• Latest News
  • Pitch a Story
  • Work with a Journalist
  • Join the Blog Squad
  • Afghanistan
  • Africa
  • Asia
  • Baltimore
  • Canada
  • Egypt
  • Europe
  • Latin America
  • Middle East
  • Russia
  • Economy
  • Environment
  • Health Care
  • Military
  • Occupy
  • Organize This
  • Reality Asserts Itself
  • US Politics
  • Reflections on Occupy Baltimore

    Editors of the book "We are Many"discuss challenges of building a movement in a city with a black political elite -   October 30, 2012
    Members don't see ads. If you are a member, and you're seeing this appeal, click here

    Share to Facebook Share to Twitter

    I support The Real News Network because they do not just parrot the 24 hour news cycle of the mainst - David Pear
    Log in and tell us why you support TRNN


    Reflections on Occupy BaltimorePAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore, and we're continuing our discussion with three activists from Baltimore.

    Joining us again: Kate Khatib. She's a coeditor of the book We Are Many, which just came out. She's also a founding member of Red Emma's Collective.

    Mike McGuire. He's also coeditor of the book We Are Many, and he's been working with the Occupy movement since September 17, when it started. He also works with The Real News Network now, helping build our new headquarters.

    And Lester Spence. He's a contributor to the book We Are Many. He's an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University. He's the author of the book Stare in the Darkness: The Limits of Hip-Hop and Black Politics.

    So, Lester, I'll start with you again. So, in 1968 there were thousands of people joined the protest that hit cities across America. And Baltimore—I said it the last time—the first Occupy Baltimore was actually the Army or the National Guard, and there were soldiers with guns and tanks on the street, and Baltimore was really an occupied city. But that level of mass protest, that movement that requires troops to come, fast-forward to now where you're telling me that if a few hundred people show up for a protest or an event, that's pretty good. Most recently there was a big one around the Trayvon Martin killing, but that was sort of an exception. So how do you get from a mass movement at such heights in Baltimore to one that's—you could say is pretty much in an ebb right now?

    LESTER SPENCE, CONTRIBUTOR, WE ARE ONE: I think there are a few different things to consider. One is growing black political power. I don't think there's been a major civil disturbance in a city run by a black mayor. I don't think there's—I know there definitely wasn't one in Detroit. The last one we had was '67. I don't think there's—I know there hasn't been one in Baltimore since the three black mayors were elected. I don't think there was one even in New York or Chicago when Harold Washington was in Chicago or Dinkins was in New York. So I think that's part of it.

    The other part of it is that the population that's most likely to engage in serious activist work is young, and a sizable portion of that population in the black community is now tied up in the prison-industrial complex.

    And then a third related dynamic—and there's other stuff, but I'll open it up for Mike and Kate—the third related dynamic is unemployment, you know, unemployment drops—I mean, unemployment rises. Right? So to the extent that we're talking about these '60s movements that had a sizable labor component, when people aren't working, you know, they're not—there's a certain type of politics that they're not connected to anymore, because the labor movement was at least one of the funnels through which black politics takes on a certain tenor.

    So when those three things happened, you know, the election of black mayors, the increasing election of black political leadership, the movement, the shutting off of a sizable percentage of black populations into the prison-industrial complex, and then growing unemployment, it makes it very hard for a certain type of political activism to take place in places like Baltimore.

    JAY: What's your take on the same question?

    KATE KHATIB, COEDITOR, WE ARE ONE: Well, I mean, I think Lester has given a pretty good outline of it. I definitely think that the fact that Baltimore has a black political class has a lot to do with the fact that we don't necessarily see mass activism coming from the black community in Baltimore in the same way that maybe we did in the '60s, either in Baltimore or elsewhere around the country.

