From New York to California, and everywhere in between, Occupy has created a massive and media-savvy movement that has captured a lot (perhaps too much) attention. While white author/activists have written that “Occupy Wall Street rediscovers the radical imagination,” we feel that such celebratory rhetoric effectively erases the endless efforts on the part of people of color to dismantle oppression–in fact, we can think of nothing less radically imaginative than surviving under the multiple layers of systems created to destroy us as people of color. Similarly, when other white author/activists write that we “Either […] join the revolt taking place on Wall Street and in the financial districts of other cities across the country or […] stand on the wrong side of history,” they discount the many ways in which Occupy has created a movement that not all people of color want to take part in.
Let’s begin by approaching the name of the first encampment, Occupy Wall Street, by stating what we feel should be obvious: every city on the continent is occupied indigenous land. Wall Street was built on Algonquian land, and has been occupied ever since. After African slaves built Wall Street for European settlers, it was home to the slave market, and eventually became an African burial ground for up to 20,000 bodies. Since its arrival on this continent, capitalism has always been a system of exploitation based on race. Wall Street is one example of usurped land and slave labor, stolen to quell the desires of European colonizers. To attempt to create a movement that ignores this reality is fundamentally flawed, and it is not clear to us that it will ever move forward. When white Occupy Wall Street activists say they want to dismantle capitalism, they should realize its origin and understand why a slouching economy disproportionately affects people of color. We feel that if these issues had been consciously integrated from the start, people of color in various Occupy locations (including Wall Street) wouldn’t be feeling the heat of white supremacy today, and believe that Occupy’s white organizers bear the full burden of this reproduction of oppression.
This blog seeks to aggregate radical critiques about Occupy around the continent (including Canada, of course). We’ve begun posting links to some of the most relevant existing analysis from people of color who have been disenfranchised from this movement, but we’re also seeking your links and/or direct entries to this blog. For the moment, we’re interested in providing an outlet for people of color who have had to fight to have their voices heard by the white mass that now controls this movement. If you consider yourself a white ally, we ask that you keep your entries to yourself at this time, and instead read these posts and only comment when you feel it is necessary (there’s already plenty of space for your voice at Occupy, and we want to create an online site for, by and about people of color); you can also consider volunteering to run errands and cook a meal or two for a person of color for a day so that they have the time to sit, think and write about their experience for an audience. A few exceptions to this rule: we want to hear from disability rights activists of any identity, to begin to understand what your experience with Occupy has been as well. We also welcome photographs from anyone.
We doubt you need ideas, and would love to simply provide a space for you to share your experiences. But there are many other potential topics of inquiry:
- One idea includes analyzing the General Assembly and Facilitation model, who it works for, and who it silences. We think that Human Microphone and Stack, and other forms of culturally-white communication can sometimes work in oppressive ways. Because white people enter Occupy as teachers already possessing these “skills,” people of color are left with no choice but to take the place of students who are eager to mimic an often foreign process, and have no room whatsoever to challenge it.
- Another topic includes challenging Occupy’s notion of police brutality, and the way white folks hog up an issue that so unevenly affects people of color after getting roughed up once or twice by the cops during a protest. Police brutality and state violence are everyday realities in communities of color, but Occupy has made it seem like white kids are suddenly the ones suffering. The day that 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, we heard that “the whole world [was] watching.” Is that the reason the whole world wasn’t watching the 1,000 mostly black people who attended Troy Davis’ funeral that Saturday?
- We also want to hear from those of you who want to examine Occupy’s branding. Aside from the problematic nature of the word “occupy” itself, we’re worried that calling this the “99%” whitewashes reality. As shown by the many blog links we’ve already posted, few people of color feel this is a “democratic” and/or “horizontal” process. Why does Occupy choose to use so many words that obscure the way people of color have been marginalized at this encampment?
We seek writing in the form of short blogs, lists of demands, poems, journal entries, long-form essays (we have no word minimum, but ask that essays be no longer than 1,500 words before discussing this with us), as well as art work, recordings, photographs (we have a feeling a lot of you have taken photos that reflect some of the very misguided signs with racist slogans, white activists wearing “war paint,” endless streams of ridiculously offensive Guy Fawkes masks etc., and we really, really need them, so please send them over!). Please send all questions and entries to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we’ll get back to you as soon as we can!