Among the 99%

by Guest Contributor Esther Choi, originally published at Squirrels for Justice

Occupy Wall Street

(Note: These are my undeveloped thoughts about Occupy Wall Street, which may be unfair to many people. I would love to have my views checked and challenged by anyone who might see things differently. Thanks.)

For the past few months, the vague idea of a revolution had been constantly on my mind, and though I didn’t know how exactly it would be carried out or what specific changes it could achieve, it seemed like the only way out of the ridiculous state of our country. So it should have seemed like a serendipitous turn of events event for Occupy Wall Street, the vague idea of a revolution incarnate, to pop up in New York and very rapidly gain widespread support. Yet for some reason, I felt very hesitant to sign onto the movement in any way. I would never want to discourage or discount the efforts of people who recognize the need for change in our country and actually take a stand for it. But try as I might, I couldn’t seem to connect to the whole thing. It wasn’t a matter of being jaded or cynical – my ideals easily and constantly compel me into action, but nothing about Occupy Wall Street seemed to compel me. In fact, what I was seeing and hearing about it made me feel even more disempowered. I didn’t know how to explain it exactly, but thought it might have something to do with:

    · the fact that it was popularized by admittedly privileged organizations and individuals
    · the empty and misleading symbolism of “Wall Street”
    · the demographics drawn to it and the exclusive methods of communication used to reach out to them
    · and the disconnect I observed between this movement and the historic work of marginalized communities throughout the country, especially in this city, which continues to be carried out day by day with very little attention.

Struggling with these feelings and recognizing my own biases, I approached the protest as open-mindedly as possible. I showed up at Liberty Plaza last Friday night, with some people from my program, and we made our way through the almost theatrical encampment at Liberty Plaza and sat in for the occupation’s general assembly. Once there, however, I realized that the representation was even more limited than I had expected. The crowd was overwhelmingly and undeniably white and, from the looks of it, “hip” in a way that privilege enables people to be. All the moderators were young, educated white people, as were all those who seemed to be playing a more direct role in the assembly.

As one who has been subjected to spaces dominated by white privilege all my life, I felt a guttural negative reaction to the scene, and could not help but feel oppressed by it, despite my hope and desire to feel solidarity with the people there. I can’t fully explain or justify my feelings, and I know a lot of it is a matter of my own biases, which have developed through a long process of struggling against white dominance and power in my own country, city, school, etc. and having to overcome feelings of Otherness in all spaces. I don’t want to take away from the presence of people of color at the protest, who I am sure have been actively involved and dedicated to the process. In my personal experience of the protest, however, Occupy Wall Street was just another place in the world where I felt marginal and tokenized, where the terms of the game were once again being dictated to me by the white majority.

I recognize that these feelings are personal and in need of more critical exploration, and I’m sure many people of color would disagree with me completely. Aside from these feelings, my hesitance toward Occupy Wall Street has to do with my own vision of an American revolution. I believe that a true revolution cannot be carried out by those who are comfortable enough with the power structures that exist. It cannot have been initiated by a privileged organization of educated people who are shielded from the worst aspects of our unjust society, who have plenty of options in life and to whom the fact of oppression is not much more than an intellectual entity. A true revolution must be carefully and gradually mobilized by those who have been most oppressed and marginalized by the current state of our government and economy, whose continued existence in this world really depends on a radical change. Otherwise, we are replicating the structures of power that continue to oppress us.

It was shocking to me to see how poorly immigrant communities and communities of color had been included in Occupy Wall Street. I guess the reasoning or justification is that, since all the dispossessed masses and people of color are covered by the “99%”, this protest is all-inclusive. But the fact is that amongst that 99% exist great inequalities of their own and extreme gradations of wealth and privilege, which are inextricably tied to race, despite the general assembly’s blatant attempt to suggest we live in a country “formerly divided by race” (Read this: http://henaashraf.com/2011/09/30/brown-power-at-occupy-wall-street/). To act as if we share one experience and one problem and therefore seek the same solution would be a terrible lie and an extremely weak and superficial grounds for collective action, especially if the voices that have begun to dominate the movement have the least to lose if the movement were to fail. It’s great to feel solidarity with one another against the people who rule over the 99%, but within the 99% are plenty of people who rule over the rest in their own way, and this makeshift solidarity can only go so far.