    In general, I think the question of why we don't have a climate of or maybe a culture of protest in Baltimore right now, I think, is a bigger question. It's not something that's entirely tied to race. I mean, it's definitely a racial question, but I think there are other aspects to it. I think some of it has to do with our proximity to Washington and the fact that there is always a lot of push for folks in Baltimore to actually go to D.C. to protest. There is, I think, a sense that protesting in Baltimore isn't necessarily going to accomplish anything. I think a lot of the mass mobilizations that you've seen in the United States in recent years, at least in the past couple of decades, have really very much been around conventions, around gatherings, and Baltimore really hasn't seen a major convention, either a political convention or, you know, a meeting of the WTO or the World Bank or the IMF, which is where a lot of the mass protest has kind of come from.

    JAY: Well, Mike, what do you make of Lester's point from the previous segment of the interview that the thing that would galvanize people here more is certainly the issue that's affecting people more—it's the criminal justice system and the kind of issues that—I guess I don't know if it'd be the—. Would you say that's the same for Hispanics as well, and other people? Or is it really something specifically in terms of black Baltimore?

    SPENCE: Yeah. So it's not—so it's a similar apparatus, but with Latinos I'd say it's the immigration apparatus, which is related to criminal justice, but it's not the same thing.

    JAY: And it's a little sidetrack from where we're going, but is that not less an issue in Baltimore? I saw that the mayor was saying that the city officials are not allowed to ask people for citizenship and they're actually trying to get people to move here.

    SPENCE: I think it's less a problem in Baltimore. That doesn't mean it isn't a problem. It just means it's less of a problem.

    JAY: Yeah. But in terms of this—I guess, you know, the '68 protest was really a product of the black political movement. So that's one set of dynamics why that isn't at a rise. So maybe we should return to that in a second. But what do you make of Lester's point that white activists here aren't as tuned in to the problems facing, in fact, the majority of the city? 'Cause the majority of the city's black.

    MIKE MCGUIRE, COEDITOR, WE ARE ONE: Well, that begs another question, which is: should it be the white community that's organizing the black community around prison-industrial issues? So should we be the ones going out, and should I, for example, be the one that's going out? And I think the answer is yes, if that's what I'm inspired to do, if that's what's driving me.

    But I think in general there's not a huge culture of organizing in the United States. We've kind of lost those traditions. So we're talking about not just—like, the difference that you're talking about is in numbers, it's whether or not it's a mass movement. And what's happened in the United States between the '60s and now, it seems like it should be easier. We're much more in touch with each other through all of our digital devices. But at the same time, we're much less in touch with each other, because we're in touch with each other through these digital devices.

    JAY: But it's interesting: in the recent period, the biggest protest that you're telling me took place in Baltimore was about youth and the criminal justice system. And the killing of Trayvon Martin is that, and it so resonated with people here 'cause they say, this is what's happening to us every day in Baltimore.

    MCGUIRE: Yeah. But then what happened with that? Where did the organizing go with that?

    And here in the first segment we were talking a lot about elections or electoral strategies. We don't form strategies well as social movements in the United States right now. We don't have venues in which we're actually coming together and talking through how we organize, what strategies we use, what makes sense, what we need to pursue, what—and in just rational discussions.

    We had this debate with—kind of within or about the Occupy movement a couple nights ago that Verso hosted between Chris Hedges and a guy representing CrimethInc., and I came away from that thinking, yeah, the situation's actually worse than we thought. Like, if this is the level of discussion at which we can discuss strategies within a movement, then we're not going to move very far very fast. So I think that's actually something that's very generalizable, that we're immature in terms of how we organize in this country.

    SPENCE: And even in how we articulate, right? So there is a difference between a mass action and a mass movement, right? So what happened in '68 was a mass action, and it was spurred by the assassination of Martin Luther King. Dozens of cities in the United States and cities across the country, I mean, across the world exploded. The same thing happened with Rodney King, right? Dozens of cities in the United States and a number of cities across the world. Those were mass actions.

    But there's a difference between a mass action and a mass movement. Right? And the things—so mass actions are spurred on by crises. We can't predict when those crises happen. We can't predict which crises is going to lead to this stuff. They just kind of explode. But a mass movement or movement-building is a totally different process.

