The Evolution of Occupy Wall Street & Civil Rights

My brain is working overtime these days on weighty matters but that is surely a sign of the times. *nods to Prince fans* At times like these, it’s difficult to know where to begin because there is no beginning, it’s all interconnected. It would be accurate to say that the volume of this conversation had been grown steadily thanks to Occupy Wall Street (OWS).

Foremost, in my mind is the subject of civil rights and OWS. My followers know that I am an advocate of the Occupy Wall Street movement and may have noticed that I haven’t posted about them in some time. I’ve been weighing, there goes that word again, the issue of OWS, POC and their minimal involvement in the movement. Quite honestly, I’ve been angered by the firestorm of controversy that I’ve seen unfolding in mainstream and social media. It pissed me off because it seemed to be a no brainer.

Simplistically stated, the argument goes this way: OWS was initially conceived to fight against the tyranny of corporations, mass greed and economic injustice PERIOD.

It would be fair to say that there was a very slow initial response, if any, to the trickle, turned deluge, of voices that said their attempts were overly simplistic, exclusive, one sighted and reeking of white privilege. Needless to say, that erodes the very claim that the movement purports to represent the 99%.

There have been numerous responses to this claim:

  1. Talk of race/racism is divisive and seemingly unnecessary as this is a time for unification and solidarity.
  2. Issues of socio-economic justice that affect a specific segment of the population are not part of this movement. Seeming to imply that all is more important than some.
  3. I’ve even heard it opined that It’s too big a nut to crack.

Please note that I cull from a host of comments, Tweets, blogs and posts when citing these as the main responses. I could not possibly list them all but will give a small sample here.

For those who agree with the claims above, I will state unequivocally that you are wrong.

1. People are NEVER divorced from their experience

Asking me to look at life through the singular focus of your concerns immediately predicates a non-reciprocal relationship. There can be no consensus, or the much espoused solidarity in such a case.

Experience colors everything we do. It is unspoken baggage that informs your behavior, and effects your decisions. It is an integral who we are and no one, but no one, appreciates being told that their experience is negligible when attempting to address an issue, particularly one of this magnitude.

2. Race talk is divisive

Only in a racist society would one say that discussion of race is divisive. It is typically uncomfortable for Americans, considering our traumatic past and the current state of affairs, but it is an integral part of healing, empathy and progress.

Any friend whom I can not discuss issues of race with, as an African American, is NOT my friend. You dismiss a part of me that inform the very basis of who I am. It is more than necessary, it is germane to my input as a human being. That anyone would attempt to refute that is insulting and dehumanizing. This would explain why  folks have begun to distance themselves in the face of such close-mindedness, even though they wanted to support the movement. How counter-productive is it to alienate the very people whose support you need?

3. “We are all one race, the human race.”

That is certainly true. Genetically, it has been proven that humans are more alike, than dissimilar, and I will gladly say that I am first a human being. But, I am also an African American woman, a descendant of Cherokee Indians and African Slaves, and a New Yorker, just to name a few things. All central to my experience in the world.

People have attempted to use that statement in a pat way as if it erases all else we are and that is, quite frankly, bullshit. My experience is not the same as a Latina, an Asian, an Irish American, a Southerner etc.

4. An injustice for one IS an injustice for all

To profess that you are standing against injustice and tyranny caused by capitalism, and yet refuse to address the issues of those historically affected for generations by a system of disenfranchisement is more than unjust, it is morally reprehensible. The two issues cannot be separated because one is clearly the antecedent for the other. There is a causal relationship as one reinforces the other in order for capitalism to thrive.

The injustices in the US did not begin in 2008 and anyone who thinks so should pick up a history book. In any historical analysis of colonialism and the effects of capitalism, it is correct to say that the “dominant” group subjugates the oppressed for material gain, be it land, wealth, resources etc. racism is used as a means to an end at it’s very base.

So, perhaps it is understandable why so many people of color are/were deeply offended by any attitude which purports a concern for justice but dismisses our reality, our very history, as marginal. As well meaning as the messenger might be it is a clearly unjust stance. A stance that relies on the white privilege, ignorance of history, our struggles, convenience and a special sort of blindness.

