For People Who Have Considered Occupation But Found It Is Not Enuf

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April 24, 2012

Liberation through occupation is impossible.

From Tulsa to Oakland to Olympia to Los Angeles to Philadelphia to Harlem to London to Portland to Cleveland to the District of Columbia and many more places, some people of color, including us, were drawn to participate in Occupy Wall Street actions and encampments. Some were drawn into the movement despite concerns about the term occupation.  Some were cautious, but hopeful that they could challenge any potential issues by being vocal and contributing to decisions.  So far, many of our experiences with Occupy Wall Street have shown that neither justice nor dignity can happen under occupation.

As people fighting for worldwide liberation of all peoples, we do not seek to simply “add” a critique of occupation and colonization to the fight against corporations and capitalism. Currently, some of us have sought to make decolonization our starting point.

Decolonization is not just about abolishing racism, supporting reparations, or wanting settlers to return stolen lands or its equivalent to native peoples.

Decolonization remembers and rebuilds the many systems of civilization—economics, government, politics, spirituality, environmental sustainability, nutrition, medicine and understandings of self, identity, gender and sexuality—that existed before colonization.

Decolonization reminds us that we must love ourselves and resist internalized oppression. Self-hatred allows agents of white supremacy to successfully demonize and dismiss the most marginalized from our communities and instigate divisions amongst us.

Decolonization calls for organizing a movement that is led by individuals and communities whose voices are least likely to be heard.

Decolonization requires collective effort, time, care and trust.  It cannot be driven by a meeting agenda, general assembly, or national election. It rejects concepts of revolutionary change that result in short-lived victories or the same oppressive regimes, repackaged under new names and ideologies.

Decolonization insists that implementing these solutions and more traditional ways of living are vital to the survival of the human species.

Occupation is a failed political strategy. 

How can a movement founded on occupation serve as a platform for global economic justice, much less liberation?

As people of color, our experiences are many. Some of us are native to these lands now called the United States. Some of us are residents here due to our ancestors’ kidnapping and enslavement or because our families left our home countries to escape violent economic policies enacted by the US and other nations. We have not all experienced the same levels of abuse, poverty, or imprisonment. However, we are all survivors of colonization, a system that continues under global capitalism, war and occupation, and abuses at home such as racial profiling, the prison system, and severe budget cuts. Rather than reclaim and reframe the term occupy for the people, OWS has continued the history of occupation with which we are all too familiar.

Some of us participated in the formation of Occupy People of Color and Queer People of Color groups in order to hold space, or find refuge when encountered with incidents of racism, sexism, or homophobia. The simple fact that our groups served this purpose shows that OWS spaces prioritized the wants, needs, values, and culture of heterosexual white men first. Frankly, many of us have encountered this straight-white-man approach to movement-building too many times to count. In fact, many of the same characters that have attempted to dominate movements in our communities in the past are the same people who lead OWS from the light and shadows.

The physical presence of multitudes of white Occupiers on Wall Street, which was once the site of Native genocide and African chattel slavery, is troubling. Though Occupy activists now widely share the history of Wall Street to show that its foundations are corrupt, they use this truth to justify a new occupation that is 80% white and 68% male.

The 99% is not enough.

How can people who cannot afford housing or enough food to eat each day be expected to unify with people who make over $500,000 a year, or even $250,000?

Many of us live the reality of violence as a routine feature of our daily existence.  State violence puts us in jail at higher rates than whites, keeps us poor, and limits our access to jobs, education, housing, and healthcare.  This daily grind instigates and intensifies more intimate forms of violence like rape, incest, and battering.

A culture of violence was allowed to take root at many OWS sites but was masked by calls to unite under the banner of the 99%. Many of us experienced or witnessed slurs, attacks, and intimidation based on our race, culture, age, socioeconomic status, educational level, ability and/or perceived gender and sexual identities at Occupy encampments.  When we attempted to challenge these abuses, we were silenced or ostracized. We were told that talking about the incidents limited other’s freedom and gave the police an opportunity to invade the camps. At the same time, Occupy Security and Safer Spaces committees racially profiled men of color for behaviors that were widespread amongst all men at the camps.  OWS Facilitation forces ignored calls from our communities to address these issues at General Assemblies. Facilitators policed dissent under the guise of being “action-centered” and “agenda-driven.”