    So when you conflate them, when you associate mass actions with mass movements, right, then you end up mis-specifying what needs to happen in order to make political change. Right? And then you end up—your time horizon ends up being short. We talked about that in the first segment, where you're thinking about overthrowing the state, like, within four years, right, and not understanding that this takes 30, 40. Right? You end up misunderstanding the populations you need to be engaged in, how you need to engage them, the whole thing.

    KHATIB: But, you know, it's also important to remember that in the '60s you do have—I mean, you do have a mass movement, right? You have the civil rights movement. But the civil rights movement didn't just spring up overnight in '68, right? I mean, it took many, many years to actually build a strong civil rights movement in the United States. And, you know, I think to look at Occupy and say, well, why hasn't Occupy managed to catalyze the same kind of thing, why isn't Occupy looking like a mass movement, I think we've got to—you know, as Lester says, I think we have to kind of widen our temporal gaze, we have to be looking even further into the future and saying, this is only the very beginning of a mass movement.

    JAY: Yeah, but what I'm getting at is: if you're talking Baltimore and you're organizing in Baltimore, what Lester said earlier is, if you want to get a movement that's going to be a mass movement, you'd better deal with the issues that are facing the majority of the people, and he's saying right now that's the criminal justice system and related issues. And that's certainly my experience when I've been asking either young people who are activists or even—.

    You know, we've been holding and we had a couple of these front-porch meetings where we just went to East Baltimore and sat on the front porch and asked people—we said, we're journalists, tell us what you want us to do. And it was two issues. It was—number one, it was criminal justice—not just injustice to young people going to jail; it was also how do we have safer streets so I can go to the corner store and not worry about getting robbed. I mean, it's both sides of that coin. And then the second one was a great one. It says, who the hell owns all these boarded-up houses, and why aren't they being rented out to low-income families? So those were the issues.

    KHATIB: And I think if you look at where Occupy went after—so in Baltimore, after the Occupy movement was evicted from McKeldin Square, which was the sort of—the beginning of the occupation was the physical occupation of McKeldin Square in downtown Baltimore. And once that eviction happened, it freed up a lot of energy and a lot of time and a lot of excitement and ideas for organizing. Right? So there were all of these people organizing under the auspices of Occupy Baltimore. And where did it go? Well, it went specifically into addressing the situation with the youth jail, and it went specifically into what has now become known as the Occupy Our Homes movement, which is essentially foreclosure defense. So I think exactly the issues that you're bringing up here really are the issues that Occupy Baltimore tried to address and did address in very real ways.

    MCGUIRE: And is trying, yeah.

    KHATIB: Yeah, is trying, is still trying.

    MCGUIRE: Yeah.

    SPENCE: Another thing. If we look right now at what's going on in Baltimore—and there's a bunch of stuff—and one of the really good things about the Occupation movement is that we were all addressing universal themes, but addressing them locally and we were all in our own community.

    So here in Baltimore, Occupy Baltimore quickly turned to look at development. And we weren't the only ones. Like, there are a lot of people looking at development, how development is practiced in the city, who's getting the money, what they're doing with the money, how we're using public resources for public good.

    And right now some very interesting organizing and one of the more mass organizing efforts going on in Baltimore is in the black community. It's on the east side, and it's around jobs, and it's around development, and it's around how we use public subsidies for development without any benefit for the local populations in terms of economic development, in terms of skill development, stuff like that.

    And it was shocking. Like, you know, at the same time that Occupy Baltimore was happening—and I was seeing kind of record numbers in the community that I'm used to organizing in, seeing those folks on the street—at the same time, I'm reading in the newspaper—and I was completely unaware of this organizing going on—I'm reading in a newspaper that there were 300 people on the east side that marched onto a job site that was being led by EBDI, East Baltimore Development Incorporated, the group that's overseeing the largest urban redevelopment program—project in the country. They're marching on one of their job sites and saying, where are our jobs, this is our community, these are our jobs, and they got their heads beaten in. You know, they just—the trials were just resolved the other day, and it was kind of pathetic, the whole thing.