The fact that there is no clear demand reveals the lack of urgency on the part of those who are shaping it. It’s a movement fueled by ambiguity and theater, and it’s hard to say that this movement could survive the process of forming real demands that can significantly improve the lives of the 99%. The reality is that there are a lot of VERY urgent demands out there, which have been very carefully researched and formulated by marginalized communities, but this movement seems to have all the time in the world when it comes to deciding on what it really wants to take action for. I saw signs about college graduates not having jobs and signs protesting the lack of funding for art students, and it is great that these people are taking a stand to change a world that does not allow them to achieve their dreams even though they did everything in their power to make it happen. But while those people might be unemployed or underemployed because they can’t find a decent job in the field of their choice, on the other hand there are people cleaning toilets and being subject to all sorts of abuse, who have never had the option to pursue their dreams, and as evidenced by the turnout, don’t have the time to come perform their feelings about the injustices they live.

After the general assembly, we stopped by a dinky little sushi restaurant nearby, where an Asian immigrant woman was working frantically into the late hours of the night to prepare noodles and make the last of her day’s earnings. It struck me that this woman, working around the clock and living a life in the United States that could not have been the life she had imagined for herself, could not participate in, much less lead or help determine, the movement being carried out a block away in her name – a movement which would more readily include her as a nameless point in their argument than a voice in its future.

(Image Credit: Occupy Wall Street)

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  • http://www.examiner.com/family-in-new-york/rahela-choudhury RCHOUDH

    Wonderful article Esther and I agree with all your points. I believe that to be really successful OWS must reach out to marginalized communities and have their voices and points be heard. And based on all that construct a set of concrete steps towards rectifying the current situation we’re in (we can start by targeting the economic issues that gave rise to OWS but not stop there we should later address the social, political, legal issues as well).
    And yes if OWS fails to bring POC’s on board then it’ll be dismissed by those in power as just a movement full of young disgruntled white kids with time on their hands to have these sit-ins and demonstrations. People in power won’t really take notice until they see a much broader coalition of people calling for change from all walks of life. And one more thing we should try hard not to let politicians currently in power hijack the revolution and just pay lip service to our demands (eg. Democrats).

  • Bookwriterjess

    I guess what I am confused about here is why this movement “needs to be” anything specific to anyone.  When you say

    “The reality is that there are a lot of VERY urgent demands out there,
    which have been very carefully researched and formulated by marginalized
    communities, but this movement seems to have all the time in the world
    when it comes to deciding on what it really wants to take action for.”

    Sure, I agree with you.  I work in a small non-profit that advocates for immigrants and refugees.  I have stacks of research, lists of concerned individuals, boatloads of talking points, an armful of funding proposals at the ready for when someone is ready to fund immigration reform.  I know there are countless others like me with the same or different urgent issues all over the country.  However, none of our well researched movements are very well funded.  I am sick of pandering to the government, corporations, and private foundations for the meager scraps they give us to do this work that will take lifetimes of energy and buckets of cash.

    So maybe the well dressed kids sleeping in designer sleeping bags and tempurpedic pillows out on Wall Street aren’t thinking of me and my people specifically while they’re parading around and getting themselves kicked in the head.  but honestly, I don’t have time to join them, and I am glad they’re doing it.  Someone needs to stand up for the rest of us who are getting figuratively kicked in the head all day, every day.  There are so many of us, if we all had our own OWS parties going on at the same time, the din would be deafening, and just as meaningless.  We’re dying out here. 

    Maybe this is just a first step, and it’s vague and showy, and for some of us who live in the details of the margins, it isn’t exactly about our lives.  BUT, if the system can change to benefit my cause, I can be happy that this little hipster party got the ball rolling.   I’m going to defer my criticism until I figure out how I can use it to make a difference for those struggling in my corner of the world.  I think that’s the best way we can take this vague start and translate it into specific success for those in the margins. 

    Simply writing it off is not going to further any of our agendas.

  • Bookwriterjess

    I guess what I am confused about here is why this movement “needs to be” anything specific to anyone.  When you say

    “The reality is that there are a lot of VERY urgent demands out there,
    which have been very carefully researched and formulated by marginalized
    communities, but this movement seems to have all the time in the world
    when it comes to deciding on what it really wants to take action for.”

