The Occupy Movement and Race – Where Do We Go From Here?
DISCLAIMER: I am a privileged white male giving my advice on how this movement can address issues of race. I am certainly not the most qualified person to argue these points.
The Occupy Movement continues to grapple with how we relate to communities of color and other communities of struggle and the stakes couldn’t be higher. Right now (if it isn’t too late already) we risk permanently alienating the masses from the Occupy Movement. One very recent example of this is the Million Hoodie March for Trayvon Martin. Tumblr has recently exploded with posts justifiably criticizing the Occupy Movement’s involvement in the Million Hoodie March with easy-to-believe claims of Occupier’s saying things like “this is not about race,” and re-directing the march to potentially “re-re-re-occupy Zucotti”. Instead of offering whole-hearted un-opportunistic help to the movement building around Trayvon Martin, these protesters instead tried to address their own ambitions for the march, not directly related to Trayvon Martin. So what is to be done? I’ve read many posts today permanently distancing themselves from the movement and although this is tempting, there is too much potential in the movement for me to in-good-conscience discard it entirely.
Stop the Vocal Minority
I suggest that we focus on aggressively rooting out this un-authorized privileged leadership from the movement. From my own experiences with many passionate and politically conscious occupiers, I suggest that this group of vocal, privileged, ignorant assholes, who think that a march for justice for Trayvon Martin is an opportune time to corral the march’s masses into “re-occupying” is in fact a minority of the Occupy Movement.
So, how do we stop these people? Those of us involved in this movement who care about ending the tyranny of oppression that flourishes under capitalism and who are serious about growing a vibrant, radical left in this country, MUST VERY VOCALLY extinguish this attitude before it’s too late. We must ourselves read/learn about oppressed communities in depth and vocally oppose the mentality of privilege wherever it can be found within this movement. This is not optional. Simply, the movement will not survive if it continues to alienate some of the most oppressed in our society. What these foolish “occupiers” did was neither helpful for the Occupy Movement nor for the communities of color facing an unfathomably racist justice system.
Autonomous Communities of Struggle Leading the Movement
And vocally opposing ideas born out of privilege isn’t enough. If we are to really address issues of inequality in this country, we need to focus on communities that suffer the harshest inequalities. And not as white saviors who are going to save the suffering communities of color either. We need to have a movement led by the most oppressed in this society; we need to be answering as a movement to their demands, to their needs, dictated on their terms.
On March 18 a coalition of people of color named “Decolonize Oakland” officially broke away from Occupy Oakland to become their own autonomous organization, in order to provide opportunities for bottom-up movement leadership in communities of color. Instead of seeing the break as a blow to the Occupy Movement, I think it’s a great step forward. If “Decolonize Oakland” and others who follow in their footsteps can build the movement and push it further to address the demands of the most oppressed in society, then ultimately this is ideal for the international movement against capitalism. Their goals are aligned with Occupy Oakland’s and their capacity to realize their goals exponentially increases with their autonomy as an outside entity.
The Occupy Movement should embrace these autonomous organizations and work with them heavily to help them achieve goals that they set. Those of us serious about building a radical movement need to invest as much energy and work as it takes to help these organizations succeed and we need to learn to take our queue from such autonomous organizations.
Make Deeper Economic Connections…the RIGHT way!
Some of the privileged participants in the movement say that focusing on race, gender or sexuality detracts from the real issue of the economy. I hope this goes without saying but as a Marxist, I understand that this is the opposite of the truth. When we focus on issues of race, gender or sexuality, we ARE addressing the economic system. Capitalism necessitates racism, sexism and homophobia. The issues are already intrinsically connected to the economic system we live under. And to simply address the economy while closing our eyes and ignoring the implications of the system for women, LBTGQ people, people of color and others is tragically short-sighted and willfully ignorant.
Why I Still Support the Occupy Movement
The direction of this movement isn’t set in stone, so although I’m not blind to its faults, I’m also not blind to its potential to take new forms and go in a new direction. Embracing radical movements led by women, people of color and members of the LGBTQ community will galvanize support for this movement. The framework exists within this movement, which if led in the right direction, could become a true revolutionary movement. But if you want to save this movement (as I know I do), we have to become extremely serious about the way we’re relating to other communities. I can’t stress the urgency of this enough. We have to become serious about this right now.