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.

Continue reading

Take Back America Conference Open Thread

Most of our bandwidth is consumed with Occupy Wall Street this week – but there’s a second major conference happening.

The Take Back America Conference is currently happening at the Hilton in DC, having started yesterday. Livestream and tweeting is up – yesterday boasted everyone from the progressive rockstars (Van Jones, Congressional Representatives Donna Edwards, Barbara Lee, and Keith Ellison Ai-Jen Poo, Keith Ellison) to people we know (Baratunde, Elon James White, Rinku Sen.)

Free Speech TV asked if I could help with the reporting, along with friends of the blog like Adele Stan of Alternet and Chris Rabb of Afronetizen and Demos. I’ll be on tomorrow from 10 – 12, interviewing Saru Jayaraman, Tracy Van Slyke, Raven Brooks, Jim Miller, Robert (Biko) Baker, Mike Lux, and Ai-Jen Poo.

You can check the livestream here, or follow the twitter hashtag #takeback11.

Watch live streaming video from freespeechtv at livestream.com

Also, Wednesday, I’ll be covering the Jobs Not Cuts Rally, also with Free Speech TV.

“People Are Nicer To Daddy Because He’s White”

by Guest Contributor Paula, originally published at Heart, Mind, and Seoul

Kids

Just last month I was on a flight where I was on the receiving end of blatant racism. I have no doubt in my mind that the manner in which this particular airline employee (a white woman) spoke to me and treated me was a direct result of the color of my skin. As I am wont to do when it comes to processing the acts of racism that I am subjected to, I felt the immediate pull to name and claim my own responsibility in the situation. I know this undoubtedly is the result of being socialized from the collective culture who repeatedly and authoritatively tells me and other people of color that our experiences with racism actually have nothing to do with race at all and it’s a notion that I find imposed upon me on an all too regular basis.

Luckily, I had the good fortune of traveling with a friend who helped keep my perspective in check. My gut knew that this flight attendant’s behavior was racist, but I still found myself trying to make excuses for her. I was pissed. Both at her, and at myself for not calling her out right then and there. Then again, she did threaten to take my bag off the plane if I didn’t do what she said (although my friend heard that it was me the employee was threatening to remove from the plane), so I promptly obliged and sat down in my seat.

With a highly critical letter already half composed in my brain (which I did write when I got home), I looked across the aisle to my friend and said “Gee, I’m thinkin’ she would have never treated or spoken to S. (my husband, who is white) that way.”

Fast forward to the following month. Last week my family and I were on a return flight finding ourselves in the same predicament that I was in just several weeks before: trying to position and accommodate our airline approved carry-on luggage in the already crammed overhead compartments. Like my flight a month before, it was full and the overhead space was at a premium. Even though my husband’s luggage didn’t fit (just like mine didn’t quite fit when I was on my flight), he didn’t find himself on the receiving end of yelling, scolding and condescending behavior. Rather, two flight attendants made triple the amount of attempts on behalf of him and his luggage that I made with my mine – attempts mind you which were met with hostility and a threat to have my suitcase (or me, as the case may be) removed from the plane.

Admittedly, these events were not truly identical in that not only did we have different flight attendants, but that my family was on a completely different airline than the one I flew on last month. I get that. But that doesn’t change the facts of how I was treated and how my husband was treated. I wish I could tell you that these events happened in isolation and that our family has never experienced another situation similar to these. But of course we all know that not to be the case. I am aware of it. My husband is aware of it and our kids, ages 9 and (nearly) 7 years are fully aware of it as well. Continue reading

SO REAL IT HURTS: Notes on Occupy Wall Street

by Guest Contributor Manissa McCleave Maharawal, originally published on her Facebook page

Occupy Wall Street

I first went down to Occupy Wall Street last Sunday, almost a week after it had started. I didn’t go down before because I, like many of my other brown friends, were wary of what we had heard or just intuited that it was mostly a young white male scene. When I asked friends about it they said different things: that it was really white, that it was all people they didn’t know, that they weren’t sure what was going on. But after hearing about the arrests and police brutality on Saturday and after hearing that thousands of people had turned up for their march I decided I needed to see this thing for myself.