    Sure, I agree with you.  I work in a small non-profit that advocates for immigrants and refugees.  I have stacks of research, lists of concerned individuals, boatloads of talking points, an armful of funding proposals at the ready for when someone is ready to fund immigration reform.  I know there are countless others like me with the same or different urgent issues all over the country.  However, none of our well researched movements are very well funded.  I am sick of pandering to the government, corporations, and private foundations for the meager scraps they give us to do this work that will take lifetimes of energy and buckets of cash.

    So maybe the well dressed kids sleeping in designer sleeping bags and tempurpedic pillows out on Wall Street aren’t thinking of me and my people specifically while they’re parading around and getting themselves kicked in the head.  but honestly, I don’t have time to join them, and I am glad they’re doing it.  Someone needs to stand up for the rest of us who are getting figuratively kicked in the head all day, every day.  There are so many of us, if we all had our own OWS parties going on at the same time, the din would be deafening, and just as meaningless.  We’re dying out here. 

    Maybe this is just a first step, and it’s vague and showy, and for some of us who live in the details of the margins, it isn’t exactly about our lives.  BUT, if the system can change to benefit my cause, I can be happy that this little hipster party got the ball rolling.   I’m going to defer my criticism until I figure out how I can use it to make a difference for those struggling in my corner of the world.  I think that’s the best way we can take this vague start and translate it into specific success for those in the margins. 

    Simply writing it off is not going to further any of our agendas.

  • Scallion

    Why did the author spend so much time apologizing for feeling uncomfortable about the unequal representation at OWS?

  • dalilou

    I like this article but I feel as though many movements around the world, for good and bad, have ignited with students and young people who are relatively privileged with lots of time on their hands. I am more interested in solutions than labeling people as “hipsters” and “yippies” (after all, I don’t really know them or their stories anyway). How can we make room for more voices a the table- particularly for those who don’t have computer access, lack of adequate or any housing, victims of discrimination, etc, you name it (and I speak as a black woman who has layers of privilege in my own background). One big problem I see is the sole reliance on the computer by many to transmit information and organize. It feels safe, easy, and instant and while it has it’s good points it is very limited in its capacity to represent the “99%.” But from what friends have told me, it is moving beyond some of the vagueness as more unions and community organizations filter in, so we’ll see…

  • Kaydee-P

    Yes. Admitting that one comes from a place of privilege is a big step. There are definitely young white people drowning in student debt- but for every one I’d bet there are several young people of color who never even reached the opportunity to go to college. Knowing that you have inherently had an advantage in much of your life, you begin to see why it’s important to let people who haven’t take the floor, and set the standards, and stand at the podium. If every white person down at OWS realized that they are sleeping in Zucotti Park from a place of privilege…this would be much different – and in my opinion- stronger movement.

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  • Yuki

    I agree with the sentiment at a personal level, but I’m feeling we’re at a moment that seems essential to stand under a big messy tent to challenge the unbridled concentration of power and money among the 1%. Under that tent, we’ll have to struggle for sure, but I think we don’t have the luxury not to need each other to shift the power.

  • Yuki

    I agree with the sentiment at a personal level, but I’m feeling we’re at a moment that seems essential to stand under a big messy tent to challenge the unbridled concentration of power and money among the 1%. Under that tent, we’ll have to struggle for sure, but I think we don’t have the luxury not to need each other to shift the power.

  • Yuki

    I agree with the sentiment at a personal level, but I’m feeling we’re at a moment that seems essential to stand under a big messy tent to challenge the unbridled concentration of power and money among the 1%. Under that tent, we’ll have to struggle for sure, but I think we don’t have the luxury not to need each other to shift the power.

    • Kaydee-P

      That’s the thing. My white friend can walk into the OWS General Assembly and for the most part, be heard. Why should I have to struggle to get under the tent? Then struggle within it? Why is it once again my job to bear the burden of the movement without having an instant voice within it? I’ve waited all my life to speak on the economic disparities that have affected me and my community based on our constructed race, and I’m not about to wait for some privileged college kid with no concrete goals in mind to eventually pass me the mic.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Larson/568016896 Jeff Larson

    Complete agreement here.  I’ve also been shocked by the lack of diversity and my reaction to some of the signs (“If that were a big problem, that would be great compared to where some of us are at now.”)  Yet I’m basically OK with what they’re doing by targeting Wall Street.  I think the 99% message is potentially the one unifying “battle cry” that works best even though the lives of the real 99% for now seem poorly represented among the protestors.

