As Howard University alumni, students, and friends celebrated Homecoming this past week, the campus was also abuzz about the Occupy movements sweeping the nation. The movement, which holds itself out as a representation of the 99% of U.S. citizens who own just 1% of the nation’s wealth, has been criticized for lacking participation from people of color.
Nonetheless, African Americans, particular intellectuals from revered institutions like Howard are beginning to gravitate towards the national movement. In the Washington area, an initiative is afoot to “brown” the Occupy efforts.
On Friday at 5pm, alumni, students, faculty, and friends of Howard University plan to lead what organizers describe as March for Jobs and Justice, from the University’s Georgia Avenue campus downtown to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, along the way linking up with both the District’s Occupy encampments (one at 15th and K, and the other at Freedom Plaza, on Pennsylvania Avenue).
This initiative by the Howard community comes on the heels of the recent arrests of Princeton Professor Cornell West and Raheem DeVaughn along with other Occupy protesters outside the U.S. Supreme Court. Their protest sought to bring attention to the injustice in the American legal system underscored by last month’s execution of Troy Davis and the assassinations of Americans living overseas, without trial, in the name of national security.
Yet for the Howard protesters, jobs as well as justice are their inspirations for joining the Occupy movements. According to Jonathan Hutto, who in the nineties, served as Howard University Student Association president and undergraduate trustee, today’s Occupy movement is reminiscent of the Poor People’s Campaign of 1968, which his fellow Atlanta native, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. began organizing just before his assassination.
Hutto, who today lives in Prince George’s County, states “That great son of Howard, Kwame Ture (Stokley Carmichael) taught us correctly that students and youth are the spark and catalyst of mass movement, organization and change. Just as we dismantled Jim Crow a generation ago, we must abolish today’s road blocks to full economic parity in our nation for all citizens.”
Hutto’s points are borne out by the disproportionate impact of the job crises on the African American community. The reported national unemployment rate is 9.7%, but 17% in the African American community. According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics if you factor in the total number of employable adults who are either out of work or underemployed (in part time or temporary jobs), the rate goes up to 53% or nearly 110 million Americans. It’s estimated that 85% of African Americans fall into this pot.
Today’s Howard University Student Association president, Brandon Harris, whose hometown of Memphis was where Dr. King made his last stand, believes that justice is a critical component of Friday’s march. Harris notes that even today, with an African American in the White House, justice remains elusive for people of color, which is the reason why a dozen of Brandon’s school mates got arrested in plain sight of President Obama’s office in outrage over Troy Davis’ execution.
Netfa Freeman, a University of the District of Columbia alumnus believes that while the March begins at Howard, it has broader implications for creating a new Black-White alliance. Freeman contends that mass unemployment fueled by corporate excesses has long been understood by African Americans as a culprit for breeding the “Black underclass.” However, now that “middle class” whites are feeling the pain of unemployment and housing evictions, everyone is talking about greed and corruption of the top 1%, says Freeman.
The Howard-led march for jobs and justice, lends a clear vision to the Occupy movement, where none previously existed adds Freeman. Up until now, “many of us probably felt that if we’re going to jeopardize our jobs and sacrifice the little resources we have, we needed to know exactly what for.” Heeding that point, organizers of Friday’s march are intent on keeping their focus crystal clear.
Further, leaders of Friday’s March for Jobs and Justice intend to notify District authorities of their plans, and hope local officials will join their movement. Moreover, the Howard trained lawyers, engineers, and business professionals and students behind the march have their eyes fixed on long term solutions. Beyond the march, organizers hope to organize job fairs, business plan competitions, small business incubators, and other initiatives to achieve the goal of ensuring that every American has a job who wants one, particularly Howard alumni and students.