posted 2011-11-18 15:10:37

Who Really Represents the 99%?

Is the protest on Wall Street only a reflection of who can afford to speak out?

Alexandra Heidler – Contributing Writer

If the protesters at Occupy Wall Street are truly champions of the 99%, why do most of the movement’s voices and power seem to be coming from only one ethnic group? It seems that most of the people involved with the Occupy Wall Street movement are young and white. Even here, in “the world’s melting pot,” a heavy police presence, a lack of personal funding, and limited outreach to minority communities by protest organizers may skew against populations who might otherwise join this movement. Unfortunately, the current population of Occupy Wall Street includes only those who can afford to spend time, resources, and energy championing noble causes like housing inequality, the economy, and job loss. This protest movement may help define a new standard of equality for our nation, and thus should include a more diverse set of protestors to better represent our city and our country.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ official website, the national unemployment rate was 9.6% in 2010. But in the same year, the black community faced a staggering 16% unemployment rate, almost double the rate of the white demographic (which lay at 8.3%). So why isn’t this community better represented among the protesters, when they have such a large share in seeing these messages of empowerment come to pass?

The heavy police presence and instances of violence that attracted the initial media attention to the movement may now be a factor in deterring some would-be protesters, because of prior experiences with police brutality or fear of arrest. Other people simply can’t afford to show up. Many Americans are unable to join the protest because they have families to feed, and can’t afford to take off work. In a country where time is money, some sacrifices aren’t viable for everyone.

There should be an effort made to attract a more accurate and diverse representation of the country’s economic situation, and how it shapes our lives. There are certainly many groups waiting to be represented, including Latino, Asian, Pacific Islander, or Native American populations. Yet it took three weeks for a translated version of the Occupy Wall Street Journal to show up in Spanish.

But there have been some attempts to build bridges to various ethnic groups. I got the chance to sit in on a large meeting for the “People of Color Working Group,” a fast-growing group of citizens attempting to organize efforts to translate materials, plan outreach, and connect people of color to the movement. “The hood is a sleeping giant, and they need us to wake them!” one speaker announced, and signs of approval raced across the collected citizens.

This group recognizes the importance and crucial timing of creating a more diverse face for the Occupy Wall Street movement. As time passes, there is a growing hope that others will recognize as well, and that more communities and groups will become active and participate in the calls for change that will affect so many of us.