After losing its public encampments, Occupy is facing an identity crisis. They continue the chants of We Are the 99% even as more and more people recognize that it is an empty slogan. How can a movement that includes soccer moms who insist that they don’t want to overthrow the government but just want the government to properly take care of their needs stand side-by-side with an anti-authoritarian leadership that wants “insurrection?” Such contradictions make the entire 99% concept meaningless except as an imagined citizenship in a new nationalist identity. But beware: if the American Dream does not include us, then neither does the 99%. When we complain, make too much noise, or look too different we are rejected. If you talk about the connections among race, poverty, democracy, and decolonization, then you are excluded. In fact, you may just be an agitator, “liberal” or an infiltrator.

Movements led by those without the lived experience of day-to-day violence and generational poverty cannot produce justice, transformation, and dignity for those of us who live on the margins and on the streets.

Leaderlessness is the new tyranny.

Over the last few months, we have identified a shadow leadership structure within OWS camps and groups throughout the nation. The participation of people of color does not change the fact that this occupation of public space upholds white supremacy. Some of our own sisters and brothers have silenced our critiques in order to hold on to their positions of power as token people of color in the movement. The history of silencing those who dare to speak their truth has its roots in operations like COINTELPRO. Snitches and informants were roles used to destabilize grassroots movements and target those with the most potential to challenge the state. Fears of this practice of state sabotage have been used to control criticism within Occupy Wall Street. The result is heightened anxiety and/or suspicion of women of color and/or queer voices who challenge organizing practices. Voices that call out internal dynamics are deemed inappropriate, divisive, ineffectual and potentially counterrevolutionary.

It is the Occupy movements’ abject failure to deal with these issues that compelled 35 people of color involved in encampments across the nation to gather for a national conference call in November. We sought to lend one another mutual support as people of color with a myriad of experiences: some were trying to find ways to engage with Occupy Wall Street while others were trying to figure out how to continue organizing outside of OWS. Some of us wanted nothing to do with OWS but wanted to support those of us who had violent experiences in the camps.

Below are just a few of the manifestations of power and privilege at the Occupations:

  • In Los Angeles, people were targeted for organizing against police brutality. Their pictures were copied from Facebook and put on posters that labeled them “agitators.”
  • In New York, a group of indigenous-identified people played music at Zuccotti Park as an offering on Indigenous People’s Day. They were physically and verbally assaulted by a white male organizer in the middle of one of their songs and told that they did not belong there. Despite the fact this was caught on video, OWS failed to hold this man accountable for the attack, ensuring that each of those musicians never returned to OWS.
  • In Tulsa, questioning power structures resulted in being banned from actions as well as being blocked from websites and other social media.
  • In Olympia, members felt isolated as the few people of color in the occupation and faced difficulty in talking about race, racism, and racial privilege at all.
  • In Oakland, a white male camper pulled a knife on a Black transwoman and subjected her to racial and homophobic slurs. Her calls for support were ignored while the male attempted to criminalize her by referring to her as an “angry” person of color.
  • In New York City, when women confronted a man with a history of sexually assaulting people and calling the police on radical organizers in the area, OWS Security told the women that they were being “hostile” to the man and the women were asked to leave.

Despite the diverse experiences held by the 35 people on the call in cities all over the nation, the overwhelming majority agreed that the encampments were not safe spaces for people of color. Some of us cannot attend a meeting ever again for fear of retaliation and physical assault now that we have spoken out.  While supporters of Occupy might characterize these events as isolated incidents or unrepresentative of their movement, they cannot hide the fact that people of color do not and never have participated in large numbers.

