The coming together of individuals and movements under the anti-Wall Street umbrella spans a spectrum of agendas from a little girl carrying a sign protesting the planned closure of her school, to retirees who lost their entire savings in 401(k) investments. Oakland is one of the most ethnically varied cities in the country and its Occupy Movement one of the most visible worldwide. The concentration of wealth at the top and implosion of the economy aided by an unfair tax system and politics that rewarded profiteers eventually brought the realization that this wealth was produced at the expense of the many.
While faces of the poor, working poor, and long term disenfranchised people of color are prominent, not so discernible are those of Oakland’s significant African-American middle class. Some support in private solidarity, while others express they can ill afford overt protest when economic failure affects blacks most acutely as they struggle to maintain their own status quo. “ I don’t see how me coming down here marching and living in a tent is going to do anything…I do see how if I don’t go to work everyday, I can wind up in the street,” says Sande Vieira.
A proportionate number of Oakland’s middle class blacks are like the majority a few generations ago who watched the civil rights movement from the sidelines out of combined complacency and fear. Oddly enough, when the accomplishments of that movement were distributed, those who sacrificed least gained the most, largely because they were educated and prepared to rush the door the black poor pried and held open.
Middle class whites are only now catching on to the systemic inequities that historically benefitted them frequently at the expense of African American and immigrant communities. Whites were slow to catch on there hasn’t been a real increase in income since the mid seventies even though it takes the paychecks of two working adults to minimally support a small family. Arizona State University sociologist Lane Kenworthy noted, “The disconnect between economic growth and middle-class income growth is due largely to rising inequality. In the past several decades much of the economy’s growth has gone to those at the top of the income distribution.”
It had long been apparent something fundamental had gone wrong, but it took foreclosures, layoffs, lost savings, mounting student loan debt, no jobs, and the bailout of the industries largely responsible to provoke massive protests. It doesn’t matter who came late to the party. These issues typically framed and viewed through the prism of race must be addressed from a broader perspective. The problems and solutions transcend all else; the 99% is inclusive and the ills facing the country impact us all.