Chinese Progressive Association Holds Community Teach-In About Why We’re the 99%!
On Sunday, October 30th, over 150 people attended a community teach-in about the Occupy movement at Portsmouth Square, a park in San Francisco’s Chinatown which is referred to as “the living room of Chinatown.” It’s where seniors play cards, kids play on swing sets, and community residents just sit outside to chat with neighbors and enjoy the good weather. The teach-in, organized by the Chinese Progressive Association, was the first event in the Bay Area (that we’ve heard of) that was located in a community of color, was bilingual (English and Chinese), and specifically focused on what the Occupy movement means for the working class Chinese community.
The event featured political education in the form of street theater and skits about the country’s growing wealth inequality where the richest 1% own 43% of the wealth in America. Budget cuts to education, healthcare, and other public services have been threatening to destroy the American Dream of everyday people, while big corporations and millionaires keep making huge profits and dodging their responsibility. This inequality is why thousands of Americans are joining the 99% movement, from Wall Street to Chinatown.
When emcees asked the crowd what we should do about these problems, community members shouted, “Tax the rich!” and “Protest!” demonstrating that the Occupy movements’ solutions are not too far from our own. This teach-in was a first step in engaging our community with the 99% concept, and the purpose was to educate people about why people are even occupying in the first place. While the mainstream English and Chinese media both are focused on the police violence of Oakland or the issue of tents in public spaces, we need to remember that the reason why this movement is growing has to do with huge wealth inequality and a system that doesn’t work for 99% of the population. And while the rest of America might just be waking up to this problem, people of color and low income communities have always know this because even before the economic recession we struggled with high unemployment, lack of healthcare, and less support from government services because of budget cuts.
A community member, Mrs. Rong, spoke about her experience in America, saying, “I used to be a restaurant worker, but because of a work injury, I haven’t been able to work for the past 4 years. We rely entirely on my husband’s income. My daughter already graduated from college, and although she already found work, she has to pay students loans every month. We don’t know how long we will be paying those loans. We don’t have anything. We are the 99% and we have to work together.”
Chinese immigrants came to this country because they believed in the American Dream. They came for the opportunity to have better job opportunities, to give their children access to higher education, and to have financial security. But for many low and middle income Chinese, this American Dream has not become a reality. Young people especially are worried about whether they can go to college due to increasing tuition rates over the past few years.
Stephanie Chan, a high school student, says “My dad works for more than 13 hours a day, and my mom works two jobs, but my family is still low-income. I currently have healthcare, but I will lose it once I turn 18. I can’t help but wonder, what will happen when it is time for me and my little brother to attend college? How will we afford the high price of college tuition? That’s why people are protesting right now, and why we are the 99%.”
As part of the 99%, members of the Chinese community came together to address wealth and income inequality. Solutions we feel are important to include for discussion in the Occupy movement are:
1. Restoring taxes on the richest 1% and corporations,
2. Making sure our elected officials are not controlled by corporate interests, and
3. Stop spending millions of taxpayer dollars each year in war spending.
After the teach-in, 50 people marched from Chinatown to Occupy SF’s encampment at Justin Herman Plaza, chanting in Chinese, “Workers! Students! People! UNITE!” and “We are the 99!” The delegation was received by Occupy SF with thanks and a representative welcomed newcomers to the camp with a tour.