Any struggle for socio-economic justice must address not just the current situation, but the sum of conditions that led to this historic moment in history for the 99%. If it does not, I can guarantee that we will go back to business as usual for the majority, and only a illusory victory for a few, and that is unacceptable. No one wants to risk imprisonment, police brutality, or a criminal record etc. for such a one-sided goal.

Yes, that mean significant changes must be worked for, the abolishment of the death penalty; tackling the giant of the prison industrial complex, constitutional amendments and the like.

It will not be easy but those who join in the struggle for liberty have never walked an easy path. They do what is hard and they do it because it is right. We should not be short sighted as what we do at this moment affects not only us but generations to come.

Wait for it…

I did and I am. I waited to see the movement evolve and listen, rather than just sought to be heard, and it seems to be coming, slowly but surely. For starters, there is the announcement that church leaders are joining the movement and the International Civil Rights Restart which I am very excited about. I don’t think it’s my imagination that a heightened sense of awareness and sensitivity has become prominent in our conversations as people have begun in greater numbers to speak out against social injustice everywhere. I can’t wait to see what’s to come…

7 thoughts on “The Evolution of Occupy Wall Street & Civil Rights”

  1. This might be rather long-winded, so please bear with me. My belief is that all racism and social stratification have historically been created by the ruling class to keep the masses bickering among themselves as opposed to turning on the only real minority, the elite. As long as the masses dislike each other, they blame each other for their struggles rather than turn their gaze to the oppressors. This applies to all forms of segregation.

    Please, don’t take that as dismissing your history or the legitimate anger of African-Americans. That’s not the point I’m trying to make. You and all the other minorities that have been disenfranchised have every right to be wary of “more of the same.”

    However, as long as we keep fragmenting ourselves into sub-groups and bickering over who’s to blame for what, we will never be able to marshal our collective energies against the corruption and greed that keeps the vast majority of us oppressed. Right now, we need to set aside the past (temporarily), unite as the majority in a democratic-republic, and reclaim our nation. Once this battle is won, we can then return to the process of healing, and perhaps by unifying, we can actually expedite that healing.

    On a side note, I disagree that we will never eradicate racism. I believe that as we continue to grow in consciousness as a species, we slowly inch forward towards a better understanding of our common humanity. You and I will not live to see racism end, but eventually, I believe it must end, or our species will go extinct.

    1. Hi D,

      Actually, I think that was marvelously on point and agree with most of your statements. I just don’t think it’s possible to temporarily put aside the issue. I confess that when it began, I advocated for the same amongst my friends, but we don’t live in a colorless society and based on the reactions I’m seeing the sub-group divisiveness is alive and well. In fact, I am disheartened because that very mentality seems to be stopping people from even attempting to work together although addressing the ills which plague even some of us would benefit all of us….Short sightedness and anger is a B.

      I hope that you are right about the eradication of racism but will admit that I find it hard to envision. Collective consciousness seems to be incredibly SLOW to change. The plant may mash us all before we get it together :).

  2. My, my. Where do I start here ’cause you’ve said a whole lot.

    Understand that I’m coming from a place of one who hasn’t kept an ongoing watch on OWS. I may not qualify to speak on this topic at all and perhaps I’ll wind up having more questions than adding valuable insight into this movement, which you are so passionate about.

    I have wondered how the concerns of African Americans have integrated into the movement. I also wondered how essential it was. Why is it so relative that it is a part of the movement and does will it ultimately become a divisive component that will then lead African Americans toward apathy? My generalized perspective leads me to think the basis for this movement comes down to jobs and resolving how corporations will adjust unfair business practices.

    Just how much will be accomplished when the list of demands broaden so much that the focus becomes vague? I’m not clear anymore, honestly and I think if there are a couple of areas to focus on, we aren’t sidetracked with race. Yes, we do need to continue those discussions. It’s relevant but how critical is the window dressing (skin color) when so many Americans are fighting for jobs? What makes race a factor? Will black folk, somehow, detract from the movement by playing the race card and ultimately end up with less than their white OWS counterparts? Are issues being brought up among whites that would lead black to be concerned? Is there a play on white privilege? Will race be the weight on the coat tail for blacks?