So I went down for the first time on Sunday September 25th with my friend Sam. At first we couldn’t even find Occupy Wall Street. We biked over the Brooklyn Bridge around noon on Sunday, dodging the tourists and then the cars on Chambers Street. We ended up at Ground Zero and I felt the deep sense of sadness that that place now gives me: sadness over how, what is now in essence, just a construction site changed the world so much for the worse. A deep sense of sadness for all the tourists taking pictures around this construction site that is now a testament to capitalism, imperialism, torture, oppression but what is also a place where many people died ten years ago.

Sam and I get off our bikes and walk them. We are looking for Liberty Plaza. We are looking for somewhere less alienating. For a moment we feel lost. We walk past the department store Century 21 and laugh about how discount shopping combined with a major tourist site means that at any moment someone will stop short in front of us and we will we bang our bikes against our thighs. A killer combination, that of tourists, discount shopping and the World Trade Center.

The landscape is strange. I notice that. We are in the shadow of half built buildings. They glitter and twist into the sky. But they also seem so naked: rust colored steel poking its way out their tops, their sides, their guts spilling out for all to see.

We get to Liberty Plaza and at first it is almost unassuming. We didn’t entirely know what to do. We wandered around. We made posters and laid them on the ground (our posters read: “We are all Troy Davis” “Whose streets? Our streets!” and “Tired of Racism” “Tired of Capitalism”)

And I didn’t know anyone down there. Not one person. And there were a lot of young white kids. But there weren’t only young white kids. There were older people, there were mothers with kids, and there were a lot more people of color than I expected, something that made me relieved. We sat on the stairs and watched everyone mill around us. There was the normal protest feeling of people moving around in different directions, not sure what to do with themselves, but within this there was also order: a food table, a library, a busy media area. There was order and disorder and organization and confusion, I watched as a man carefully changed each piece of his clothing folding each piece he took off and folding his shirt, his socks, his pants and placing them carefully under a tarp. I used the bathroom at the McDonalds up Broadway and there were two booths of people from the protest carrying out meetings, eating food from Liberty Plaza, sipping water out of water bottles, their laptops out. They seemed obvious yet also just part of the normal financial district hustle and bustle.

But even though at first I didn’t know what to do while I was at Liberty Plaza I stayed there for a few hours. I was generally impressed and energized by what I saw: people seemed to be taking care of each other. There seemed to be a general feeling of solidarity, good ways of communicating with each other, less disorganization than I expected and everyone was very very friendly. The whole thing was bizarre yes, the confused tourists not knowing what was going on, the police officers lining the perimeter, the mixture of young white kids with dredlocks, anarchist punks, mainstream looking college kids, but also the awesome black women who was organizing the food station, the older man who walked around with his peace sign stopping and talking to everyone, a young black man named Chris from New Jersey who told me he had been there all week and he was tired but that he had come not knowing anyone, had made friends and now he didn’t want to leave.

And when I left, walking my bike back through the streets of the financial district, fighting the crowds of tourists and men in suits, I felt something pulling me back to that space. It was that it felt like a space of possibility, a space of radical imagination. And it was energizing to feel like such a space existed.

And so I started telling my friends to go down there and check it out. I started telling people that it was a pretty awesome thing, that just having a space to have these conversations mattered, that it was more diverse than I expected. And I went back. Continue reading

Brown Power at Occupy Wall Street! 9/29/11

by Guest Contributor Hena Ashraf, published at Hena Ashraf

Once again, it is Thursday night, and once again, I am writing this because I think it needs to be documented and shared. And once again, this is about mass actions taking place in NYC. Once again, please feel free to share this.

The following is from my perspective:

Tonight was my 4th time down at Occupy Wall Street. I felt drawn to the protests, like I needed to be there, and I guess I was meant to be, as well as the people I ended up with.

At the general assembly a document was introduced called “The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City”. To my understanding, this document has been worked on for many days, by many people, in a working group. It was announced that this document would be disseminated to the media, to the Internet, to everyone who planned to occupy other cities in the country. Basically – this document is REALLY IMPORTANT, and the audience is meant to be everyone, we were told.

