Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Solidarity, White (Male) Privilege and Occupation

I've been involved with Occupy Oakland over the last couple of months, primarily around discussions about decolonization and the term Occupy itself. There have been several teach-ins on Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, particularly the Ohlone, that have furthered this discussion. Simultaneously, there has also been a movement to change the name of Occupy Oakland to Decolonize/Liberate Oakland to recognize not only solidarity with the Ohlone, but the vast ways that people of color have been colonized historically and, perhaps more importantly, in the present. As news of an upcoming proposal to change the name has spread, there have been several oppositional blogposts, twitter posts, and other discussions that are virulently in favor of keeping the name "Occupy."

With all due respect to Indigenous Peoples, of course.

At least that's how many of the posts start out. "Decolonize the Americas, but Occupy Oakland," one post declares.  "Voting No to Decolonize Occupy" another states. After I posted on twitter the upcoming proposal date at the general assembly, I actually received a message that started out, "No offense, but..." Really? No offense? I don't think I've heard that expression since junior high. And, for the first time in a long time, I'm surprised.

By the phrase, not the sentiment.

A sentiment in defense of, to quote bell hooks, white male supremacist capitalist patriarchy.

See, here's the thing that I love about people of color and white women: we're hopeful every time a new protest or movement comes along that, like Occupy, speaks to us. We get involved. We organize. We take on leadership. We fight. We stick around, even when racism, sexism, and homophobia become explicit. In other words--when white male dominance is challenged and subsequently, (and staunchly) defended--we hang in there.

Because it always happens.

Whenever we organize with white men (or their comrades who protect white male dominance), there comes a time when they feel their status is threatened. And really, it can be from something as little as proposing a name change--mind you, this hasn't even went up before the GA yet and already there is a backlash, er, freedom of speech I mean. A name change that recognizes the experience of the majority of people living in Oakland.  A city whose unemployment rate is 17%, twice that of the national rate. And you know what that means? That means that the people that experience the rapid collapse of capitalism, which you so vehemently defend (I was also told that recognizing how Blacks, Indigenous People, and Asians have been colonized in this country was a distraction) are people of color. And we've been feeling the effects of this collapse for decades, not since September or whenever the decline began to impede on your ability to get a piece of the pie.

Personally, I support the name change (as other cities have changed the name to Unsettle and (Un)Occupy with little resistance) and I won't be deterred if the change is blocked, but I am and will continue to be swayed by the ongoing fight against white male patriarchal dominance masquerading as "community." No offense.

So, here's a tip: What you need to do now is listen, not interrupt. Cause what you're doing is interrupting. Listen to the majority of people who live in this city. Listen to people whose land we occupy. People of color make up the majority of Oakland, physically and metaphorically, the very fabric, and our voice in this movement needs to be recognized. Not in a "caucus," or a "working group," as some have graciously offered and declared support for. But, as the majority of the city that you are representing. The majority of the 99% in this city. We are as much a part of this movement, involved fully or not. And, as some of you have stated, you need to reach us. And, reaching us does not mean being defensive, posting numerous blogs and posts about your movement to block the passage of a name change, and trotting out your friends of color to tell us what "occupy" means.

You need to find another path to build and maintain this movement.

In solidarity.

33 comments:

Liz said...

I am fine with a name change and amplifying that. Decolonize or Liberate both sound good.

I think I will start at least double tagging any "#occupy" posts with #liberate and see how that goes.

The instant backlash against the name change without even listening to discussion, just unwillingness to listen or change, are some major bullshit...

Summerspeaker said...

Unfortunately, the name change to (un)Occupy here in Albuquerque has meet with more than a little resistance. I wish y'all in Oakland the best in confronting colonialism directly and refusing to fall into tired old patterns of white supremacy. This struggle will continue for some time, but it's worth the sweat and tears.

Lorenzo Herrera y Lozano said...

Right on. Thank you for writing this. I spent 8 years working in the LGBT world and, lord, such rhetoric was among the only constants.

By the way, are you on twitter? I couldn't find it on your page.

I'm under @herreraylozano

Anonymous said...

Aw, I was loving the continuity with Occupy Alcatraz and the AIM!

Anonymous said...

I agree that the Burque name change has been painful. There are now two groups with different GAs. Since Oakland is respected so much because of the closing of the ports this name change would open up a lot for the rest of us.

