Occupy Sunset Park: Seeking Change in Many Languages

Occupy leaflets

Occupy leaflets in multiple languages (Photo: Zach Campbell)

This article originally appeared in The Brooklyn Bureau.

Around the same time that Occupy Wall Street protesters were clashing with the the NYPD in Manhattan last month, two dozen activists met in the quiet back room of a church in Sunset Park to find common ground and plan a movement. Theirs was a different kind of occupation.

Where the nationally known OWS movement focused on large-scale economic issues and massive actions, a like-minded general assembly in Sunset Park held community dinners and movie nights. Where one seeks to radically reorganize political and economic systems to empower the disenfranchised, the other has reached for more modest goals that would better serve the neighborhood they call home.

The Sunset Park general assembly started about a month after OWS protesters first took Zuccotti Park last fall. Many of the people who launched the local effort had also been involved with OWS, but expressed interest in starting a movement that would work on a more local level. Many didn’t have the time or the resources to make the grueling six-hour general assemblies or camp out in the increasingly cold weather, and wanted to focus their energy on issues that were closer to home.

They were also seeking a movement that better represented their neighborhood.

“We thought the greater Occupy movement didn’t really reflect the diversity of the city, especially in terms of the involvement of people of color,” explains David Galarza, who helped organize some of the first general assemblies in Sunset Park.

There were also linguistic considerations for Occupy Sunset Park — the neighborhood, one of New York’s most diverse, is home to Brooklyn’s largest Chinese and Spanish-speaking communities. The group has gone to great lengths to translate all printed material into as many languages as possible.

Borrowing from a wider movement

Occupy Sunset Park has adopted some of the larger movement’s tools. “Facilitation,” the moderation of general assemblies that has been the crux of Occupy’s success in carrying a conversation among large groups, has at times been conducted in Sunset Park in at least two languages simultaneously. Meetings have begun with a conscious decision as to which language to use, with bilingual members of the group volunteering to interpret.

Read the full article in The Brooklyn Bureau.

Fi2W is supported by the New York Community Trust and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with additional support from the Ralph E. Odgen Foundation and the Sirus Fund.

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