Our communities have long had demands.

We demand that any movement be clear about its goals, intent, and strategies to ensure that our communities, which are already suffering police violence in the forms of criminalization, incarceration, and surveillance, can make informed decisions about our participation.

We demand that our white allies speak with their comrades about the racial privilege that enables their actions. We do not want white people to “protect” us, but we do want to coordinate strategically before events, during events, and after events.

We demand that Occupy activists cease using their experiences of police repression and brutality to erase the historical and current practices of genocidal violence against our peoples. What does it mean to suggest that people being pepper sprayed or badly injured by a gas canister is somehow on par with the generational traumas and current realities that Native communities, for example, experience?

We demand the acknowledgement and abolition of Rape Culture, which has gone uncontested by the majority of Occupiers. Slavery and genocide were perpetrated through mass sexual assault of women of color. Colonial logic still questions the humanity of women of color to this day, as evidenced by the sexual assault and the sexual exploitation of women of color before, during and after Occupy encampments.

We demand recognition of and space to heal from the psychic trauma that exists in our communities. Mobs of white occupiers must step back from taking physical space and question the tactic of mass actions as the most effective vehicle for social change.

We demand that OWS admit their role in gentrification and take action to combat it. Most occupations have occurred in spaces where homeless people and runaways, mostly people of color and transgendered, have congregated for years. People in these spaces have been pushed out to make downtown centers safe for coffee shops, loft dwellers, and even many members of the OWS movement.

We demand that future encampments be organized and led by those who most need them. The encampment movement has a strong history in places such as Movimento dos Trabalhadores Sem Terra in Brazil and the homeless tent cities at Tompkins Square. Occupy movements have failed to honor or learn from these movements. As encampments end, privileged Occupiers have gone home to their houses and apartments. Those that did not have a home to begin with have found themselves with nothing, not even a tent, and no place to call home.

Above all, we demand that the work that began before OWS be recognized honored and supported. Years of anti-police brutality work, indigenous land movement organizing, and fighting for transgender peoples’ lives are but examples of movements that must not be abandoned in favor of focusing our collective energy on anti-capitalism.

Capitalism is but one strand of a helplessly tangled system of dominance. Trying to tease out one thread merely gnarls it further.

We intend to fight for liberation on all fronts simultaneously. We intend to set the whole twisted mess afire, with or without your help. We invite you to join us and see what we may grow from the ashes.

En lak ech

To our white brothers and sisters:

We recognize you. En Lak Ech—You are the Other Me. To say this is to validate both connection and difference. We must all come to understand colonization and the impact it has had on all of our lives, to see all the things that have been killed and stolen from all of us as a result of our histories of violence.

When calling for decolonization, when demanding that we be heard, when calling for justice after incidents of abuse, you have asked us, What do you want us to do? Do you want us to leave, this space, these lands, this continent?

We do not have the answers for you because we haven’t yet found the answers for ourselves. We want you to strive to find your way. We want you to recognize that the ways that you seek liberation often comes at the expense of ours. We expect you to act from that knowledge with integrity.

To our fellow people of color, queer, transgender, disabled, low-income:

We hope that if you are one of the people who visited OWS and never came back or were forced to leave, given the wrong meeting time, threatened or abused, you will read this and realize you are not alone. We hope that you know that you are needed: your mind, your heart, your fist and your spirit.

We hope that if you continue to build with OWS, you will gain another understanding of the movement after reading this, take time to talk with loved ones about it and consider the path you have chosen.

We hope that we can emerge, renewed and strong, and continue to walk together.

Till soon.

Signed,

Cleveland Anarchist Black Cross, Cleveland, OH

Nicki McCall, Eugene, OR

POCOE (People of Color Occupy Eugene) formerly of Occupy Eugene OR

Anonymous, Los Angeles, CA

DeColonize LA, Los Angeles, CA

Rose Brewer, Minneapolis, MN

Anonymous, New Haven, CT

Anonymous, New York, NY

Anonymous, Oakland, CA

Irina Contreras, Oakland, CA

Nico Dacumos, Oakland, CA

Rebecca Ruiz-Lichter, Oakland, CA

Roberto Mendoza, Tulsa, OK

If you would like to add your signature either anonymously or with your name, please contact us at pocnationalstatement [at] gmail.com.

