street’ spreads around America and even worldwide to places like Great Britain, Russia, Germany and Australia, Black Floridians are becoming involved.
BY JAMES HARPER
Last week, in a sign that it is shifting from a loose-knit fringe group to a bloc that could draw in mainstream America, the movement called Occupy Wall Street brought thousands of people to the streets of New York after major labor unions gave their backing to its anti-greed message.
The march, from Occupy Wall Street’s makeshift headquarters at a small park in the financial district to Foley Square in Lower Manhattan, was the largest since the group launched its movement Sept. 17. At its peak, the crowd of several thousand filled Foley Square and covered the steps of the courthouse across the street as speakers from several labor groups railed against corporate America.
Occupy Wall Street started out as an ongoing series of demonstrations in New York City. The participants of the event are mainly protesting against social and economic inequality, corporate greed, and the influence of corporate money and lobbyists on government, among other concerns.
The goals and demands vary by participating individuals or groups, but many news organizations have compared it to a left-leaning version of the Tea Party protests. By Oct. 9, similar demonstrations had been held or were ongoing in more than 70 American cities.
Teachers and nurses mixed with students holding placards lamenting soaring tuition and their inability to repay student loans. Veterans complained of being out of work and homeless. Senior citizens lamented the hardships facing their grandchildren.
There were signs protesting racism, Barack Obama, Republicans, Democrats, hunger, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were as many signs supporting workers’ rights, hunger-striking prisoners, higher taxes for millionaires and an overhaul of the country’s financial system.
‘Black’ issues represented
Reena Walker of Harlem is on the People of Color Subcommittee of Occupy Wall Street and chair of Progressive Black Thinkers. She spoke exclusively to Florida Courier reporter Ashley Thomas, who was at the site.
"I felt it was very important for our presence to be here to be visible in the park, not just to be a part of looking at everything as a spectator – but also to be front and center so that the issues that face the Black community can be a main part of the agenda in OWS (Occupy Wall Street)," she said.
"The Black community is disproportionately affected by all the issues portrayed, especially when it comes to mass incarcerations and the prison-industrial complex.
"The economic situation is dire right now, the unemployment rate in the Black community is out of control – it’s like over 30 percent. When America gets a cold, the Black community gets the flu."
Walker says it’s important that Black Americans participate in the Occupy movement.
"The issues that are being raised here affect us the most. Our banking systems, corporate giants, corporate greed, campaign financers. We have to be here to articulate those things that we feel that are important.
"We are trying to push to get rid of that and be sure that we are also not just included, but (we are) a major part of this movement. We have to make our presence known and have to make our voices heard," Walker concluded.
Buzz of activity
The Rev. Al Sharpton says he will lead a march in Washington Saturday in support of President Barack Obama’s jobs plan – and he dismisses Blacks who criticize Obama over high Black unemployment.
On Oct. 15, Sharpton’s National Action Network March on Washington D.C. for Jobs, the same weekend that the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Monument will be officially dedicated. The official dedication was postponed because of Hurricane Irene in August.
The march hopes to "start a drive to bring forth the masses of those who have not been heard in the middle of this jobs debate," Sharpton told a news conference.
Sharpton noted that Obama told the Congressional Black Congress that "it is time to start marching again." Supporters of the NAN rally include the American Federation of Teachers and the Communications Workers of America.
"Occupy" fever has hit many cities in the Sunshine State as well. Organizers in cities such as Daytona Beach, Fort Lauderdale, Orlando and Tampa, to name a few, have met and are also planning major Occupy events for Oct. 15.
One of those involved with the "Occupy Daytona Beach" movement, Shannon McLeish, spoke to the Florida Courier.
"First, we want to raise awareness of the issues that are affecting so many of us in our community and nationally that have come to pass, particularly as a result of corporate influence and interference in our democracy.
"Participation from the Black community is essential to both Occupy Daytona Beach and to the Occupy movement in general, considering that those in the Black community are unduly represented in all the ‘injustice’ categories: poverty, homelessness, unemployment, prison populations, you name it," said McLeish.
Daytona Beach NAACP President Cynthia Slater explained that branches have not received anything in writing from the national office about formally participating in Occupy events.
"I will be there to participate as a concerned citizen, as will others," Slater said. "We are prepared to participate (as an organization) once we are given the charge."
"Occupy Orlando" is preparing plans for a long-term protest in front of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce. More than 50 volunteers got together this week to plan an occupation that will start on Saturday.
According to the "Occupy Orlando" website, there will be nine different teams responsible for everything from serving food, rendering first aid, and reporting troublemakers.
More than 2,000 people showed up Oct. 6 in Tampa for their first Occupy event, a 12-hour "Stop the Machine!" protest at Lykes Gaslight Park. That date was the 10-year anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. People of all ages, ethnicities, religions, political affiliations and socioeconomic status attended what was hailed as the largest gathering of social activists in Florida since the beginning of the Iraq war.
Approximately 600 marched through Tampa’s financial district in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Later in the day, hundreds more marched to the federal courthouse to join St. Pete for Peace.
Occupy Tampa participants decided against staying overnight at their venue and instead voted by consensus to return every day and occupy during daylight hours.
About 100 Occupy Fort Lauderdale supporters met Wednesday at Huizenga Plaza in Bubier Park. Organizers are trying to decide the specific site they will occupy.