The Color of the Call: Desis at Occupy Wall Street, Pt. 2

a video about people at the protests one week ago, courtesy of Thanu Yakupitiyage

“We must not miss the chance to put the needs of people of color—upon whose backs this country was built—at the forefront of this struggle.”

—from CALL OUT TO PEOPLE OF COLOR from the #OWS POC Working Group

How Hena Got There

Two Thursdays ago, after Troy Davis had been executed, Hena Ashraf protested his killing at a rally in New York City. The group that she was with didn’t have a particular plan, she says, but “we ended up on Wall Street.”

It was her first time at Occupy Wall Street, a movement that’s rapidly gaining steam and numbers. And a week ago, by her fourth time there, Ashraf had become a game-changer: one of a group of desis who stood up and insisted that the movement’s primary declaration edit language that referred to racism, sexism, and other forms of discrimination as though they were things of the past.

“We definitely stood out,” Ashraf told me. At that point, she explained, the protests were still overwhelmingly white. (We spoke on the phone Sunday night; she was two blocks from Wall Street, heading back to the protests.) But, she added, over the course of her visits to the site, she’s seen them become more diverse.

Ashraf, an independent filmmaker based in Brooklyn, has been involved in activism before, but says Occupy Wall Street is “not like anything I’ve ever seen before.”

“The atmosphere is very electric. Anything can happen. There’s so much potential for it,” she says. One of its key strengths, she adds, is that there’s no central leadership, no one trying to dictate what should be said. That meant that when Ashraf, Sonny Singh, Thanu Yakupitiyage and Manissa McCleave Maharawal met up at the protests a week ago, they could jump right in and make a change.

“What happened on Thursday was crazy and intense and amazing,” Ashraf says. “I’m going to keep coming back. We have to keep coming back now, after what happened on Thursday, because what we did had such a huge effect.”

Solidarity and critique aren’t opposites, she notes. “I think solidarity and critique can go together,” she says. “Constructive criticism can also be a good thing.”

Part 1 here: Desis Take Action At Occupy Wall Street

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23 thoughts on “The Color of the Call: Desis at Occupy Wall Street, Pt. 2

  1. I wish they would concentrate on a few important issues like Wall street and lobbyists. If they are just going to make a long list of vague demands about the lefts typical pet peeves such as big corporations and the environment, they are not going to get anywhere. Getting themselves a good leader won’t hurt either.

  2. Hena actually had an interesting response to the criticism about a lack of specific demands during our interview—I’ll try to include it in a future post.

  3. I grew up in socialist India, what an awful time that was. Poverty everywhere, low growth, anti-capitalist sentiment bought out the worst in people. If you read the stories of wall street occupiers you find many single moms with no savings, lots of college students with high debt and no jobs, people with underwater mortgages and finally old people with no savings. Just a bunch of goons wanting something for nothing.

    • “you find many single moms with no savings, lots of college students with high debt and no jobs, people with underwater mortgages and finally old people with no savings. Just a bunch of goons wanting something for nothing.”

      That was a brilliant satirical post. Bravo!

      (I don’t think what I said is “feeding the troll”. Rather, it’s “dismissing the troll” and his sad, transparent attempts to stir up shit.)

      • Um… many of them in their infancy are like that, until they’ve been around long enough, grow more specifically focused and are co-opted by more people and large organizations. It’s going to happen with this one, too. But how it is now at this very moment isn’t necessarily how it’s going to be in a few weeks/months.

        • “Um… many of them in their infancy are like that, until they’ve been around long enough, grow more specifically focused and are co-opted by more people and large organizations.”

          Um ..Yes . you already said that. I asked for one example.

  4. I read some of the reasons why there are no specific demands and they make no sense whatsoever. I really really want them to wage a successful campaign against wall street greed and corruption but as it stands all I see is a bunch of modern day hippies raging against the ‘big evil establishment’. If they want the media and the rest of the country to get behind them they should articulate a set of demands.

  5. I have to say that I did not quite get the emphasis the Indian friends/aquaintances of the blogger wants to lay on discrimination. What do Indians have to complain considering some of the crooked wall street firms are led by Desis themselves. They need to focus on Wall Street alone and how they are socializing losses but privatizing profits. Keep it simple. DOn’t go with a smorgasbord of complaints.