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Open Letter to The ‘Occupy’ Movement: The Decolonization Proposal

From the accompanying text of the YouTube video:

Open Letter to the Occupy Movement:

This movement has the potential to evolve into something beautiful, something that takes into account the issues affecting all of us—not just the white, college educated members of the 99%.

If you try to hinder this growth because you claim it will destroy the movement, you will only be left behind while a more radical autonomous platform is built. The new platform will center the experiences of people of color, of women, of other groups that have been marginalized by a white majority.

We are not asking for permission to rename the movement anymore. The movement—the wave of empowerment that people are waking up to internationally—does not belong to you. It was around before the occupy movement and it will be around long after it leaves us. Resistance is only truly sustainable if it holds sacred the struggles of the most oppressed and we will call our movements, our resistance, our struggle, whatever we want.

Thank you for taking the time to watch this film and reflecting on what role you wish to play in making movements truly liberating.

In Solidarity,
Rebecca

***********

A note on the footage: this is not an extensive video of the GA, as I was late and did not film everything. there were many white people who spoke in favor of the proposal (I included the one I filmed) and there were a few people of color who spoke against it. The majority of people present at what appeared to be a majority people of color GA voted in favor (68.5 percent) of changing the name to Decolonize Oakland.

As the video shows, the proposal did not pass, however.

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Occupy/Decolonize Oakland: An Exchange

Rapper Boots Riley was a vocal opponent of the proposal put forth the change the name of ‘Occupy Oakland.’ His position lead to an exchange between an activist in favor of ‘Decolonize/Liberate Oakland’ that has since been made public.

Dear Boots,

When I first heard your music, almost two decades ago, I swooned at the political insight, at the beats, at beauty of seeing Black people using the mic to check white power, corporate capitalism, and misogynist shenanigans. You and Pam the Funkstress created a space for me in hip hop at time when I felt sidelined in that movement.

When I first started coming to the encampment at Ogawa/Grant Plaza, I felt a similar sense of excitement. Here was a brother who was making sure that the table was long and wide, welcoming of everyone and especially those of us at the margins of the 99% in Oakland. You made me hopeful that together we were capable of turning that table into barricade against police violence and a platform for liberation, pure and sweet and real. Hearing your comments at the General Assembly last night as we were debating the name change – Occupy Oakland to Decolonize/Liberate Oakland – made me sad and angry; I felt like you stole the table, rearranged the seating charts, and left me at the door.

This is my mic check of a different kind, an open email letter.

When you spoke last night, you mentioned that the name of The Coup doesn’t alienate people from your message. Even though coups are associated with right-wing paramilitary movements, you noted, The Coup is not. There is no confusion over your name, no ambiguity about your message. You then chided supporters of the proposal for the name change for confusing words with deeds and emphasized your support for the name Occupy Oakland.

Boots, your comparison stinks. It overlooks people like me who want a name that better reflects the movement of the 99% as it exists in Oakland. It ignores the voices of the Chochenyo Ohlone and native sisters like Krea Gomez and Morning Star Gali who assert that the name Occupy Oakland replicates the violence of colonialism. It turns the phrase the 99% into an empty sales pitch, and I’m not buying it. Your comparison cuts the movement down to size, recentering white entitlement to the “seats of power.” As if that’s the goal. I didn’t come to this movement to sit down. I came to rise up and decolonize Oakland.

“Life is a challenge, and you gotta team up.
If you play house pretend the man clean up.
You too busy with the other things you gotta do.
When you start something, now remember, follow through.”
– The Coup, 2001

Clean your draws, Boots.

Love, Darshan

My response:

To start, I’m gonna try to ignore the offensive sign off remark.