    I keep thinking over and over again how many excellent African American organizers are around who know the history of the 99%, know how to organize and continue to organize in whatever social context they find themselves.  It pains me when I observe OWS and it seems (can’t say for certain) that either OWS did not reach out as they should have or there is a tragic ignorance of the American history of social change.  I absolutely hope I’m wrong about that. 

    But I think about the successes of the civil rights movement when I read this:

    “A true revolution must be carefully and gradually mobilized by those who
    have been most oppressed and marginalized by the current state of our
    government and economy, whose continued existence in this world really
    depends on a radical change. Otherwise, we are replicating the
    structures of power that continue to oppress us.”

  • Dlccanton

    “Those with power want peace and those without power want justice”-anonymous

  • missprocotor

    I think the only downfall to this article is that you charging your own “biases” as a potential nuisance to the article. lol But, your dead on. Folk of color are largely being marginalized from this space and much of the organizing that’s occurring at #OccupyWallStreet is only working to serve the interest of those that are already privileged, but are having a piece of their pie taken away. What about the folk that can’t even sit at the countertop? Where’s their pie? They have to eat too… The revolution will not be televised and this pseudo, hipster centered, “revolution,” is anything but revolutionary.

    • Lxy

      “Folk of color are largely being marginalized from this space and much of the organizing that’s occurring at #OccupyWallStreet is only working to serve the interest of those that are already privileged, but are having a piece of their pie taken away. What about the folk that can’t even sit at the countertop? Where’s their pie? They have to eat too… The revolution will not be televised and this pseudo, hipster centered, “revolution,” is anything but revolutionary.”
       
      That’s a great point. 

  • Guest

    I get what you’re saying about privilege, and I agree with you about marginalization because otherwise, the message is that people of color and the very poor are the part of “the 99%” that don’t matter.  Still, the need for protest against the business interests that have replaced democracy in our government remains.  If that protest comes from educated children of privilege, that’s fine.  If that protest comes from those hit the hardest, that’s fine too.   Are they supposed to wait until they have even less power before engaging in revolution?

    As for “replicating the structures of power . . .”  again, you have a very valid point (Say if “Wall Street”/”The Man”/”The Machine, etc. gives college students jobs, then those who are the most adversely affected by the pro-business government policies are still left out in the cold) , but I feel as if there is no way to avoid this.  As far as I know, no revolution in history ever resulted in true equality, and I feel as if this is not a reason to support change, no matter where the demands for it originate.

    • Desirae

      That sounds a bit like the ”take a back seat, this is more important” responses I’ve heard from other obstensibly progresssive movements. I’ve seen this movie before and I don’t like the ending. There are movements that seek to just rearrange the existing hierarchy (so the folks in the movement can get closer to the top of the pyramid) and then there are movements that seek an end to the hierarchy itself. Which one will the participants of OWS, who claim to represent the 99%, choose? I’m interested in equality, not another pyramid scheme.

      • Guest

        I didn’t mean to come off as supporting marginalization, but reading through my original post, I can understand how that message came through.  I got a little blather-y and unclear.  I do that sometimes :-)  In a nutshell, these are the two points I meant to make:

        1)  All people should have the right to protest if they feel they are victims of injustice.  It seemed as if Esther Choi felt that because the Occupy Wall Street protestors weren’t the MOST oppressed, their revolution was less “true.”  I believe they have a valid point about the relationship between business and government, and although I certainly don’t fit into their representative demographic (nor do I support their lack of specific goals), I don’t think their point is less valid because most of the participants come from place of privilege.

        2)  Thousands of years of human history and progress have not brought about equality; this protest won’t, either.  Equality and respect are worth the struggle, but we have a LOT more work to do to bring it about.

        • Desirae

          I get your points; but I don’t think Esther was saying the revolution was less true – I think she was saying that the group supposedly representing the 99% doesn’t. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t speak up and protest their own oppressions. That doesn’t mean their grievances are less meaningful.  But I give major sideye to movements that claim to be about equality and justice for all and yet fall into the usual traps of mimicking certain kinds of oppression in the same system they seek to upset (and that oppression includes exclusion – whether it’s active or incidental). That’s when I grow skeptical of whether they really want to change the system or just better position themselves within it. 