Albuquerque changed the name early on but it was far from smooth. And it will not deter the anti-colonialists! Just wait until those resisting dealing with colonialism get into dealing with whether or not they are capitalists!

queerblackfeminist said...

@summerspeaker and Anonymous #2, thanks for your words. I figured as soon as I typed it that "little resistance" might be a stretch. I know it took a lot of work to pass that. Will let you know how it turns out here. In solidarity.

Anonymous said...

Yeap. From 'Burque and was in many of the GA's where the "Occupy, name change" discussions took place. It was not neat and cut in any form. Lot of people on both sides were offended and hurt. A lot of people quit. It was not as simple as white people for, and people of color against either. There were white men, women and people of color (including natives) on both sides of the discussion.

I can say this with confidence, because I wasn't busy arguing. I was busy listening.

Maria said...

I have read your blog before when you wrote about using "occupy" and I found my heart strengthened up by your words. So now reading about the name changing is again an emotional pull. Here in Albuquerque there has been a lot of strife and struggle even though the original meetings where the name was consensed on were very beautiful examples of how we can listen to one another and allow ourselves to grow in our understanding. But since then the level of discord among a very few, mostly white folks has played out as a split in our GA and an inability to work together as (un)Occupy Albuquerque, our dream of shared power with folks of color and our white allies working together. The consequent colonizing behaviors,the re-writing of our history of actions and efforts as (un)Occupy Albuquerque, is sad and old and tiring. We have had to continue to affirm who we are, what we stand for, and why we stand together. That has kept those of us who have stayed, both POC and White folks, those of us who have honored our consensus process and who have understood our collective power to continue to work hard and not let other folks define for us who we are. The same strengths that we have always used to keep us going in these many movements and struggles. Good luck with this momentous name change. Don't be afraid to change the name...everyone will know you by your actions.

mojo_iv said...

You're not wrong in the slightest -- I would, however, argue that since the public already knows the name "Occupy Movement", changing it now might confuse the public and end up blunting the movement's impact. Not everyone is involved with the movement, and I've always felt that the best thing the movement could do is shift the national discourse towards more directly dealing with the issues we're up in arms about.

That, however, is clearly not what your post is about. You haven't even brought this up at the GA and you've already got people trying to hand-wave you away, and that's antithetical to the ideas this action is supposed to be based on. Don't let them dismiss you -- bring the idea to the GA and let everyone vote on it.

Lisa Carver said...

Thank you for this.

scholem_redux said...

i agree with mojo, is that there is a power in branding, much like magic words. the term "occupy" has taken off, and it has momentum. to get caught up in a (legitimate) debate re: the power of said language is to lose said momentum and attention of the public eye. we live in a world where our moral choices seldom leave us the privilege of perfection, and the notion of a "greater good" is sadly the most relevant one in terms of mass action.

in addition, in terms of a philosophy of language, not every use of a word has to mean the same thing. some words are equivocal. jewish medieval philosopher maimonides stressed the centrality of equivocal language in speaking about G?d (following much muslim philosophy), that words describing G?d have a radically different meaning than in contexts when used as descriptors of humans.
similarly, in this case, we can repurpose the term "occupy" towards a more righteous end, by being conscious of its problematic history and redirecting it to try to achieve as much justice as we can in this world (which sadly seems to always involve aspects of injustice as well).

mojo_iv said...

I honestly hadn't considered the word "Occupy" in terms of historical colonialism -- to me it was that the folks in power had illegally occupied Iraq and Afghanistan, lining their own pockets in the process while bankrupting us, and we, in turn, occupy the banks in protest. I hate to admit it but while I was protesting modern imperial ambition I seem to have somehow forgotten that its nothing new.

(sorry, I had to go back and fix my typos)

queerblackfeminist said...

@Maria, thanks so much for words and experience. I love being a part of this discussion/movement. And, @mojo_iv and @scholem_redux, I totally get the argument about keeping Occupy to align with OWS and the public's short term memory/need for consistency. I'm more invested in pointing out dissonance between the movement's inclusion of all 99%ers and the backlash when some of us offer a view that doesn't support the dominant group. peace and solidarity.

Anonymous said...

