In the three weeks that the Financial District has been occupied, many members of the black community, especially older ones, have questioned the value of joining a movement they perceived belonged primarily to privileged white youth.
“We’ve been doing this for so long on our own, why would we need white kids to make it legitimate,” voiced Aaron, a black protestor in his late 50s. “It’s more genuine when it’s in our own communities, with our own people.”
But at the 30,000-strong rally at Foley Square and the march to Liberty Square on Wednesday, there was a visible shift.
“The makeup of this march has really changed—there are a lot of older black folk who joined today,” said Michael, a student at NYU.
After decades fighting against economic and social injustice in their own communities, perhaps it was natural for many blacks to greet the emergence of Occupy Wall Street with skepticism and some distance.
“We have been here before. We have had rallies and protests, meetings and boycotts—for some of us it is second nature,” Brooklyn-based activist Caleef Cousar told the Amsterdam News. “If you live in the inner city, the effects of this corporate greed are omnipresent. You see it in the gentrification, in the hostile police presence, in the increased living expense. Protesting on Wall Street comes behind a long history of us protesting on Main Street.”
What’s different as of Wednesday, however, when a sea of multi-colored faces overflowed out of Foley Square, is the eagerness of many blacks to put divisions of the past behind them and to stand in solidarity with an occupation whose principles are their own.
“It’s a class/caste war,” said a young black protestor named Steve. “Everyone is feeling the same pressure regardless of race.”
Perhaps the document composed by the New York City General Assembly’s People of Color working group puts it best: “Let’s be real. The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country, and for indigenous communities, since before the founding of the nation,” it reads. “We are actively working to unite the diverse voices of all communities.”
A new sense of unity—and a stronger transformative movement — is emerging.