          If they do just want a better position, well it is what it is; on some level I understand it. If they just want the floor to be a bit higher, I understand that too. If they want to scrap the whole shebang and remake the world in some new way, I get that. This movement is still new, but at some point it’s going to have to be clear about what – really – it’s about. If it’s going to claim to be about representing the 99%, then it’s going to have to actually reflect the diverse experiences and realities and desires of that 99% and it simply cannot do that if the members of the movement are not themselves diverse.

      • dalilou

        I read the same post and didn’t come away with the “take a back seat” feeling at all, just that people shouldn’t wait until all is perfect to get out there and protest. But your point about rearranging the existing hierarchy vs. seeking an end to it is well taken. What kind of viable solutions do you envision for creating the equality that you envision vs. just mussing with the capitalist pyramid?

  • Natasha

    Thank you for this thoughtful article, I agree with many of your points. Though I am not a person of color,  I know that now at Wall Street, as in many activist movements through history, the scene and dialogue are dominated by those with racial and economic privilege, who give little thought to how their tactics might further marginalize those who are more genuinely oppressed. In other words, among radicals like myself, knowing we have race and class privilege does not translate into self-awareness of how we might be perpetuating what we claim to oppose. It is also true that that lack of concrete demands in this campaign, and a lack of  self-examination of tactics in others (such as in the opposition against the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan) does come from a lack of urgency- we ARE comfortable and surviving relatively well with how the system is (but not for long). We know we can afford to fail, go home, have a beer, and try again on the next cause-du-jour. The truly oppressed, fighting for issues of their own survival, cannot afford to be as leisurely as we are.  In a way we are tourists, engaging in activism as a social activity, not as a matter of life or death. BUT I feel that in the current stage of capitalism we are entering, this leisure will not last, things will get worse, for everyone, and soon.
     
    In the defense of the Wall Street Occupation, the amorphous nature of what is happening there is in itself an OPPORTUNITY to openly address the truth of these issues, our failed tactics. There are no concrete demands, because if there were by now, they would have already been dismissed at impossible to achieve in our political climate. They haven’t been able to come up with the “One Demand” because, as this article accurately states: “To act as if we share one experience and one problem and therefore seek
    the same solution would be a terrible lie and an extremely weak and
    superficial grounds for collective action.” As a laterally-organized entity, ANYONE can can come to Liberty Square and raise these issues, openly discuss how the Left and the activist scene has failed people of color and what to do next. And this MUST be done in order to ever have a movement, to achieve any REAL change. It’s true that we have failed in many ways to reach out to people of color, or to do so without condescension and arrogance, acting as if WE alone know what is good, and trying to impose our own beliefs.

    This article has a point that, as Audrey Lorde said “you cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools”, but I feel that many of us are still struggling with what tools we SHOULD use.  I hope this article and others like it begin to open an and honest dialogue about how we all can work more genuinely and effectively toward racial, social and economic justice. Perhaps it will begin in more urgency after Wednesday’s Organized Labor march in solidarity with the Wall Street Occupation, where many People of Color who are Union members will join the more privileged in the streets to march for true reform and our right to have a future. Please join us.

  • Natasha

    Thank you for this thoughtful article, I agree with many of your points. Though I am not a person of color,  I know that now at Wall Street, as in many activist movements through history, the scene and dialogue are dominated by those with racial and economic privilege, who give little thought to how their tactics might further marginalize those who are more genuinely oppressed. In other words, among radicals like myself, knowing we have race and class privilege does not translate into self-awareness of how we might be perpetuating what we claim to oppose. It is also true that that lack of concrete demands in this campaign, and a lack of  self-examination of tactics in others (such as in the opposition against the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan) does come from a lack of urgency- we ARE comfortable and surviving relatively well with how the system is (but not for long). We know we can afford to fail, go home, have a beer, and try again on the next cause-du-jour. The truly oppressed, fighting for issues of their own survival, cannot afford to be as leisurely as we are.  In a way we are tourists, engaging in activism as a social activity, not as a matter of life or death. BUT I feel that in the current stage of capitalism we are entering, this leisure will not last, things will get worse, for everyone, and soon.
     
