Occupy Denver has a Race Problem

I was recently talking about the race-related problems that I see in the #OccupyDenver movement with a friend, and he said, “Why don’t you reach out to your friends and allies, your contacts who are activists of Color?”

I responded, “While I support the general #Occupy movement, I do not trust the folks at #OccupyDenver nearly enough to welcome activists of Color into the movement.  I have worked hard to build trusting relationships and allyships with some respected community leaders of Color from around Denver, and there is no way I would risk jeopardizing those relationships for what I have seen as a poorly-organized group of activists at #OccupyDenver.”

Saturday at the #OccupyDenver march, I was reminded of exactly why I would not feel comfortable encouraging my allies of Color to attend.  Just before the march began, a group of Indigenous activists from the American Indian Movement of Colorado showed up with a group of protesters bearing signs opposing the Tar Sands Pipeline.

Upon their arrival, one of the White folks who identified himself as a member of one of the #OccupyDenver committees used the “People’s Mic” to say, “Our brothers and sisters from the Indigenous community have joined us!  Welcome them!”  People cheered.  Then our White activist friend went on with what he was saying.

It was as if he was saying, “Hey!  Look!  Some Brown folks joined us!  Yay Brown people!  Now look back over here at the White agenda!”  Essentially, the mention felt like little more than tokenizing.  “Our token Brown folks have arrived!”

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4 Things #OccupyDenver Must Do (Better) to Survive

Though the content below doesn’t deal expressly with the usual content of this blog (in its focus on power, oppression, and community), it does relate in that the #Occupy movement exists as a force to end the incredible economic inequality (and power and oppression therein) that exists in this country.   I need a space in which to publish this piece, so I figured here is as good a place as any.

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4 Things #OccupyDenver Must Do (Better) to Survive

“Non-violence is the constant awareness of the dignity and humanity of oneself and others; it seeks truth and justice; it renounces violence both in method and in attitude; it is a courageous acceptance of active love and goodwill as the instrument with which to overcome evil and transform both oneself and others. It is the willingness to undergo suffering rather than inflict it. It excludes retaliation and flight.”

— Wally Nelson, conscientious objector, civil rights activist, and tax resister

Having been closely watching and participating in the #Occupy movement in Denver and around the country, I understand that each iteration of the #Occupy movement is different.  In my time at #OccupyDenver, I have come to realize that it faces some grave challenges that it must address in order not only to remain relevant but to survive as part of a sustained social movement.  Obviously the list below is not comprehensive, but as an experienced activists with a Bachelor’s degree training in nonviolent movements and resistance, these are my humble suggestions, less so for how #OccupyDenver should respond but simply to begin (and continue) the conversation.

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