When AIM took over Alcatraz in the 70s, they said- “We are Occupying Alcatraz”. The same word was used at Wounded Knee, I believe. Throughout Mexico, Central America, and South America- when movements take over a space- they “occupy” it. The word is used in very revolutionary ways. It’s obviously not just about the word.

I honestly believe that even POC movements of the last 30 years in the bay area especially- of which I feel like I’ve been a part of- has been very isolated from communities of color and don’t have their finger on the pulse of what will involve them. The reasons have to do with the campaigns we’ve embarked on and the style that we’ve approached them. The focus on this word is indicative of that.

I’m all about decolonizing.
I’m all about fighting capitalism.

I have only no songs, since 1994 that use the word “capitalism”. I have only 1 song since then that uses the word “communist”. However, everyone knows that I’m a communist and that I want to destroy capitalism. This is because I talk about what we need to do and what’s wrong with this system without using the same terminology.

Most folks of color have no idea what the term decolonize means. It is not a liberating term to most, it is simply another term that academics use. Similarly, most don’t even have the political connotation with the word Occupy as it relates to colonialism.

Also, the debate over the name change hasn’t been POC on one side and white folks on the other. There were both POC and White folks voting for the name change, and POC and White folks voting against. Your view about the name change doesn’t make you somehow more on the side of people of color than I am.

Like I said, Saturday, I canvassed door-to-door in West Oakland. ACCE has been canvassing door-to-door in East Oakland since just after Nov 2. What I hear from the response from folks at ACCE and from my own interactions with folks of color that I know in Oakland, is that people are excited by OO, if a little confused on the ultimate goal, the name is the identifier, and they feel that it is connected to the larger movement and that it actually has the ability to change things through direct action. One of the reasons people feel its connected to the larger movement is the name.

Of course, the MAIN thing against it that people of color voice- particularly the Black folks I talk to- is “Oh, you mean all the White folks downtown?”

That doesn’t change with the name.
It will only change through involving ourselves in campaigns that people feel have the power to affect their material condition in their daily life. This is something that even POC movements in my lifetime have failed to do.

The real problems of race and racism in this and any movement don’t begin to get solved with a name change. They begin with a movement that actually addresses the material needs of people of color and one which makes space for people of color. Let’s talk about the remedies to those problems.

Although you say my comparison stinks, you did not negate it’s analogical validity.

My opinion doesn’t overlook your, or anyone’s opinion. It disagrees with yours.

Please don’t come at me disrespectfully with comments like “Clean your draws, Boots”.

Thank you.

Riley puts forth a problematic defense of the word ‘Occupy’ with the attempted analogy of Alcatraz (for very obvious contextual reasons!) He follows with a sweeping generalization of Latin American resistance movements in addition to other arguments that don’t hold weight. Occupy Oakland, uncontroversially at the forefront of these recent waves of protests, sadly missed an opportunity to deepen the discussion with a true language of resistance informing its future actions.

- DisOccupy

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What UC Davis Pepper Spraying Tells me about the racialized politics of sentimentality, by Occupy White Supremacy

By now we’ve all seen the John Pike memes lampooning the officer who pepper sprayed protesting UC Davis students. Pike deserves no sympathy, but as a ‘flashpoint’ moment in the Autumn of Occupy, the sister in the above video, also a UCD student, asks some very important questions and offers important analysis. The post comes from a Tumblr site that puts a new twist on #OWS by calling itself ‘Occupy White Supremacy.’ In another commentary, since celebratory appraisals of Occupy in the left media say that it has achieved victory by putting the issue of wealth inequality at the forefront, the site asks in that discussion, what is being left out? What is left being unsaid?

So, let’s talk about another OWS….

Occupy white supremacy… and the machinery of whiteness…and structural racism…

When are we going to start talking about why the mainstream media is so ‘horrified’ and concerned, when certain people are ‘victims’ of police violence over others?

Check out the Tumblr site here!

