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Movin the Masses: Ramblings on political action in the Black Community

Two weeks ago I was in my hometown of Hoboken, New Jersey, wading waist deep in a murky combination of floodwater, oil and sewage. More than a week later, after finally getting unstuck from New Jersey (even the deepest Jersey pride has its limits…), I found myself in a van full of Occupy Sandy activists delivering hot meals to housing-project high rises in Coney Island during a Nor’easter. We were taking cues from local leaders, and I was amazed at the way people were mobilizing by creating support structures and politicizing one another through practice. In the past few days I’ve helped facilitate trainings for hundreds of people who came to Occupy Sandy hubs as volunteers for relief work, and who left for the Rockaways or Staten Island well on their way to becoming community organizers or committed activists.

wallstMany have questioned the lack of black support for the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) moment. The most clear answer I can give is that when black folks in mass are presented with a choice they ain't about to go sleep in no damn damp park. When for now some still got a roof over our heads. As acts of defiance go, we don’t view it as a visually appealing spectacle, sleeping in the park is identified as an act of desperation that happens when you are at the end of your economic rope. Sleeping tents are usually a valuable commodity at this stage. For black folks I don't think anyone has tried such a tactic on a mass scale since the Poor People's Campaign in 1968 that ended as Resurrection City, in an attempt to pass an economic bill of rights in the memory of Dr. King who was assassinated before being able to complete this campaign.

Last year while at Atlanta encampment there were plenty of black people in the park, they just weren't there by choice. Clearly at first both groups kept their eerie distance, except as a mutual curiosity piece. In my most cynical view it seemed that each side took stock of a possible attempt to engage in a quick hustle. The homeless look to see what the “liberal” park inhabitants would give up, while the OWS folks hope to get some media millage by cozying up to some real poor people.

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About the Author

  • Kamau has worked as a community activist and attorney for over fifteen years in New York City and now in the south. He has been a leading member of several grassroots organizations dedicated to human rights advocacy and building grassroots institutions in the black community. Currently he is building a new organization named Amandla Training and Organizing Project. You can follow Kamau on twitter at @kamaufranklin.

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