My one contention - Branding. That's what the name change comes down to. The Occupy movement started as a call to action. "Occupy" as a word has a strong connotation for this call to action. I don't mean that a re-branding (or naming) doesn't deserve discussion, but only that I feel that the strength of the current brand holds a distinctive weight. A question I would like to impose is; As a movement that has been perceived already as muddled in its message, Is there value in changing it's brand, and will a change further the perceived confusion already going on?

lex said...

Word and well said! This is something I wrote (invoking our black feminist poet elders and ancestors) about the way this has been going down in North Carolina...

http://thatlittleblackbook.blogspot.com/2011/11/making-majority-majority-consciouness.html

Rochelle said...

right on for this andreana!i feel where you're coming from and have also entertained the thought of constructing something around race, gender, and class inside (and outside) this movement. i have also been troubled by the ways in which folks of color have been dismissed, and have been told that our experiences are distractions. bullshit! i say keep up the fight because it is far from over. let me know how i can be of help and join you in this struggle. rochelle

miguel said...

I think it's a useless divisive argument to be provoking now when Occupy Oakland is in a bit of a crisis. Everybody I talk to that has been involved in OO is pointing fingers and making accusations and the whole movement is splintering in different directions and it feels like such a waste. I remember reading all the stories about the useless infighting that happened in the 1960s movements and thinking that it just didn't make sense, why would they get distracted from the obvious enemies gathering around them? But here we are having the same dumb internal arguments all over again.

queerblackfeminist said...

Thanks @lex! I love your piece and love being in conversation, always. @Rochelle, you are already "helping" in this struggle, your words, your work, always. peace.

queerblackfeminist said...

@Miguel, I'm not really interested in whether you think this critique is "useless." I am interested in you and your comrades use of "divisive." Is that supposed to be some kind of deterrent? People get upset, or like many of you, hostile and that's a problem? Maybe you should "study" those movements a little closer and the role of white male patriarchal hegemony, whether white men were the upholders or not.

miguel said...

Some people will feel strongly for the proposal others will be strongly against, feelings will be hurt, people will threaten to quit the movement, it will clearly be divisive. It's happened several times before. The consensus process is supposed to avoid the divisiveness by helping the entire group to work out a solution that everybody can live with, but in practice it hasn't worked that way for any of the previous issues that have had even a little bit of controversy.

miguel said...

The word useless was too dismissive on my part, I apologize.

bint alshamsa said...

Let's face it. Most of the people who are concern trolling about how we should leave the name alone because of branding are only looking for excuses to ignore what needs to be done in order for this to be a movement that truly represents the 99%. "(Un)Occupy Oakland" would make it clear that the group should be seen as an extension of the movement taking place across America AND it would show that this is a movement that we can feel represents us as people of color.

All of this stuff about branding really makes me roll my eyes. I mean, really? Have this turned into the Coca-Cola company or something? When you're thinking about branding as more important than what marginalized people are telling you, then congratulations! You have now identified yourself as part of the oppressive system that we want nothing to do with.

queerblackfeminist said...

@Miguel, thanks for your apology. My last comment on this is that the act of bringing a proposal for a name change or putting attention on white male privilege is not divisive. Those acts in and of themselves. People's reaction/response/inability to listen may in fact be divisive. peace.

queerblackfeminist said...

@bint alshamsa, WORD. love your thoughts on branding vs. marginalized voices. peace.

Anonymous said...

Yes, by all means let's focus on trivial things like the specific name of the movement and not its overarching goals like...you know...equality. That will do wonders for progress. Come on.

Anonymous said...

Also, the basis of naming the movement "Occupy" is actually parallel to your views because it is satirical. It started because protesters aimed to "occupy" the institutions that have been occupying the nation. Again, come on.

Taylor said...

This is the sort of "with us or against us" talk I hoped wouldn't crop up in this movement. You claim that the only reason why someone would disagree with a name change is because they are supporting white male capitalist supremacy.

This movement IS the Occupy Movement. The name is tongue-in-cheek, and everyone gets it. I think it even helps people think about other occupations by opening a dialogue about the meaning of the word.

Branding is real. It has consequences. It means something to most of the 99%. I believe there is something to lose in a name change.

And just in case I wasn't clear, I disagree with what you've written based on what you've written, not because we're differently priviledged.

queerblackfeminist said...

