“We have to work hard against what destroys who we are, what prevents us from reaching our best selves and stalls our efforts to create a truly just society.”
– Tricia Rose.
I feel this applies to, well, almost everything, but is especially apropos to the sexism, cissexism, racism, classism, and ableism we fight in our everyday, as well as in larger movements such as Occupy Wall Street, or Occupy Chicago where I am.
I really want to believe in the Occupy movements. I really do.
Considering that I’m anti the capitalistic system that institutionalizes all the discrimination and harm done to women, LGBTQ folk, people of color, low-income people, individuals with disabilities, and the list goes on, right? I really do want to support these movements. But, what if the movements are exhibiting the same prejudices as the government system that I am opposed to?
Enmeshed in this movement are gross statements of classism, racism, ableism, sexism and cissexism (which is assuming that all individuals are the gender they were assigned at birth, one definition given here).
- Consider, first of all, the name of the movement: occupy.
To which, so-treu (one of the most amazing blogs you can follow to learn about how to be anti-racist to the best of your ability) replied:
The word occupy in itself has a negative connotation for numerous individuals. Not only does it “invoke images of ruthless invaders,” but has “historically been connected with the theft of Native American lands.”
Not only does the land protesters are standing on belong to indigenous people (as mentioned in an amazingly powerful Open Letter to Occupy Wall Street Activists), but “police brutality and state violence are everyday realities in communities of color, but Occupy has made it seem like white kids are suddenly the ones suffering.”
These blogs and DisOccupy are but a few of the many critical, amazing, and necessary critiques of the lack of racial inclusivity in the Occupy movements.
There’s a Justified Rage from an Unsafe Space: Reflection on Occupy Wall Street, in part, saying “the arrogant dominance of young white men is constant and has turned many experienced organizers—particularly women, queer and trans people, and people of color—to withdraw support for the movement.” Remember that instances or individual experiences of sexism and racism are not in isolation: we operate in a society that privileges a very specific few, that “1%” being white, heterosexual, upper-class men, and systematically disadvantages the largest portion of our population.
The job crisis, systematic oppression, and -more extreme- police brutality has been happening to people of color, women, and queer and trans-identified individuals for a long time. The whole protest shows the institutionalized racism, sexism, and cissexism and how the myth of meritocracy is prevalent in our common social narratives. Now that this oppression and violence is happening to white America, a large-scale movement has sprung. It is not possible to achieve social and economic equality -taking privilege away from white individuals- unless these individuals sit down with people who are marginalized most and include their voices and demands.
Otherwise, the movement will lose support and will fail.
- So, let’s start with language.
“Language like, “brothers and sisters,” while good-natured, alienated our transgender and gender-variant siblings,” -which includes statistics about the high numbers of marginalized individuals who are in poverty, and more- from Stuff Queer People Need To Know.
More inclusive language doesn’t have to be hard. When I re-posted this, I got a rather frustrated response saying how long the poster or flyer would be if they included every identity possible (I’m paraphrasing). But really, that’s not true. Inclusive language can be as simple as saying friends, fellow supporters, neighbors, comrades -really, whatever isn’t gendered, see?
- Accessibility has not be part of the activist process. Nothing on Chicago’s site introduces access to the protests and sign language is not included at speeches (or asked for in volunteers on any forums), which is a serious ableist oversight of this movement.
- Also, let’s raise awareness of the term Occupy and how the negative connotation is harmful for a large majority of people.
- Then, when considering making demands or adding voices in support in the Occupy movement in your area, look at how they exclude people of color, women, and queer individuals.
I cannot support a movement that operates under similar racist, sexist, and cissexist frameworks that the dominant society does. I only wish to incite thought and invite change regarding a movement that has the potential to be powerful and affect us all and the way that you support it to.
A side note, from my partner:
“No matter what you think of the OWS movement, here’s a cool way to be a pain in the ass for big banks. You know those credit card offers you get in the mail every other day? Send those little pre-paid postage envelopes back with any type of message- the banks pay the extra postage price, and you support USPS (which needs funds desperately!). I love it!”