The general assembly read the document together, line by line. The GA has grown a lot in the past few days and has noticeably (finally?) gotten slightly more diverse. For me, reading the document together was a very powerful and moving moment, and I’ve never seen anything like it. Immediately after this I turned around and joined my friends Thanu and Sonny, who were with Manissa and Natasha. They had all just come back from the first local meeting for South Asians for Justice.

Without knowing we had spontaneously formed a bloc of South Asians present at the General Assembly. While it continued, we began to discuss the document amongst ourselves, specifically the second paragraph, and our issues with it. We weren’t the only ones who had concerns; numerous people spoke up and requested changes to the document. The facilitators kept wanting to go back to agenda items, but I personally felt, if people wanted to discuss this document, right here, right now, let’s do it, instead of pushing something else. To be heard, a person would shout “mic check!”, said a few words at a time, the crowd repeated their words, and so this process continued until the person’s message was finished.

I, Thanu, Sonny, Manissa, and Natasha felt that some language needed to be urgently changed. Please keep in mind that this document is a living, working document, and is unpublished, and is being changed as I type with the (as they are called) “friendly amendments” that were proposed. The line was: “As one people, formerly divided by the color of our skin, gender, sexual orientation, religion, or lack thereof, political party and cultural background, we acknowledge the reality: that there is only one race, the human race, and our survival requires the cooperation of its members…”

The first major concern amongst us was that the phrase “formerly divided by” was unrealistic, and erased histories of oppression that marginalized communities have suffered. The second concern was that the “human race” language also felt very out of touch.

We debated amongst ourselves whether to speak up about this. As I mentioned, individual people were airing their concerns about the document, even though the facilitators had requested to email any changes to them, or to speak to them later. I felt though, that our thoughts needed to be shared with the general assembly, and not just to a few over email. I was urged by our impromptu bloc to be the one to speak up. So I did.

I started shouting “mic check!”, got the crowd’s attention, and said that we did not agree with the phrase “formerly divided by” and instead felt it could perhaps be “despite”, and said that the original phrasing erased histories of oppression. Unfortunately, even though about 4 or 5 presumably white people had spoken up before me about changes to the document, I was told that this was a time for questions, not changes to the document – by a facilitator who was a man of colour. Talk about feeling shut down. Continue reading

Quoted: Occupy Wall Street (New York, General Assembly) on Intentions

As we gather together in solidarity to express a feeling of mass injustice, we must not lose sight of what brought us together. We write so that all people who feel wronged by the corporate forces of the world can know that we are your allies.

As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members; that our system must protect our rights, and upon corruption of that system, it is up to the individuals to protect their own rights, and those of their neighbors; that a democratic government derives its just power from the people, but corporations do not seek consent to extract wealth from the people and the Earth; and that no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. We come to you at a time when corporations, which place profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality, run our governments. We have peaceably assembled here, as is our right, to let these facts be known. [...]

To the people of the world,

We, the New York City General Assembly occupying Wall Street in Liberty Square, urge you to assert your power.

Exercise your right to peaceably assemble; occupy public space; create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.

To all communities that take action and form groups in the spirit of direct democracy, we offer support, documentation, and all of the resources at our disposal.

Join us and make your voices heard!

*These grievances are not all-inclusive.

–From Declaration of the Occupation of New York City

Through a direct democratic process, we have come together as individuals and crafted these principles of solidarity, which are points of unity that include but are not limited to:

  • Engaging in direct and transparent participatory democracy;
  • Exercising personal and collective responsibility;
  • Recognizing individuals’ inherent privilege and the influence it has on all interactions;
  • Empowering one another against all forms of oppression;
  • Redefining how labor is valued;
  • The sanctity of individual privacy;
  • The belief that education is human right; and
  • Endeavoring to practice and support wide application of open source.
  • We are daring to imagine a new socio-political and economic alternative that offers greater possibility of equality. We are consolidating the other proposed principles of solidarity, after which demands will follow.

    – From “PRINCIPLES OF SOLIDARITY – working draft