Interesting comment, @Taylor, especially your "clarification" at the end. You may want to re-read, as the point of the post is a critique of white male supremacist capitalist patriarchy, based on the response to the proposal to change the name, not whether or not someone disagrees with it. I'm not invested in a name change or the name itself, but rather the privileges that many of us hoped wouldn't come up in this movement, this one that is supposed represent all. Also, who cares whether the name is tongue in cheek or "satirical," the point is the response/critique that marginalized voices, you know those 99% you claim to represent and many of whom voted in favor of a name change last night in Oakland, launch, whether it's "serious" or not.

Taylor said...

You're still claiming that the root cause of an objection to a name change is white male supremacist capitalist patriarchy. There are real reasons why many people (people of color included) didn't want to change the name.
A vote against the name change is not a vote against decolonizing Oakland. I want this movement to help decolonize Oakland, and it can only do that if it is strong. I think changing the name would weaken the movement. So, because I want to decolonize oakland, I'm against changing the name to decolonize Oakland.
My point is, these arguments are valid and understandable in and of themselves. You don't need to pull in white male supremacist capitalist patriarchy to explain opposition to a name change.

queerblackfeminist said...

I appreciate your thinking on decolonization, decolonizing Oakland and the various reasons for keeping the name Occupy, Taylor. We'll have to disagree on the other points, as I still think white male supremacist capitalist patriarchy still plays a role. peace.

Seth said...

I haven't given this too much thought, but perhaps it would be best to consider Occupiers as queering the term occupy. By occupying and physically putting their bodies on the line, they are reclaiming the word, its harmful colonial history, and the public space (though I realize land ownership and public space usage is a sticky subject). Certainly occupying is an activity open to all people (though some may have the privilege to occupy easier in that they can go home if they want, or aren't afraid of being arrested, etc). What I've noticed from organizing is that it's really hard to be fully inclusive and purely and completely just according to the theory 100% of the time. There aren't any perfect solutions and I hate that. But I think it's a win that we try. This is not to excuse/apologize for privilege or inconsiderate behavior. What I'm saying is that we just have to pick our battles. From a practical standpoint it would be bad for the local movement to lose its link to the larger OWS/Occupy movement for the access to the media narrative/frame. The media had a hard enough time trying to figure out what Occupiers were doing the first time, and a new name would probably confuse them, so a radically new name would lose valuable PR (to the extent you get good media coverage, but that's another convo). I think the suggestions of (un)Occupy or Occupy to Liberate or something with Occupy in the name but challenges colonialism would be a good compromise. OTL has a familiar ring to it. Again I hate that there isn't a pure (black or white, may be the wrong phrase here...) answer, but I think these kinds of things are difficult and we can't get all caught up with being in line with the theory 100%. I think it's a win for simply having this conversation and raising awareness of privilege among ourselves. Let's be glad the Occupy movement was inclusive enough to even attract the right kinds of people to offer this critique. I mean, you could argue that the 99% rhetoric is explicitly exclusive of the 1% and creates an unnecessary and potentially harmful Us/Them dichotomy... So my #gayboisolution is to recognize the history of oppression, and offer to change the name to something related. I would expect that someone will block a name change for reasons good or bad, but try to move on to the larger issues at hand. I also realize that if I were indigenous or a POC, I might feel more strongly about such a compromise, or lack thereof, so I think you just have to ask yourself if the old name and struggle to change it something you can live with and continue to function in the group. If it's too much headache/heartache, get out of there. There's no need to beat yourself up over volunteer work. But I suspect you're a fighter. And you've inspired me to modify this into a blog post, but I'd love to hear your response first. Twt me @SethEKaye.

Timothy said...

I can't support this movement with all its sexism, racism, and homophobia. Unless it makes a real effort to deal with these problems, I will be opposed to it. The economic problems have been faced by minorities and women for decades without acknowledgement from white males. They need to start dealing with these issues before I can call myself an ally in their fight. Black slaves fought with white indentured servants for freedom and when the white servants were given land, they went on oppressing the black slaves. Let's fight to make sure that doesn't happen again.

Felicia Pitre said...

"And we've been feeling the effects of this collapse for decades, not since September or whenever the decline began to impede on your ability to get a piece of the pie."

Exactly!