Latinos and the immigrants who occupied Wall Street, 10 years later

What was the role of Latinos and immigrants during Occupy Wall Street? What role did immigration issues play as part of the demands of the occupiers? Participants, scholars, and journalists reconstruct the influence of Latinos and immigrants on the occupation.

Uday Talwar

Rosana Rodriguez, co-executive director of the Laundry Workers Center.

This article originally appeared in Spanish. Read the Spanish version here.

On September 17, a decade ago, the Occupy Wall Street movement brought together locals, tourists, teachers, professors, high school and college students, people with experience as political organizers and others who had recently begun to join the ranks of the protesters.

Among the first hundreds of participants who dared to gather in Zuccotti Park was Pablo Benson Silva, who at that time was a university student from Puerto Rico. “At first, when I got the notice, I was skeptical about the ability to grow,” Benson-Silva says over the phone, recalling that in the early days, little media was reporting on Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Mariano Muñoz Elias, who at the time already had some experience working with grassroots organizations, says he knew something was being planned in the park but he didn’t join right away. The fear of arrest or arrest, while he is not a citizen, made him hesitate. So he preferred to wait, pay attention to what was going on, and after two weeks he joined.

According to Nathan Schneider, journalist and author of the book Thank you, Chaos: Notes from the Conquerors of the ApocalypseIn many ways, OWS has been a school of politically oriented community organization that has evolved over time.

“Early on he focused very narrowly on Wall Street and often focused on a white perspective – a perspective in which the betrayal of the political system was recent rather than ongoing. But over time that really changed, and many diverse voices emerged.

On this point regarding diversification, Benson-Silva agrees, although he notes that from the start, there have been many contributions from foreigners. For example, a group of Spanish university students and tourists with experience in movement 15m (or Movimiento de los indignados), brought the idea of ​​organizing and developing the General Assembly, and activists from Zapatista movement He remembers his work in East Harlem joined him as well.

“Within three days they were already there,” Benson Silva said, adding that the Chilean student movement The Arab Spring was another important source of inspiration. Groups used structure holographic, through which everyone helps make decisions without leaders or hierarchies in order to search for some kind of consensus.

During the first weeks of the Occupy rallies, Spanish-speaking activists played an important role in forming the various groups and soon a Spanish-speaking table was set up, led first by Spaniards and then Latin Americans. Soon an association of Spanish speakers was formed.

When Muñoz Elias joined, there was already a table for Spanish speakers and due to his experience working as a translator, he joined without a problem.

“It is important to emphasize that many of these activists, with their hearts in the right place, are distinguishable by class,” said Rosana Rodriguez, co-executive director of the Laundry Workers Center. “From the beginning, the participation of these activists came from the Latin working class, who were in many cases university students.”

Ruth Milkman, who has studied both immigration and Latin political participation and unions, although not studied in detail on the participation and influence of Latinos and immigrants in Occupy Wall Street, in 2013 have found, along with Stephanie Luce and Benny Lewis, argue that “people of color were underrepresented among the occupation movement activists, who were largely white, college educated and wealthy.”

In mid-October 2011, activists and organizers representing immigrants and organizing low-income workers gathered and began holding meetings to expand the ranks of workers and increase the participation of migrant workers, who suffered daily firsthand from the consequences of capitalism. “A system from exclusion to exploitation at work,” Rodriguez explained.

And so, you remember, the Working Group on Migrant Justice was born. “The first demonstration organized by this group took place on December 18, 2011, in celebration of Migration Day,” she said.

Milkman attended some of these meetings and for Schneider, it was also his first impressions. He said, “For example, it was the first time I attended an immigration hearing with activists of the Occupy movement.

Rodriguez says: Hispanics and Hispanics have championed different causes: the right to human dignity; eliminating corporate investment in the prison system; labor rights; Women’s rights; rights of undocumented immigrants such as regularization of their status; rights of indigenous peoples inside and outside the United States; Accommodation.

Rodriguez believed that the contribution of the Latino community and immigrants was crucial to revitalizing the movement, broadening its demands, and giving it a holistic perspective related to the reality of millions of people.

“For example, the participation of workers from restaurants, warehouses, laundries, supermarkets, and other industries has helped many activists understand what these workers go through on a daily basis,” Rodriguez says, and Schneider concurs. “What I remember at first was more related to workers’ rights, and then over time, as the ‘occupy’ vision expanded, it became easier to understand immigrant rights more broadly within it.”

Benson-Silva said the OWS attracted immigrants, because it was a place where the problems brought about by globalization on multiple levels were at the heart of the table, with talks on issues such as implementation of NAFTA, the concentration of world financial capital and the erosion of democratic participation.

Still, Milkman believes, “immigrant rights have been on the list of issues motivating ‘occupy’ activists – but it’s not a top priority.” Schneider somewhat agrees. “I think that [the immigration issue] It wasn’t a top priority at first, but thankfully that has changed. Those who fought to keep the Occupy movement alive in 2012, in particular, came to connect their struggle deeply with the struggle of immigrants, many of whom were immigrants themselves.”

Rodríguez y Muñoz also believed that with the participation of more activists, people from the Latino community and immigrants, the relationship and claims for their rights became stronger within the multiple groups, who at that time launched a clear call for amnesty for immigrants within the occupied. .

The first iteration of OWS, which drew thousands of people, ended on November 15 when the New York Police Department evacuated Zuccotti Park residents’ camps. In 2012, Occupy activists came out again to support an immigrant-led labor campaign led by the Laundry Workers Center. “At the end of that year [2011], And [to a greater extent] By 2012, we can see the impact of this community,” Rodriguez says, referring to Latinos and immigrants.

On May 1, 2012, for example, occupation movement supporters, labor unions, and immigrant rights groups called thousands of supporters to a large rally in Union Square in Manhattan and a march to Wall Street.

Moreover, for those who occupied Wall Street, there was a relationship, which Muñoz called, “a kind of symbiosis”, between an occupation and other demands that were at the same time brewing in the nation regarding immigration issues.

“An additional effect had repercussions, in local identifier unregistered persons pay; The Dreamers Decision The DAPA approved by the court [Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents] resolution. Rodriguez said that the movement gave strength or vigor to the immigrant struggle movement that lasted for many years and we saw this through concrete policies like the one mentioned.”

Milkman has Study The role of millennials, the political strategies and organizational forms of the participants “occupy” and “dreamer”, but not the influence that one might have on the other. However, there is a clear influence among those who camped near Wall Street.

Subsequently, OWS subsequently mutated and continued to generate new initiatives and other occupation actions in different parts of the city such as Occupy Sandy, Occupy Faith, Occupy Universities and Occupy Sunset Park, which supported the rent strike by a group of tenants mostly.

For Schneider, the Occupation movement is best understood as global solidarity rather than just a local movement.

“People from Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and Latin America were present at those early meetings, and they connected their efforts to movements around the world.”

Ultimately, he said, “many people who may have entered as a white/American citizen realized that there is no economic justice without immigrant justice.”

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