    But, like, at the same time that we were talking about this from Occupy Baltimore, Churches and Communities United in [laIun@] were organizing hundreds of folks. But they're turning out overnight. Like, this is probably more important than talking about the Trayvon Martin rally, you know, which was an instantaneous thing; it was, you know, a thousand or a couple of thousand people. But the folks that are organized around the EBDI stuff, they're turning out hundreds of people every time.

    And how did that start? [laIun@] hosted a forum in a church, and they said, we want—we're trying to organize around jobs here, we're trying to get jobs for folks in this community, so come out and talk to us about your job situation. They ended up having folks lined up around the block. They had 1,000 people turn out for that meeting. They were expecting to accommodate a couple of hundred. They had 1,000 people turn out for that meeting. Richie Armstrong, who's the main organizer of Churches and Communities United now, he went to that meeting looking for a job. He ended up becoming an organizer of Churches and Communities United. And they're turning out literally—like, they called for a demonstration. They're turning out hundreds of folks. And they're organizing in the black community.

    And, you know, the first rally I went to, I was like, I know no one here. And they thought that I was probably a hostile entity going to EBDI as a developer. They were like, are you with us, or are you against us? And I was like, give me a sign.

    JAY: Alright. Well, thank you all for joining us. And we'll pick this up in a few weeks and we will—it will be an ongoing discussion, and maybe we'll add some more people to it. Thanks for joining us on The Real News Network, from Baltimore.


    DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


    Our automatic spam filter blocks comments with multiple links and multiple users using the same IP address. Please make thoughtful comments with minimal links using only one user name. If you think your comment has been mistakenly removed please email us at


