Occupy Kansas City, the local manifestation of the Occupy Wall Street movement, marched under a multi-lingual banner "We Are One," last October, starting in a downtown park and ending up in some of the most immigrant-diverse neighborhoods on Kansas City's northeast side. They sponsored a day of learning, at their campground, covering topics from trade union rights, coalition building to the nuts and bolts of organizing. This reporter was glad to teach a session on the Tea Parties and racism that day. They have marched on multiple occasions against economic injustice and most recently rallied in defense of the voting rights endangered by state voter ID laws. And like any other new movement that is still building itself, they have faced some ups and downs.
Two weeks ago, a new challenge leapt up on the Occupy Kansas City periphery in the person of a website that called itself "OccupyKCJournal." This "journal" ran a blog forum, and produced a couple of propaganda broadsheets which included racist, homophobic and anti-Semitic images. One pictured a stereotypical Jewish person with the words: "So what have those 'Great Humanitarians," the Jews been pouring into the well of white culture over the past half century." The Journal crew, obviously aching to get noticed, mailed and emailed their propaganda to city council members and other personages in Kansas City.
They did get noticed.
Occupy Kansas City activists Mike Enriquez and Jeremy Al-Haj joined NAACP branch president Anita Russell and Jewish Community Relations Bureau executive director Marvin Szneler and this reporter from IREHR for a press conference on Tuesday, March 13. Occupier Mike Enriquez said, "Whether we will be open to racism, anti-Semitism, bigotry and hatred; the answer is emphatically no." Jeremy Al-Haj echoed the sentiment, "the 99% includes people of all colors, all faiths, and all sexualities and gender identities." He added, "We will not allow for our movement to be co-opted by racists, anti-Semites and homophobes."
Both Marvin Szneler and Anita Russell added their own point of view, and I pointed out that such statements as the OccupyKCJournal published are usually reserved to neo-Nazis and assorted white nationalists, not to the Occupy Kansas City movement.
After the press conference, as if to prove that they were bigots, one "Journal" supporter, Jeffrey Heavin, added to an internet discussion of the day's events by insulting Anita Russell and the NAACP and asking, "Did Marvin Szneler shed any light as to why the number of 'holocaust survivors' increases each year." Again, I would add that this is the stuff of hard-core bigots and Holocaust deniers.
After the dust settled, the Occupy Kansas City activists, by common agreement, believed their movement was stronger by separating themselves from the bigots at the so-called Journal. One and all thanked this writer and IREHR for its role in helping to pull together a response to the problem at hand. And Occupy Kansas City is ready to face the next challenge.