I will admit to feeling somewhat ambivalent about the #OccupyWallStreet actions. Not because I don’t believe that Wall Street is fucked up – I temped at a big investment bank for a number of years and witnessed first hand the manipulation of other people’s money and other people’s governments. My lack of full support is not because I don’t think the economy is jacked up – no one needs to tell me how hard it is for people to pay bills, keep roofs over their heads and feed themselves. These are issues I struggle with daily – as do most of my neighbors. My guarded enthusiasm comes from a concern with the messaging – which is critical in any action that claims to be resisting existing power structures. So I went to witness and to feel the messaging, not just by reading words on signs but by seeing who are the participants and who are they representing.
When I arrived in downtown Manhattan on Saturday afternoon, the marchers were already being trapped and arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge (for record, I believe they were trapped – I have seen it happen by NYPD before). The area in front of the stock exchange was a maze of metal barricades with tourists snapping pictures of the stone faced cops, and were there a lot of cops. They surrounded Zuccotti Park (a space owned by a Canadian Company by the way and “occupied” with permission) and seemed ready at any point to enter the park.
Inside the plaza I searched for families and people of color, which were there but in small numbers. Some children ere painting signs. Others were blowing bubbles. There was the required drum circle, dancing, a library, and a food area where people could get meals.
What I didn’t see or hear was a self-challenge among the participants regarding the language they chose to use. “Occupation” does not sit well with me. As a woman whose country has been occupied by the United States for hundreds of years hearing white men hand out fliers, inviting people to “celebrate the occupation” made me cringe. In a conversation I has with a friend and her friend, I asked if they had heard any discussion of the language used in any of the general assemblies or anywhere really. It was clear that to some (many?) there is no sense of why using the language of occupation is a problem, how it could alienate the very people who are most impacted by the corporate/government policies.
“I saw a sign that said “occupy Wall Street not Palestine,” I was told, as if that was enough. It didn’t feel that way.
I also saw a lot of signs based in the idea of privilege and the bullshit notion of who deserves what. Young people held signs lamenting not being able to pay their student loans and how having gone to college didn’t bring the jobs and success they expected. I thought about the high Latino high school drop out rates and my own lack of a college degree. Were we included in this dialogue/narrative or even within this “movement” were there some who weren’t worth fighting for – some who don’t deserve the “American Dream” because of not following the prescribed order of things.
I didn’t see one sign about immigration. I didn’t see one sign about people of color and the prison pipeline. I didn’t see one sign in any other language except English.
I’m not saying they weren’t there – I’m saying I didn’t see them.
Yes, I was there for only a few hours out of the weeks of this sleep-in – but I saw nothing that spoke to my communities.
As I walked towards Brooklyn Bridge, I will admit it was amazing to see the bridge shut down, police blocking the entrance.
Excuse me while I sound like an old lady for a moment, but I remember in the 1990′s when mostly young people of color shut down bridges and tunnels, some in the name of saving access to CUNY, some in the name against prisons and policing policies that were killing our brothers and sisters, and continue to do so.
I’m wondering where is that language? Where is the place for the struggle of decolonizing Puerto Rico or even the very land that the campers are “occupying”?
Do I think this is an important historical moment? Probably.
Do I feel like I am the 1 percent people are talking about – those without access to adequate food, housing, healthcare?
It’s hard for me to fight for “an America” that has made clear that it’s success is to come at my domination – my erasure.
I challenge those who are so strongly supporting this movement hold themselves accountable for the language and framework they put their struggle in. It can’t all be about fighting the powers that be without the acknowledgement of how we be those powers.