Thursday, November 17, 2011

Occupation is coming to the ’hood By Dan Bluemel / LA Activist

Occupation is coming to the ’hood

October 31, 2011
By Dan Bluemel

A message from an occupier at City Hall encapsulates a growing sentiment among serious-minded activists over the influx of party-goers at Occupy LA. (Dan Bluemel / LA Activist)
In the coming weeks, your neighborhood might become occupied.
A group of activists who are tired of the party atmosphere at Occupy Los Angeles are hatching a plan to move out from City Hall to neighborhoods around Los Angeles. It’s called “Occupy the Hood.”
The plan, along with other similar actions in the works, signifies an attempt to realign the “occupation movement” in LA.
Since the occupation began on Oct. 1, the sit-in demonstration, with its serious concerns over widespread corporate-influence in government and Wall Street corruption, has morphed into, what some critics call, an arts festival.
In its early weeks, Occupy LA was made-up of diverse, politically-minded people. Now, with drum circles occurring within earshot of general assemblies, it appears the occupation has become occupied by “24-hour party people” who do not participate in decision-making.
“For this thing to be a real movement, it can’t stay in one place and it can’t be contained,” said Bilal Ali at a recent planning meeting in MacArthur Park. “We want to go to the people … because right now [Occupy LA] is devolving into a big party.”
At this point it is uncertain what Occupy the Hood will look like. Not everyone will be able to establish massive encampments like the one at City Hall. However, at the top of everyone’s list are banks. Others suggested check-cashing businesses, who often engage in predatory lending in low-income communities.
But Occupy the Hood is also intended to be tailor-made for each particular neighborhood by way of that community’s participation.
“The idea is to go there and address those issues that are germane to the oppressed community,” said Ali.
According to The Village Voice, Occupy the Hood began on the East Coast to overcome Occupy Wall Street’s “crunchy white image” and include more minorities.
“I noticed there isn’t a strong black and Latino presence, or a strong Asian presence for that matter. I realized a lot of people just don’t know about it,” said Occupy the Hood’s brainchild Malik Rhasaan to The Village Voice.
Rhasaan and his partner in Occupy the Hood, Ife Johari Uhuru, said minority concerns were rarely taken up by Occupy Wall Street. Nor was Occupy Wall Street, they said, representative of the 99 percent they claim to be.
“Some people can’t speak for certain people,” said Uhuru to The Village Voice.
Author and Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges recently commented on this issue in one of his columns. He said the occupation movement has the challenge of “overcoming the deep distrust of white liberals by the poor and the working class, especially people of color.”
“Marginalized people of color have been organizing, protesting and suffering for years with little help or even acknowledgment from the white liberal class,” wrote Hedges. “With some justification, those who live in these marginalized communities often view this movement as one dominated by white sons and daughters of the middle class who began to decry police abuse and the lack of economic opportunities only after they and their families were affected.”
Hedges gives the occupy movement credit for trying to include marginalized voices in their decision-making process. He places the blame squarely on the liberal class, who since the 1960s has turned inward and “focused on self-indulgent schemes for inner peace and fulfillment.”
“It is the fault of a bankrupt liberal class that for decades has abandoned the core issue of economic justice for the poor and the working class and busied itself with the vain and self-referential pursuits of multiculturalism and identity politics,” he wrote.
In Los Angeles, organizers understand that when social movements occur, minority issues are often cast aside. Occupy the Hood is borne out of that understanding.
“We are not the newly poor,” said Ali. “We are not new to this shit. We’re used to it.”
Other organizers are thinking about their own exoduses from City Hall, suggesting, for instance, occupations at bank headquarters around LA.
“In Occupy LA, there are a lot of people following our lead,” said Kwazi Nkrumah, who has been a part of organizing Occupy the Hood. “It is a very disparate group of people from all over the place. We are hoping to maintain good contact with those folks who are not in downtown for a party, but who want to build this movement.”
Teachers, who held a one-week occupation at LAUSD headquarters, are looking to begin occupations related to their own schools and neighborhoods to challenge education cutbacks and classroom overcrowding. It was suggested they might team up with Occupy the Hood.
“We want to build alliances with as many serious community organizations that are really dealing with serious issues,” said Nkrumah.
Though Occupy the Hood is not at City Hall – their meetings are going to be held off site and in different neighborhoods each week – they are still affiliated with and supported by Occupy LA.
Although it is too early to tell what Occupy the Hood might be like, Occupy South Gate may be an example. Attending the MacArthur Park meeting was Joekaya Rubio and his 17-year-old son, Miles. On Oct. 20, the father-and-son duo started the occupy sit-in demonstration at South Gate City Hall.
They agree with the overarching message of the occupation movement and applied its principles on a local level. Joekaya Rubio called the occupation movement and its tactics a “gift from God” that allows them to put pressure on elected officials.
“We are fed up with our city council,” he said. “We try and get issues heard and they shut us down.”
Rubio is frustrated over city council meetings that allow citizens to speak, but does not allow them to respond to rebuttals from officials. In other words, city leaders always get the last word.
He, and his son, are pushing for transparency in their government. They want their city council meetings to be broadcast on public access television to keep citizens informed and promote democracy. City officials have been reluctant even though the TV station and means of broadcasting exist.
Rubio hopes through the occupy movement more people in South Gate will be inspired to participate in their government.
“We have a 103,000 residents and only 2,000 vote. That’s a shame,” he said. “If we can get more voters out of this, I will be so stoked. My goal is double for the next election.”
Occupy South Gate was shutdown by police on Oct. 24 for camping without a permit and assembling without a permit. However, the next day, protesters approached the city council and were able to open a dialogue with officials. Since then, they have been able to continue their occupation.
“I think we owe it to our kids and our community to be good people and do things,” he said. “You don’t have to put money in, just show up one day.”
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