  6. “upon whose backs this country was built” No it was not. There wouldn’t have been a United States if they’d waited around for POC labor. Large numbers of Americans prior to the Civil War wanted to cut the slave-holders of the South loose because they considered such a system to be a deadly drag on their own progress. They were right. But only about 5% of whites in the south owned slaves. Most did their own farming and building, although the trades and labor were associated with blacks and mixed people in the Gulf region, once they became numerous. The whites of that area, many of French and Spanish origin, were known for being especially corrupted by their slave-owning practices and eschewed physical labor. Fortunately they did not constitute the bulk of white Americans. Well-to-do white southerners were a distinctly unproductive class.

    . The Yankees didn’t get known for resourcefulness and work ethic by sitting around waiting for the help to bring them mint juleps.You could sooner say the country was built by clearing out the backs of certain POCs (meaning native Americans). That would be more accurate. Sad, but more accurate. Even the absurdly general net cast by the term “POC” undermines any credibility of such a claim.

    Blacks, Asians, etc. (what are whites? POWs?) however, certainly did their share, especially by the mid-20th century. This is a blog for people of Indian origin, I take it. You have people among you of great achievement in the U.S., but they did not “build this country.” They came here because the country was already built, and many have been complaining ever since that it is a white country. So which is it?

    The large “Hispanic” population outside the southwest quadrant is pretty recent. They didn’t build this country. They too have come because the country was already built. They may do maintainence and some re-building, but they didn’t build it. The slaves of the South? Uh, no. As I said, blacks worked the farms of the rich (a few of whom were mixed-race themselves.) The cities were designed by whites. Benjamin Banneker of mixed race did the surveying for D.C., which was designed after Paris. There was certainly black labor involved in building D.C. But the great cities and towns of the country outside the deep South (and D.C.) were built by white immigrant labor for the most part, and those white immigrants had no government benefits just for being immigrants. They lived under conditions no immigrant would consider liveable today. The NY subway and Central Park: Irish labor mostly. also the railroads from the east to the midwest (west was mostly Chinese laborers); In the pre-Civil War south it was widely known that employers preferred Irish for very dangerous jobs, because black slaves were too valuable. The Irish would be surprised to hear that America was not built on their backs alone (they have their own jingoists.)

    And the Slavs (east Euros) in the coalmines of Pennsyvlania, the Liths in the slaughterhouses of Chicago, or the Poles in the steel mills. The Jews and Italians in the sweatshops of the big cities, sometimes being locked in to die in fires, ala the Triangle Shirtwaist factory disaser of 1913.. This country was not “built on the backs of POC” any more than it was built on the backs of European immigrants. I don’t happen to be a POC (at least not to my knowledge; my ancestry is from New Orleans and could be anything.) The labor in this country was overwhelmingly European, except in the South where in the Gulf area manual labor was associated with POCs (only after there were large numbers of blacks and mixed), and even there few whites were slave holders. They did their own farming and building.

    Native Americans worked in high-rise construction by the mid-20th century; blacks rarely, and rarely trained to do so. There was not a large black presence in factories until the late 1940s especially to Detroit and Chicago, after large migrations from the South. But factory and agricultural labor was mostly white because this country was mostly white. What else would it have been?

    This “country built on the backs of POC” is PC jingoism, inaccurate and absurdly exaggerated to say the least; insulting and lying at the worse. Anybody has the right to be proud of whatever contributions their race, ethnic identifying group, gender, or religion, has made. But they do not have the right to re-write history to accord with their agenda. Believe it or not, I’ve played the devil’s advocate countless times, arguing with jingoistic (white) Americans about their preeminence in history, trying to keep things in perspective.

  7. Not taking anything from what you said dd but you wrote this like you wanted to say that blacks did nothing but farm work. You had many of freed slave that was working in the north and outside of plantations. Slaves helped build D.C. and no most of the slave owners was not mixed there was a few blacks that owned slaves but that is a different story for a different time.

  8. There isn’t any demands by the movement, because it’s just an exercise in hate against Big Corporations. These are mostly people who hated big corporations long before the financial crisis who are just using that to get more support.