The Fault-Lines of Occupy


Here's Ishmael Reed being provocative as usual:

All of this has left Oakland's blacks and Latinos in a difficult position. They rightly criticize the police, but they also criticize the other invading army, the whites from other cities, and even other states, whom they blame for the vandalism that tends to break out whenever there is a heated protest in town: from the riots after the murder of Oscar Grant by a transit police officer in 2009, to the violence of the last two weeks downtown and, most recently, near the port. 

Someday we may discern the deeper historical meaning of these latest events. For now, what's striking are the racial optics. How did Asian-Americans respond to the sight of a diminutive Asian-American mayor being hooted off the stage by a largely white crowd at an Oct. 27 rally? And where was the sympathy when, in years past, unarmed blacks and Hispanics were beaten or killed? Why did it take the injury of a white protester to attract attention? 

Meanwhile, those hurt most by the protests are local business owners and workers, many of them minorities. Jose Dueñas, the chief executive of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Alameda County, blamed the Occupy movement for stalled economic activity. "We've got no events planned, people are pulling back," he told a local newspaper. "We don't blame them." The cash-strapped city has spent over $1 million so far in occupation-related costs. 

Local activism has been pushed aside as well. Even as Occupy Oakland has occupied the Bay Area headlines, hundreds of black, white and Latino parents met to oppose plans to close five schools in black neighborhoods. The following day there was hardly a single line of newsprint about the meeting.

I've been thinking a lot about the tensions inherent in the Occupy protests--especially watching this video compiled by the Daily Caller. Some of the sociology is indeed fascinating. In Zucotti Park, where the police have pulled back, protesters have organized their own, seemingly effective, security. At the same time, Reed gets at some of the real tension--when you shut-down Oakland, you shut down actual small businesses. Not small businesses as in campaign props or rhetoric, but real vendors who may well be sympathetic to your larger point.

The question of goals has always nagged. But perhaps a way to look at Occupy is not as a political movement with specific aims, tactics and programs, but as an airing of broad frustration across the country. The movement may well be more catharsis, than policy, more akin to the Long Hot Summers than the Civil Rights Movement

It's easy to dismiss catharsis as unhelpful. But catharsis isn't supposed to helpful--it's supposed to be human. Asking people to present their anger and frustration in the ten-point program seems to almost miss the point.

Just some preliminary thoughts here. I'm still working it out.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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