    In the defense of the Wall Street Occupation, the amorphous nature of what is happening there is in itself an OPPORTUNITY to openly address the truth of these issues, our failed tactics. There are no concrete demands, because if there were by now, they would have already been dismissed at impossible to achieve in our political climate. They haven’t been able to come up with the “One Demand” because, as this article accurately states: “To act as if we share one experience and one problem and therefore seek
    the same solution would be a terrible lie and an extremely weak and
    superficial grounds for collective action.” As a laterally-organized entity, ANYONE can can come to Liberty Square and raise these issues, openly discuss how the Left and the activist scene has failed people of color and what to do next. And this MUST be done in order to ever have a movement, to achieve any REAL change. It’s true that we have failed in many ways to reach out to people of color, or to do so without condescension and arrogance, acting as if WE alone know what is good, and trying to impose our own beliefs.

    This article has a point that, as Audrey Lorde said “you cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools”, but I feel that many of us are still struggling with what tools we SHOULD use.  I hope this article and others like it begin to open an and honest dialogue about how we all can work more genuinely and effectively toward racial, social and economic justice. Perhaps it will begin in more urgency after Wednesday’s Organized Labor march in solidarity with the Wall Street Occupation, where many People of Color who are Union members will join the more privileged in the streets to march for true reform and our right to have a future. Please join us.

  • Natasha

    Thank you for this thoughtful article, I agree with many of your points. Though I am not a person of color,  I know that now at Wall Street, as in many activist movements through history, the scene and dialogue are dominated by those with racial and economic privilege, who give little thought to how their tactics might further marginalize those who are more genuinely oppressed. In other words, among radicals like myself, knowing we have race and class privilege does not translate into self-awareness of how we might be perpetuating what we claim to oppose. It is also true that that lack of concrete demands in this campaign, and a lack of  self-examination of tactics in others (such as in the opposition against the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan) does come from a lack of urgency- we ARE comfortable and surviving relatively well with how the system is (but not for long). We know we can afford to fail, go home, have a beer, and try again on the next cause-du-jour. The truly oppressed, fighting for issues of their own survival, cannot afford to be as leisurely as we are.  In a way we are tourists, engaging in activism as a social activity, not as a matter of life or death. BUT I feel that in the current stage of capitalism we are entering, this leisure will not last, things will get worse, for everyone, and soon.
     
    In the defense of the Wall Street Occupation, the amorphous nature of what is happening there is in itself an OPPORTUNITY to openly address the truth of these issues, our failed tactics. There are no concrete demands, because if there were by now, they would have already been dismissed at impossible to achieve in our political climate. They haven’t been able to come up with the “One Demand” because, as this article accurately states: “To act as if we share one experience and one problem and therefore seek
    the same solution would be a terrible lie and an extremely weak and
    superficial grounds for collective action.” As a laterally-organized entity, ANYONE can can come to Liberty Square and raise these issues, openly discuss how the Left and the activist scene has failed people of color and what to do next. And this MUST be done in order to ever have a movement, to achieve any REAL change. It’s true that we have failed in many ways to reach out to people of color, or to do so without condescension and arrogance, acting as if WE alone know what is good, and trying to impose our own beliefs.

    This article has a point that, as Audrey Lorde said “you cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools”, but I feel that many of us are still struggling with what tools we SHOULD use.  I hope this article and others like it begin to open an and honest dialogue about how we all can work more genuinely and effectively toward racial, social and economic justice. Perhaps it will begin in more urgency after Wednesday’s Organized Labor march in solidarity with the Wall Street Occupation, where many People of Color who are Union members will join the more privileged in the streets to march for true reform and our right to have a future. Please join us.

