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 Please keep in mind that this document is a living, working document, and is unpublished, and is being changed as I type with the (as they are called) “friendly amendments” that were proposed.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