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Occupied Panels, by DisOccupy

Many people undoubtedly tuned into Democracy Now! today and listened to the Nation Magazine/New School panel discussion on Occupy that took place last week in NYC as presented on the program. The participants included Michael Moore, Naomi Klein, Patrick Bruner, Rinku Sen, and William Gredier. In the course of the edited broadcast, panel moderator Richard Kim offered up a question to Sen about Occupy Wall Streets being seen, in his words, as an initially white, middle class, college-student thing and the potential for collaborative efforts in wake of the strides made since that time. If the criticism is already to be relegated as a thing of the past, what then of the makeup of the very panel in question? Allow us to break down the demographics: three white men, a white woman, and an Indian woman of color (double bonus score!)

Being New York City and all, I’m sure it mustn’t have been hard to have found Black, Latino, Indigenous people or Persons with Disabilities to offer their perspectives and experiences on not only a single question of inclusiveness, but of general points of view overall. That wasn’t this case in this instance of ‘occupied panel discussions’ (and it surely isn’t the sole, either)

- DisOccupy

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Flotilla controversy within Occupy Wall Street shows Palestine continues to be a fault line, by Ben Lorber

Tel Aviv, but not Gaza?

“Occupy Together” has since the beginning noted solidarity with Tel Aviv. The  J14 protest movement in Israel have been problematic in purposefully not extending their solidarity to occupied Palestine. Given this backdrop, it was surprising to see a tweet earlier this month by Occupy Wall Street in solidarity with humanitarian vessels attempting to reach Gaza’s shores. Hours later, however, as Ben Lorber writes:

…Occupy Wall Street’s tweet mysteriously disappeared from its home page on Twitter. The Twitter-sphere was instantly taken aback- “didn’t realize #OWS is non-political!!” remarked one tweeter, while another insisted that “If #OWS can not support #FreedomWaves and #Gaza then they should not compare themselves to #ArabSpring or #Tahrir.” The Canada Boat to Gaza, who earlier had nodded in satisfaction, now, shook its head in disappointment, offering, in the face of Occupy Wall Street’s fear of involving itself in the Israel-Palestine conflict, a few words by Desmond Tutu: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

Full post here!

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Occupy Where? What’s In It For Black and Brown People? by Bruce Dixon

blackagendareport.com

Bruce Dixon of the Black Agenda Report asks what would have been the case if OWS was a heavily dominated people of color initiative from the onset (read block quote below) before looking onward towards possibilities. Based out of Atlanta, Dixon mentions how race issues are met with resistance and dismissed as ‘divisive’ while also noting how gentrification in the city can be addressed by activists who bend the influence towards the everyday concerns of black folk.

If the first occupiers in Zucotti Park had been young and black, they’d instantly have been branded a street gang and arrested en masse, with or without violence, but certainly with little media play or sympathy. If the first occupiers were black, and blathering about the ravages of finance capital and how neither of the two parties were worth a damn, they certainly would not have been endorsed by what passes for the preacher-infested local leadership of black communities. Tied as they are to corporate philanthropy, corporate financing, the corporate-run Democratic party and its corporate-friendly trickle-down black president, our black misleadership class would have run, not walked away from black occupiers who failed to identify as staunch pro-Obama Democrats.

What if the occupiers had been brown? Here’s a clue. In the last few years, hundreds of thousands of immigrants at a time have stayed away from work in near general-strike proportions to march on May Day, no less, for their human rights. The anecdotal evidence is that ICE agents raided many workplaces in California, Texas, New York, Arizona, Illinois and elsewhere, and that without much notice in the corporate media, a wave of retaliatory harrassment, jailings and deportations ensued. Certainly, the Obama administration is on track to deport a record 400,000 immigrants for the third year in a row, already far outstripping Bush’s eight year total. There are in fact, gang injunction-type laws in many states which make it a criminal offense for young people in designated (black and brown) neighborhoods to assemble in groups in public places for any reason.

Full post here!

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