  • Natasha

    Thank you for this thoughtful article, I agree with many of your points. Though I am not a person of color,  I know that now at Wall Street, as in many activist movements through history, the scene and dialogue are dominated by those with racial and economic privilege, who give little thought to how their tactics might further marginalize those who are more genuinely oppressed. In other words, among radicals like myself, knowing we have race and class privilege does not translate into self-awareness of how we might be perpetuating what we claim to oppose. It is also true that that lack of concrete demands in this campaign, and a lack of  self-examination of tactics in others (such as in the opposition against the wars in Iraq/Afghanistan) does come from a lack of urgency- we ARE comfortable and surviving relatively well with how the system is (but not for long). We know we can afford to fail, go home, have a beer, and try again on the next cause-du-jour. The truly oppressed, fighting for issues of their own survival, cannot afford to be as leisurely as we are.  In a way we are tourists, engaging in activism as a social activity, not as a matter of life or death. BUT I feel that in the current stage of capitalism we are entering, this leisure will not last, things will get worse, for everyone, and soon.
     
    In the defense of the Wall Street Occupation, the amorphous nature of what is happening there is in itself an OPPORTUNITY to openly address the truth of these issues, our failed tactics. There are no concrete demands, because if there were by now, they would have already been dismissed at impossible to achieve in our political climate. They haven’t been able to come up with the “One Demand” because, as this article accurately states: “To act as if we share one experience and one problem and therefore seek
    the same solution would be a terrible lie and an extremely weak and
    superficial grounds for collective action.” As a laterally-organized entity, ANYONE can can come to Liberty Square and raise these issues, openly discuss how the Left and the activist scene has failed people of color and what to do next. And this MUST be done in order to ever have a movement, to achieve any REAL change. It’s true that we have failed in many ways to reach out to people of color, or to do so without condescension and arrogance, acting as if WE alone know what is good, and trying to impose our own beliefs.

    This article has a point that, as Audrey Lorde said “you cannot dismantle the master’s house using the master’s tools”, but I feel that many of us are still struggling with what tools we SHOULD use.  I hope this article and others like it begin to open an and honest dialogue about how we all can work more genuinely and effectively toward racial, social and economic justice. Perhaps it will begin in more urgency after Wednesday’s Organized Labor march in solidarity with the Wall Street Occupation, where many People of Color who are Union members will join the more privileged in the streets to march for true reform and our right to have a future. Please join us.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jeff-Larson/568016896 Jeff Larson

      Hi Natasha, you bring up many good points including one of the main elements of OWS that puzzles me the most.  This is a basic strategy issue that I just don’t have the knowledge to decide one way or the other:

      “There are no concrete demands, because if there were by now, they would
      have already been dismissed at impossible to achieve in our political
      climate. ”

      I’m not certain about that thesis and tend to lean on the side of disagreement.  Gandhi’s salt march, MLK and the Memphis garbage strike – these were powerful actions that demanded something concrete and although it took time to achieve success, they captured the imagination of millions in their time.  It seems to me that concrete target that provides focus and vision could energize OWS in ways that broad statements of lists of demands never could.

      Some points/questions:

      * There was no guarantee of success in 1930 or 1968.
      * Is assurance of 100% chance of success the criterion for choosing a concrete goal?  I don’t think it should be.  I think what matters is the ability of a goal to capture the imagination and become a symbol.
      * Does there really have to be only ONE concrete goal?  Why can’t there be a urgent call for one concrete change now, with more to follow later?  I’m not convinced that having a series of concrete goals inevitably leads to this:

      “To act as if we share one experience and one problem and therefore seek the same solution would be a terrible lie and an extremely weak and superficial grounds for collective action.”

      In other words, I’m wondering of one of the tools that has been so powerful in the past has been prematurely rejected by OWS.

  • http://twitter.com/Ardiril TRVolk

    As a pointless demonstration of public nuisance, #OccupyWallStreet is straight out of the yippie handbook. That is the only reason I have any support for it.

  • http://twitter.com/Ardiril TRVolk

    As a pointless demonstration of public nuisance, #OccupyWallStreet is straight out of the yippie handbook. That is the only reason I have any support for it.

  • http://twitter.com/Ardiril TRVolk

    As a pointless demonstration of public nuisance, #OccupyWallStreet is straight out of the yippie handbook. That is the only reason I have any support for it.

  • http://twitter.com/Ardiril TRVolk

    As a pointless demonstration of public nuisance, #OccupyWallStreet is straight out of the yippie handbook. That is the only reason I have any support for it.

  • http://twitter.com/Ardiril TRVolk

    As a pointless demonstration of public nuisance, #OccupyWallStreet is straight out of the yippie handbook. That is the only reason I have any support for it.