If Occupy really hopes to bring about fundamental change for all Americans it has to seriously confront issues of race, equality and justice not only in its protests, but more importantly, within its encampment, general assembly and working groups.

Occupations in cities like Detroit, with strong traditions in black and labor activism, have struggled to keep their protest focused and truly representative of their predominantly African-American community while incorporating the voices of white activists mostly from the suburbs. Finding ways to identify and overcome prejudice and learning to communicate effectively are key both to the survival and strength of an occupation as well as its ability to combat larger issues of inequality.

In February, journalist Dustin Slaughter of the David and Goliath project touched upon these points during a webinar on the Future of Occupy and ever since, we have been hoping to hold a webinar to analyze both how Occupy can aid in struggles for racial justice and equality, as well as how they can improve themselves to create a truly inclusive movement that is representative of the needs and concerns of communities of color. We know occupiers in places like Detroit have a lot of ideas and lessons they can share to the benefit of the movement, so we’re pleased to invite you to join our free online talk on Racism and the Occupy Movement with Lee Gaddies of Occupy Detroit and author and journalist Joanne Griffith this evening at 8pm eastern.

We’ve put together a great panel, including:

Joanne Griffith, journalist and editor of “Re-Defining Black Power”: Joanne Griffith is an award winning international broadcast journalist who has spent her career telling the stories of tragedy and triumph throughout the African Diaspora; from voting rights in the United States, the legacy of slavery in the Caribbean, the contribution of immigrants to the United Kingdom and the politics of food and power in southern Africa. Joanne is joining us to provide background and context for our discussion by talking about race in America today and how it impacts our youth, our education system, our law enforcement and more.

Following Joanne’s talk, we’ll be speaking with Occupy Detroit’s Lee Gaddies: Lee is a community activist and media coordinator for Occupy Detroit. He’ll talk about the history of racism in Michigan that has seven of the most segregated cities in the country inside the state, and how the occupation worked with activists from different economic classes. He will also discuss how we can deconstruct systemic racism and address the real issue of how racism is being used as a political weapon to further and economic agenda.

For a primer on tonight’s discussion, check out this article in the Huffington Post from November in which Lee was quoted giving his thoughts on how Occupy Detroit was dealing with some of these issues.

In Detroit, a city that white residents had largely abandoned en masse decades earlier, the first weeks of the [Occupy] protests were no different. Whites from the nearest suburbs and from as far away as Flint, Lansing, Ann Arbor — even other states — came in with particular ideas of how to shape the movement, what language should be used in assembly meetings, and for the movement’s agenda. Black protesters have complained that some came in with little understanding of Detroit’s intricate history of protest movements, which have historically been led by labor unions and black activists.

The relationship between the actual occupiers of the park and the larger mass of the movement has at times been strained. Occupy Detroit includes many more committed protesters who have contributed their hearts and work to the cause without ever pitching a tent. Most of the campers, however, were white and from outside of the city.

“If you are not from Michigan, you have to understand that seven of the most segregated cities in our country are in this state,” said Lee Gaddies, media coordinator for Occupy Detroit, who is black. “You have class and race issues. It is a systemic problem. People who live in all-white communities and come to all-black communities and never had any interaction with people of other races can’t just parachute into the community and tell a 68-year-old black person what to do.”

We’ll also be joined by members of Occupy Newark, Occupy Buffalo and others during our discussion. The presentation portion of our webinar will be recorded for everyone, but we will not record the Q&A portion so that people may speak freely.

(Note: We’re working on getting the recording together for the Online Organizing talk from last week – we had some technical difficulties with the recording but hope to have it out soon. Thanks!)

And of course, if you’re a liaison, occupier or just an Occupy supporter and want to check out the discussion, you’re more than welcome to do so.

I’m really looking forward to tonight’s discussion and I hope you can join us on the webinar TONIGHT, 3/21 at 8pm Eastern.