Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Occupy Movement is NOT as Progressive as it Seems

I am a 36 year old disabled woman who has been variously labeled "fat", "crazy", and "a hippie weirdo." I now try to embrace labels that others use in an attempt to "shame" me into being someone more "acceptable". I am passionate about issues of race/racism, criminal (in)justice, fat acceptance, and mental health advocacy. I blog at My Name Is JuJuBe and I am on the team at The Intersection of Madness and Reality

I am so damn sick and tired of Occupy Wall Street. Every so called “progressive” I know of is riding the #OWS dick like it is going out of style. Me? I can’t stand the shit. For the most part, I see most of the protests that have been inspired by Occupy Wall Street to be strictly the work of some spoiled little (previously) rich brats who can’t handle the fact that the college education that mommy and daddy paid for did not get them the high paid cushy job that they truly believe they deserve. I would be willing to bet that almost all of those who are running around with signs about being the 99% would not give a FUCK about economic injustice if they were not directly impacted by it in the present moment. And I bet in five years, most of them will be sitting in some multinational corporation’s headquarters shaking their heads and chuckling about the days when they were “radicals”.

Can someone explain to me where the hell theses little towheaded recent college graduates were for all those years when there WAS no recession and it was only Black and Brown people who were getting the booty end of the stick when it came to economic justice? Oh, yeah…. they were wasting thousands of their parents dollars on a college education while spending their weekends getting drunk at the frat house and never even giving a second thought to how the folks who were not born into a upper middle class suburban white bred world were busy struggling to get by. Now all of a sudden, they want to play the victims and cry about how we are ALL the 99%….

Sorry folks, but I cannot see a protest movement that is composed of the top 10% OF the bottom 99% as having much legitimacy at all. Take for example, Hartford. I have been living here for 6 months now. Hartford is one of the poorest cities in the nation, with a poverty rate of well over 30%. Hartford is full of Black and Brown people whose resumes do not even get a second glance when they apply for jobs in their very own city. The same companies that refuse to hire Hartford residents run out to the suburbs to hire people who in turn run as quickly as they can out of the city when their work hours are over. I see it every day. I live in a neighborhood that is 90% POC. Each evening at 5pm, I see all of the white folks from the suburbs rushing to their cars, clutching their purses and nervously glancing around them like they are expecting an ambush.

The mayor of Hartford is constantly holding these meetings where he discusses “revitalizing” the city, and attracting new people to the downtown area. Of course, in a city that is only 17% white, guess where most of those white folks live??? If you guessed downtown, you get a cookie. Every time I hear some government official talk about downtown Hartford, and of the need to attract new residents and businesses to the area, it is obvious that they are using a really weak code to say… “We want more white folks!”
Anyway, getting back to Occupy Wall Street. There is an “Occupy Hartford” movement underway. There is a this tiny little park in Hartford where the Occupy Hartford people have pitched their $1000 tents and have been “occupying” the city for the past few weeks. Ocassionally, the protesters will march through downtown Hartford chanting their lame little slogans. They are actually pretty funny… the protesters, who are about 90% white and hail from the suburban areas, are marching down Main Street chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” even though they just arrived in the city from the lily white surrounding towns a few hours earlier. And, oh the irony of a predominantly white crowd walking through Hartford, a majority minority city, screaming “This is what democracy looks like!” while pointing to themselves!

And I have heard it is like this is almost all of the “occupied” cities. A bunch of white folks who are no longer quite as advantaged as they are used to being claiming to speak up for the 99% while representing only the top 10%.

And of course, the Occupy Wall Street protestors are very quick to put down anyone who dares to express the idea that the movement represents a very white, patriarchal agenda. Check out the experiences of Reena Walker, a Black woman who spoke about what she went through at Occupy Wall Street:

The days I spent at the Occupy Wall Street action in the park were harrowing to say the least. The racism is rampant. There is no regard for the need to factor in black issues or empowerment nor is black leadership in actuality encouraged or welcome, even though they claim it is. There are many white men there are very domineering, controlling, demeaning, sarcastic, condescending and do not make black women feel safe, welcome, empowered, appreciated or protected. They have no regard for black people or women.
Women are being molested in the park and there is no real viable system in place to handle it without the need for police intervention. There are white supremacists groups running around there. There are people smoking drugs there even though it puts the entire action at risk and even after being told that the General Assembly had consensus on the fact that there should be no smoking of cigarettes as they are not only a health hazard to everyone and gives support to the tobacco companies, but also a potential fire hazard, people continue to smoke with no regard for their fellow protesters.
There is a constant marginalization of women and I was even verbally and physically imposed on and threatened by a white man who was up in my face with his fingers pointing in my face because he wanted to dictate to people what he thought they should do. When I spoke up and said that he and two other white men are not supposed to dictate to everyone what should happen but that the decision should be made through consensus he got angry. He proclaimed that he called the meeting, as if that is somehow relevant. He also got angry because I as a black woman told him that he was wrong for trying to dictate to people. Not only that but I also offered to facilitate after other people didn’t step up as things were confusing and out of control. There was no complaint about my facilitation and we actually got down to there being three points to vote on after hearing everyone voice their opinion after I did. Of course another white man felt that he was the one who should be facilitating so I said “fine you do it” but I also asked if there was a woman who had facilitating training as well and the men started to all say why does it matter if its a woman? READ MORE

Adding to my disdain for the Occupy Wall Street movement is the fact that all of a sudden, they want to profess support for issues that have impacted Black and Latino communities for years yet garnered nary a second glance from these middle class white protesters previously. All of a sudden, the Occupy Wall Street protesters want to express support for a movement to stop the NYPD policy of “stopping and frisking” Black and Latino people on the streets for no reason whatsoever. Where were these people a year ago, or ten years ago? Why is it that NOW they are willing to throw their hats in the ring to “express solidarity” with Black and Latino people. Could it be that they have HEARD the criticism of Occupy Wall Street leaving out people of color? Seems to me that this sudden show of support has more to do with recruiting some token Black and Latino faces for their movement than with actually supporting the fight against this police policy.

When I spoke with an organizer of the Occupy Hartford movement, I saw this type of thing very clearly. There have been protests against the MDC (the company that manages the water and sewage systems in the city) for about two months now. Minority contractors and Black and Latino citizens have been protesting the fact that the MDC has not been hiring enough minority workers, and is giving jobs to people from out of town and even out of state instead of hiring Hartford residents. The entire group for the earlier protests were Black and Latino. All of a sudden, when the white folks of Occupy Hartford decided to start their protest, they wanted to run down to join in the MDC protest to “show solidarity”. In truth, they were on a mission to recruit some Black and Brown faces they could put in front of the news cameras so that they could pretend to be reflective of the community of Hartford. The organizer I spoke to expressed his desire for the protests to “look like” the city of Hartford, and even tried to use an event that we were working on in the North End of Hartford (which is almost entirely Black) as a recruiting tool for Occupy Hartford. When we were attempting to plan an voter’s education forum for formerly incarcerated people on the North End of Hartford, this man had the nerve to talk endlessly about his role in Occupy Hartford and express his desire to use our event to publicize his.

Add to all of this the fact that often, the rhetoric used by protesters involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement is patently offensive and racist, and the only conclusion I can come to is that Occupy Wall Street is just as lily white and racist as the Tea Party. Except, of course, not quite as blatant. So, no, I will not be joining in the mindless adulation shown in progressive circles towards Occupy Wall Street. I have better things to do with my time than join up with some folks who are upset because a tiny percentage of their privilege is slipping away.