Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Racism and #OccupyWallStreet

¡Hola Mi Gente!
I’ve been spending almost all of my free time at the #OccupyWallStreet (OWS) site. By the time I get home, I barely have enough time for myself, let alone write. I will say that what’s happening is one of the most exciting, politically speaking, in a long time.

Sometimes you can often tell the effectiveness of a person or a movement by the amount of venom spewed at it. The corporate-owned media still cannot effectively put a spin on the movement because its strategy and conceptualization is foreign to the current paradigm. Fox News accuses us of being anti-Semites one day, secretly run by George Soros the next, dirty hippies and clueless, self-indulgent trust fund babies from the beginning, and more recently, a movement secretly run by, yup, ACORN.

The rest of the cable news infotainment media are little better, though Rachel Maddow and Keith Olbermann both seem to have a better grasp. And now I’m hearing from the black/ brown blogosphere that OWS is -- racist!

I believe that all these people should hold a meeting and decide once and for all, what we are. Though I don’t have the time (wish I had a laptop!) necessary to address the following, I feel a need to speak on it.

[On a side note, I was beyond ecstatic to learn one of my heros, Ms. Davis, visited us this past Sunday.]

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Race, Class, Gender, Power and #OccupyWallStreet

And I guess what I would say is that we can't think narrowly about movements for black liberation and we can't necessarily see this class division as simply a product or a certain strategy that black movements have developed for liberation.

-- Angela Y. Davis

I consider myself a feminist. I am down with women’s rights because I don’t see them as separate from my own. Yet, I have to understand and recognize that as a man raised is in a misogynistic society, I most likely carry vestiges of that social conditioning and that in order to be more liberated, I have to own up to and learn to unpack that conditioning.

I am down with equal rights for my LGBT brothers and sisters, but I have to understand that my perspective is somewhat informed as a heterosexual male in a society that oppresses homosexuality.

As a man, I take for granted many things that others can’t. For example, something as mundane as walking down the street is infinitely different for a woman than it is for me. I take it for granted that I can walk in public and not dread having complete strangers aggressively proposition me sexually, or make comments about the size of my cock, or my supposed sluttishness. I can walk down a dark street without the fear of rape being foremost in my mind. I take these for granted -- most women can’t.

I am down with “the cause” as they say, down with equality and freedom, and am committed to helping create a true democratic process a reality. I work as an activist, mostly in progressive, nonprofit organizations (or I did, LOL!). Still, that doesn’t mean I live outside of the context of a society that is racist, misogynistic and homophobic, along with many other forms of oppression.

One day, a colleague approached me obviously distressed. She was angry for what she saw as forms of oppression operating within our organization. “We should be better than this,” she said almost in tears.

I challenged her. I challenged her idea that as a nonprofit, as progressives working together for progressive causes, that we’re somehow different from the larger society we were seeking to reform. I told her that what should separate us from the rest of society is the knowledge and recognition of how we are all conditioned to internalize forms of oppression. I told her that our work is to create the world we seek by becoming, not by doing.

This was over ten years ago, and this woman, who I consider a friend as well as a professional ally always reminds me of that day because she says it was an epiphany for her (it was a revelation for me as well).

Which brings to my main point today: is #OccupyWallStreet “racist”? My answer would be a resounding, “no!” On the other hand, it would be incorrect to say that the same forms of oppression that plague our larger society don’t exist within the #OccupyWallStreet movement. That would be bullshit. But why would anyone expect any different? We, for that matter, no one, don’t exist in a vacuum outside the social context that we’re attempting to critique and change. However, to characterize the movement as “white” or “racist” is utterly without merit. It’s no different than Fox News claiming we’re a bunch of anti-semites, or the Wall Street Journal editorializing on our perceived naiveté.

One day, while sitting in on a working group, a white man stated that using “progressive stack” (the practice of giving priority to traditionally marginalized voices) was unfair and racist. Before I could say anything, one white woman, a white man, and gay white male immediately responded, pointing out that it was his race-blind perception that was racist. The white woman was most vehement: “The only ones I see fuckin’ complain about progressive stack are entitled white guys and you need to get over it!”

By the time I got to him, he was simply parroting the tired cliché that all forms of preference were racist. I corrected him and told him progressive is prejudiced (in a just manner) but not racist.

Two weekends ago, while facilitating during a training, another white male expressed that he most appreciated progressive stack because he saw it as an empowering tool that encouraged and nurtured the voices he, as a white male, almost never got to hear. Yesterday, I heard a man open up to the group in a very emotional and painful way, how being active in the movement has affected him. He stated that while he always felt he was open-minded and tolerant, being confronted with the reality of oppression on a daily basis (as happens at OWS) and seeing how he almost unconsciously contributes to that oppression has changed him profoundly.

I often joke with some white males I meet that I make immediate assumptions about them simply because they’re young and white. I tell them that I immediately assume they’re from Armpit, Iowa somewhere raised growing corn on some sheep-fuckin farm somewhere. LOL! I am only half-kidding: if I am honest with myself, I have to admit that I have to constantly confront my own biases, prejudices, and assumptions as well.

What I can say is that the #OccupyWallStreet movement is grappling with issues of race, gender, power, and class in ways not seen in many other places. There are workshops on oppression addressing the conflicts, arising from the many isms that plague our larger society. And while it’s far from ideal, I see a willingness, indeed, a hunger, to confront and unpack all this baggage. Being at the NYC Occupation, I get to talk with many people from other occupations. I have sat down with and shared experiences with and learned from people from occupations in Oakland, Philadelphia, Chicago, Florida, activists from Europe and China, Palestinians, all looking for ways to address the inequities that exist globally.

It’s far from the ideal, but movements aren’t built simply from the bullshit rhetoric of hope and change. Movements aren’t built from like-minded people from similar backgrounds coming together. On the contrary, real movement-building consists of bringing together previously disenfranchised and segregated groups, groups that may hold old resentments, conflicts, and grievances. Movements are built on helping those of us (the 99%) empower ourselves and agreeing to recognize that these inequalities exist but will never change until we acknowledge them and learn how to properly address them. This is not a “white” movement -- it will never exist as a racist white movement because that movement already exists. We’re here, and we’re looking to include, to find ways to include, my black and brown brothers and sisters. We’re looking to make it welcoming and safe for women, for the transgendered, the homeless, the hungry, the disenfranchised, and we’re struggling to hold it all together under incredibly difficult circumstances. The question for me, as a Latino, is whether my brothers and sisters will answer the call or go back to voting for the empty rhetoric of “hope” and “change.”

F-U-C-K hope and empty words, the time to act is now. If you’re waiting for the perfect moment at the perfect time in the perfect place, then you’re not living, you’re busy dying.

My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization.

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