    Latest Stories

    South African Platinum Miner's Struggle Challenges ANC Leadership
    Manning Determined to Fight Back After Army Upholds 35-Year Sentence
    Hundredth Anniversary of the Ludlow Massacre
    Important Revelations From New Leaks of CIA Torture Report
    The Bundy Ranch Standoff Demonstrates Values Shared by Corporations and the Far Right
    The Resegregation of American Schools
    The Modern History of Venezuela, Why Still So Much Crime? - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (7/9)
    What Role Has Russia Played in Eastern Ukraine?
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (2/2)
    University Sit-In Targets World's Largest Private Coal Company
    The Modern History of Venezuela and the Need for a Post-Oil Economy - Edgardo Lander on RAI (6/9)
    Can Johns Hopkins Afford to Pay A Living Wage? (1/2)
    One Percent of Environmentalists Killings Lead to Convictions
    Investigation Finds Former Ukraine President Not Responsible For Sniper Attack on Protestors
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Ukraine Transitional Gov't Moves Militarily To Reclaim Seized Buildings
    IPCC Report Flawed By Narrow Focus on Carbon Emissions
    The Modern History of Venezuela: The Bolivarian Revolution - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (5/9)
    Obama Signs Directives to Reduce the Gender Wage Gap
    Eastern Ukraine Lacks Political Representation in Kiev
    Demystifying the Role of Mitigation in the Most Recent IPCC Report
    Hypersurveillance State Won't Prevent Another Boston Marathon Bombing
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1973 to the Caracazo Massacre - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (3/9)
    Univ. of Maine Faculty Reinstated After Students Protest Against Cuts
    The Modern History of Venezuela from 1908 to 1973 - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (2/9)
    IMF Will Address Global Inequality, Says Managing Director Christine Lagarde
    Raising Big Banks' Leverage Ratio Good, But Not Nearly Enough
    TRNN Replay: Austerity Road to 19th Century
    Has Palestinian Maneuvering Revived Peace Talks?
    Late Jackson Mayor Lumumba's Son Wins Primary to Replace His Father, Runoff Election Ahead
    Quebecers Reject PQ and Elect a Liberal Government Representing Big Business
    TRNN Debate: Decriminalization vs. Legalization
    The Beginning of the Chavez Era - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (4/9)
    "Off With His Head": Court Upholds Obama's Power to Kill
    Workers at Nation's Top Hospital Strike For Fair Wages
    From Exile to Radicalization in Venezuela - Edgardo Lander on Reality Asserts Itself (1/9)
    Rwanda 20 Years Later: Genocide, Western Plunder of Congo, and President Kagame
    Ukrainian Protesters in the East Demand More Autonomy From Kiev Government
    Hunger Strikers Demand President Obama Halt His Record 2 Million Deportations
    Indian Parliamentary Elections - A Primer With Vijay Prashad
    West Looks to Carve Up Ukraine & Privatize Industries Held by Kleptocrats
    Where Are Israeli-Palestinian Peace Negotiations Headed?
    The Multiple Kingdoms of Saudi Arabia (5/5)
    Do the Afghan Presidential Elections Signify Progress?
    Republican Presidential Hopefuls Pay Homage to Billionaire Casino Tycoon Sheldon Adelson
    Will Extremist Lieberman Become Israel's Next Prime Minister?
    Why do the Saudis Want the US to Attack Iran? (4/5)
    Immigrant Advocates and Families Tell President Obama 'Not One More'
    Elections, Pipelines, and Protests - The Canada Panel
    Chris Hedges on "Israel's War on American Universities"
    Baltimore Residents Decry Lack of Affordable Housing
    Yellen Talks the Talk But Will She Walk the Walk?
    Hopkins Hospital Workers Speak Out against "Poverty Wages"
    Will Venezuela's New Floating Exchange Rate Curb Inflation?
    The European Central Bank's War on Wages is Pushing Europe's Economy to the Brink
    Supreme Court Decision Opens Floodgates for More Campaign Cash
    Charles Keating, the Financier Behind the Savings and Loan Scandal, Dies at 90
    Saudi Arabia and the al-Qaeda Monster (3/5)
    Maryland Residents Voice Opposition to Natural Gas Fracking Export Facility
    Supreme Court Ruling Gives Wealthy Individuals More Influence Over Elections
    What are the Saudis Afraid Of? - Madawi Al-Rasheed (2/5)
    Baltimore's MICA Adjunct Professors Set to Vote on Unionization
    Boycott of Israel Moving to Next Level?
    Hypocrisy Dressed Up as "Realism" Justifies American Alliance with Saudi Dictatorship
    Immigration Reform in the Shadows of Cesar Chavez's Legacy
    Leaked Senate Report Shows Use of Torture As "Ineffective"
    UN Report Says Climate Change Will Threaten Food Production Worldwide
    The Hypocrisy of US Calling for Enforcement of International Law
    How the Ecuadorian Economy Grew in a Global Recession
    'Shadows of Liberty' Trailer
    Kristina Borjesson on Why CBS Shut Down Her investigation into Flight 800 (2/8)
    Glen Ford on Racism in the American Media (3/8)
    Paul Jay on What Drives Corporate Media and What Drive The Real News (4/8)
    Creating a New Media Paradigm After Citizens United (5/8)
