November 15, 2011

When Hillbilly Nationalism Meets Occupy Wall Street


On Friday, Willamette Week posted an interview with James Tracy, the co-author (along with Amy Sonnie) of Hillbilly Nationalists, Urban Race Rebels, and Black Power—the rarely told history of white underclass radical uprisings in the 1960s and 70s. When asked about the charges against the protesters at Occupy Wall Street, Tracy had a lot to say about the difficulties of organizing disparate groups:

People obviously still view protestors as predominantly middle class liberal arts students—the Occupy movement is a great example of that. Do you think it’s still an unfair characterization?

Absolutely. In my experience, I see a lot of working class people often minimize their own experience to be part of a larger movement—especially working class white people, but not confined to that by any stretch of the imagination. All the questions that are coming out of the Occupy movement basically boils down to how do you achieve a lasting team and lasting alliance out of a group that is one half the newly precarious, and the [other] people who’ve been under the boot of oppression for hundreds of years. Really it comes down to: this is a creative moment. If people can come up with lasting and serious ways of building this alliance, then there’s a chance that change can be made. And if not, well, we saw what happened around the Seattle occupation movements in ’99. They’re looked back on as a moment in history where the good fight was fought, but nothing really came out of it.

So touring around the country to promote this book, you must have seen a lot of the Occupy protests in each city. What’s the most interesting thing you’ve noticed?

It’s really interesting to see the experimentation that’s been going on, as far as tactics go. You’re seeing a really healthy development, where you see in New York where it all started, people are starting to move away from just occupying Wall Street and do tenant defense work and foreclosure defense work, and walking picket lines, and reinventing their tactics; showing a sophistication around tactics that I think hasn’t really been there for a while.

The second thing I’d say is that six weeks ago, the only thing that was in the media about the economy was debt ceilings and “blame the poor” rhetoric, and now we have a national conversation around corporate accountability and what kind of world we want to live in. So even if the occupations go away or turn into something very different, I think we have the occupiers to thank for a very different public dialogue.

You can read more of the interview here.