Rangel admires Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, laments that there aren’t more people of color among them

Charlie Rangel in his Harlem office. (Reid Pillifant)
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Representative Charles Rangel said this morning that the lack of people of color currently occupying Wall Street is "stark," and suggested the movement is still a "sophisticated" one that has yet to capture the support of the working class.

"I think that's got to change," he said at a meeting with reporters in his Harlem office. "It's a sophisticated thing, where people who are poor can find the time and resources to leave their kids and to go anywhere for three or four days, or three or four weeks," he said.

His statement was in response to a suggestion from one of the reporters that the whiteness of the movement may be attributuable to a digital divide, given that the demonstration has largely been organized online.

"But you're right," Rangel continued. "A very sophisticated method of communication was used. And I would gather that you're not going to find any white folks down there that are poor and lower economic status.

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"But it's not unusual for movements like this to be led by people who are very sophisticated. And the major problem they have is one of communication. But it is stark, the absence of people of color."

Rangel pointed out that the Congressional Black Caucus, the Hispanic Caucus and the Asian-American Caucus had each sent out numerous press releases supporting the protest movement.

Rangel also sought to clarify one aspect of his recent visit to the protesters, in which he was heckled and, according to a New York Post report, booed.

"In my opinion, they were booing one heckler, that they spent more time restraining him than they did with me," he said, adding that the protesters actually held up the march for 15 minutes to give him a chance to speak.

One of Rangel's aides distributed a print-out of one blogger's account, and Rangel said there were others who supported his account.

"Charles Barron certainly does not have me on his hero list and he did try to make it clear to the New York Post reporter that I was well received in terms of my only message and that is that I will try to get more people to be more supportive and that's what I'm doing," Rangel said.

And, if he was getting booed, Rangel said he understood.

"Let me be abundantly clear, that while it may have bruised my ego, if in fact they were booing me, I am a part of the government, I am a part of the problem, and it would seem to me if I was in their place, going through the inconvenience that they have placed themselves, that they don't have a responsibility to pick and choose about which people in government they like," he said. "They know that government is not functioning for the people and for them."

Rangel said he was talking to the organizers about scheduling another visit, possibly coordinating it with labor and religious leaders, and he said the movement had value even if the protesters had yet to articulate specific demands.

"I think it's pretty courageous and, having been in the civil-rights movement all of my young life and recognizing the ridicule that students took when they really didn't know what they wanted, but they damn sure knew that what they were getting was not American," he said. "They don't have to have the answers. They have the guts, the time, to be frustrated and not just simmer, and to do something about it."