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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1 Comment

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One response to “Occupy/Decolonize Oakland: An Exchange

  1. John R

    I’m a little confused what you mean by Riley’s “attempted analogy of Alcatraz (for very obvious contextual reasons!)”. Could you clarify what contextual reasons you are referring to, and if they are reasons for Riley using the analogy or for the defense being problematic?

    Also, I don’t understand why the analogy necessarily fails — it is true that the AIM (and other POC groups) used the term “occupy”. Are you saying the difference is that those movements were composed mostly of people of color? That they had different objectives and considerations than today’s Occupy movement? Or something else?

    Much love and thanks,

    J

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