    I see this not much different from a presidential election. If we focus on the certain issues, the entire focus of the movement becomes lost entirely.

    1. Hey Totsy,

      I’ve been here, there and everywhere so I will apologize for the belated reply. To my way of thinking, corpocracy thrives off racism and so therein lies the link. People should not use it to be divisive but illuminating and address policies, at a minimum. However, the truth is that it is already serving as a division but such is the lot of Americans with our convoluted history. I plan to speak more to that in a future post.

      I don’t think because something is difficult it should not be attempted. If that was the case, OWS itself might not exist. I agree with your assessment that it’s akin to an election but the list of issues shouldn’t suffer from including some which specifically target minorities. Besides, the likelihood of them attaining ALL proposed issues is slim but some is better than none, yes?

      With regards to the list of demands, I don’t believe there is a finalized one yet which I don’t agree with. There are all sorts of issues with the movement itself and it’s leaderless hierarchy which make it difficult to manage, reach consensus and effect specific changes, in my opinion. I am hoping that the focus becomes more pointed in the long run. We shall see.

      It is difficult to see where all of this is headed as it’s like a Greek hydra, heads keep springing up. They have already changed the national conversation to the extent that we are discussing income inequality. It would be great if it can also target social ills which effect the most aggregiously effected of the 99%.

  3. Coco, the world needs more passionate people like you; determined to spread the word of all that you believe in and hold dear. In adding your voice, you have indeed joined the ranks of supporters and added to the collective voice. Good for you! 🙂

  4. Hey Sparks,

    “If we insist on being heard individually before each one of us is sure in our hearts that together we are one important unified force, we may all remain individually unheard and unaddressed.”

    Indeed and that is one of the most important points for the argument of unification and solidarity. A collective voice has greater power than those of the few.

    I don’t expect racism to be eradicated, like ever. I have given very serious thought to it and feel that people NEED to others. This, in some ways, transcends even the need for economic victory. History teaches us that humans have used all types of issues to divide themselves, religion is a perfect example. I think it is one of the baser sides of human nature.

    In other words, if we were all one color, the issue of race would be moot but I think we would find some other basis upon which to divide ourselves and declare on mode of behavior, thought or physical characteristics to be superior to another. Our individual and collective consciousness needs to mature significantly before that ever has a chance of happening. I accept that like I accept the capacity of man for acts of evil, and breathtaking acts of beauty and goodness.

  5. Thanks for getting this out there, Coco. I think we both agree that the more discussion, the better. I’m always interested in the subject of inclusion, and the difficulties surrounding these issues weigh heavily on my mind.

    Having had so many experiences where my own desire to be inclusive, as well as my good intentions, have been misconstrued, ignored or dismissed as silly (most painfully in my marriage to a man with an autism spectrum disorder — one of the few understandable impediments to an individual’s practice of acceptance and inclusion), I still have the feeling that wide theoretical acceptance of inclusion may actually need to come before racial/gender/experience specific solutions can be intelligently discussed, and eventually addressed.

    In a society where so many people are against others who look different or who think differently in a truly nonthreatening way, this fundamental disease of humankind (that has plagued us since we began) needs to be alleviated before we can all come together, communicate and hear each other. I think this is the main point those who clumsily advocate that we all walk under one colorblind banner are trying to make.

    We are only invisible now because it behooves the rich and powerful to keep humankind divided and therefore conquered — at least as far as our pocketbooks and power are concerned. If we insist on being heard individually before each one of us is sure in our hearts that together we are one important unified force, we may all remain individually unheard and unaddressed.

    I think it may be the subconscious, or even conscious, understanding of this point that makes many of the decent, caring people eventually drop out of these conversations altogether. It’s hard to remain conscious of this fundamental problem while so much pain continues around us like a storm. None of us humans seems to have known yet how to eradicate our prejudices on a global scale. That’s why these issues weigh so heavily on my mind.

    I’m sorry this is so long. I had to make myself stop. Thanks for making me take wide look again, even as I want to put my head back
    under the covers.

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