    Should The Left Engage with the Mainstream Media? (6/8)
    What Is the Financial Backing For The Real News? (7/8)
    Standing up to Character Assassination (8/8)
    Oligarchs, Fascists and the People's Protest in Ukraine
    TRNN Debate: Is Obamacare In the Interest of Workers?
    Too-Big-To-Fail Advantage Remains Intact For Big Banks
    Obama and the Saudi Agenda
    TRNN Replay: Investigating the Saudi Government's 9/11 Connection and the Path to Disilliusionment - Sen. Graham on Reality Asserts Itself pt 1
    The Iraq War's Real Legacy
    Petitions with 100,000+ Signatures Call for Snowden's Passport to be Reinstated
    We Need to Harness People Power - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (4/4)
    BC Pipeline Fight and Quebec Elections - The Canada Panel
    Jonathan Schell - 1943-2014: Board Member of TRNN on Why We Need The Real News
    Teachers on Strike from the UK to Argentina
    Connecticut Poised to Become First State with $10.10 Minimum Wage
    Oil Spill Threatens Wildlife and Local Economy
    DC School Test Scores Up, But Poor Black Kids Are Doing Worse - Andy Shallal on RAI (3/4)
    Obama's Proposal To End NSA Bulk Data Collection Won't Protect Privacy
    How Google, Apple & The Biggest Tech Companies Colluded to Fix Workers' Wages
    An American Should be One that Questions Their Government - Andy Shallal on RAI (2/4)
    What's Driving Putin & Obama's Posturing on Ukraine?
    Hundreds of Students & Faculty Occupy College Campus to Fight Cuts to Public Higher Ed
    Due Process 'Impossible' In Harsh Death Sentencing Of Over 500 Muslim Brotherhood Members
    Has Anglo-American Capitalism Run Out of Steam?
    Being the "Other" in America - Andy Shallal on Reality Asserts Itself (1/4)
    TRNN Debate: Should Baltimore 'Ban The Box'?
    How Fallujah Became the Iraqi Government's New Battleground
    Why I Decided to Blow the Whistle on the NSA
    NASA Climate Predictions Show Serious Threat To Humanity
    Professor Who Teaches Israel-Palestine Conflict Accuses College of Violating His Academic Freedom
    CIA and NSA Wrongdoing Requires Independent Investigation, Says Former Church Committee Staff
    Are Tuition Breaks Enough To Combat High Student Debt And Low Graduation Rates?
    Industries Across the U.S. Are Stealing Wages From Their Lowest Paid Workers
    Who In Ukraine Will Benefit From An IMF Bailout?
    NSA Recording All International Calls From U.S.
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (2/2)
    BP Gets Green Light to Drill in Gulf, But Has Safety Improved?
    Residents Still Not Drinking Tap Water Two Months After West Virginia Spill (1/2)
    Libya's Descent Into Turmoil Three Years After NATO Intervention
    From Pipelines to Peladeau - Canadian Report
    Israel "Making Lives Miserable" for Africans, Hoping They 'Self-Deport' (1/2)
    Congressional Progressive Caucus Budget Strikes Back Against Austerity
    Libya Three Years Later - Chaos and Partition
    Why Was Gaddafi Overthrown?
    Should Ukraine and West Accept De Facto Crimea Joining Russia? (2/2)
    Tony Benn Saw Socialism as the Culmination of Democratization
    Why Didn't Bush/Cheney Attack Iran and Can Obama Make and Sell a Deal? - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (3/3)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi? (2/2)
    Crimea Referendum: Self Determination or Big Power Manipulation? (1/2)
    Sen. Graham: President Must Side with Openness About CIA and 9/11
    Manufacturing a Narrative for War - Gareth Porter on Reality Asserts Itself (2/3)
    Protesters Hit the Streets of Brooklyn to Demand $15 Minimum Wage
    Hammer: 'Moral Bankruptcy' Behind Massive GM Recall
    White House Withholds Thousands of Documents from Senate CIA Probe
    I Grew Up Believing in Time Magazine's Version of America - Gareth Porter on RAI (1/3)
    Western European Banks Vulnerable to Ukrainian Sovereign Debt Crisis
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (2/2)
    CIA vs. Senate: Who Is Obama Protecting?
    Will Tipped Workers Get Excluded Again From Minimum Wage Hike?
    TRNN Debate: What's Driving Inflation in Venezuela? (1/2)
    After Late Mayor Lumumba is Laid to Rest, What's Next for Jackson, Mississippi?(1/2)
    TRNN Replay: A Look at Who's Poised to Become No.2 at the Fed
    How Right-Wing Nationalism Rose to Influence in Ukraine (2/2)
    Netanyahu Attacks Boycott As Campaign Enters New Phase
    Moving Towards a Police State - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (7/7)
    Fighting Reagan's Secret, Illegal Wars - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (6/7)
    Puerto Rican Independence Movement and Cuba Further Radicalized Me - Michael Ratner on RAI (5/7)
    The Butcher of Attica - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (4/7)
    MLK and a Radicalizing Moment in American History - Michael Ratner on Reality Asserts Itself (3/7), Real News Network, Real News, Real News For Real People, IWT are trademarks and service marks of IWT.TV inc. "The Real News" is the flagship show of IWT and Real News Network.

    All original content on this site is copyright of The Real News Network.  Click here for more

    Problems with this site? Please let us know

    Linux VPS Hosting by Star Dot Hosting