Occupy Wall Street: Where We At

“We talk about democracy so much, but we have supported so many governments around the world that are the farthest thing from a democracy, as long as they give us access to their natural resources. As long as when we say jump, they say how high. That’s it. We have employed bin Ladens plenty of times, when it serves our purpose. We employed Saddam Hussein when it served our purposes. And I say “˜we’ because we are the people that have a responsibility to change that sort of behavior in this country. And if we don’t, we will suffer the same fate as everything that never evolved. We will become extinct as a species. That’s your fuckin’ option. Change and get better and accept that this system is flawed and needs to be changed, or become extinct” ““ Immortal Technique

With Occupy Wall Street now running for almost a month, the movement has picked up steam and has recently received endorsements from  Slavoj Zizek and Al Gore, to Russell Simmons and a strangely quiet Kanye West. However, with positive press comes negative, and fever pitching scare tactics from Eric Cantor, Fox News, The American Spectator, and a shamed Geraldo Rivera was driven from Zucotti park as protestors began yelling “Fox News Lies” after the week’s recent coverage by Fox News. Stress heightened during the week when Mayor Bloomberg announced that protestors had to leave Zucotti park for cleaning on October 14th, a move that left many suspicious. On Wednesday, October 12thMayor Bloomberg and the NYPD announced that in an effort to clean Zucotti park, protestors had to abandon the grounds of Zucotti as well as follow new rules of ” no tarps or sleeping bags” and “no lying down.” The announcement came after Brookfield Properties CEO Richard B. Clark, who owns Zucotti park, addressed Police Commissioner Ray Kelly in a letter detailing not only inferior sanitation standards, but “numerous laws being broken including but not limited to, lewdness, groping, drinking, and drug use.” The letter went so far as to state that one woman even complained that she was “verbally abused in front of her five-year-old and that she had a package stolen from her as she tried to cross the park,” as well as the suggestion that shipments arriving at the site may contain materials for terrorism (“None of those deliveries are being screened by our security team or police for suspicious or harmful materials”).

Brookfield Letter to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly

Similar efforts to scatter protestors from “occupied sites” were made back in the early summer when Bloombergville was shut down on the pretext of cleaning. Though Bloomberg has spoken out on his support for the protestors’ “First Amendment rights,” the city has yet to provide protestors with access to sanitation equipment and Bloomberg has used the need to clean as a measure to bust up occupied spaces in the past. (Update: Brookfield Office Properties Inc. and Mayor Bloomberg postponed the cleaning at 6:00 this morning.) Protestors marched on Wall Street later in the morning, resulting in several arrests, as well as a legal observer with the National Lawyer’s Guild being pushed the ground and run over by a police motorcycle. Witness Zainab Akbar said of the incident, ” His leg was stuck under the bike and he kicked his leg to get the bike off his leg and then the police attacked him and shoved him into the ground and put a knight stick against the back of his neck” (warning: graphic video at link)

Another story that seems to be slipping through the cracks is the uncovered information regarding the NYPD being put on Paid Detail Unit, a company started by the Giuliani administration that allows corporations like the New York Stock Exchange, Goldman Sachs, the World Financial Center, and other Wall Street companies to order up large amounts of police. “The corporations pay an average of $37 an hour (no medical, no pension benefit, no overtime pay) for a member of the NYPD, with gun, handcuffs and the ability to arrest.  The officer is indemnified by the taxpayer, not the corporation,” said Coup Media. “New York City gets a 10 percent administrative fee on top of the $37 per hour paid to the police. The City’s 2011 budget called for $1,184,000 in Paid Detail fees, meaning private corporations were paying wages of $11.8 million to police participating in the Paid Detail Unit. The program has more than doubled in revenue to the city since 2002.” While Wall Street is surely not the only large entity renting cops on a higher pay per hour rate,  it does serve a vast contradiction between what crime is perceived to be, as well as what crime is worthy of prosecution.

A woman with Veterans For Peace being dragged by her throat at Occupy Boston. Image copyright of The Associated Press

Occupy Boston also made news this week when over 700 police officers swept into Rose Kennedy Greenway and ordered protesters to vacate. Protesters claimed that there was only one initial warning, after which police began to forcefully remove protestors. It was reported that the violence began when two Vietnam war veterans, in an attempt to separate protestors and police, were beaten and arrested, all subsequently caught on camera, a claim which has been disputed by Boston Mayor Tom Menino. From Menino’s twitter account “Very sympathetic to #occupyboston issues. We respect right to protest, but cannot endanger public safety.”

Several movements have sprung up in response to Occupy Wall Street, as well as Occupy movements across the country, two being Occupy The Hood and Decolonize Wall Street. Both groups claim that while they sympathize with protestors, there are many aspects to the movement that people of color, especially indigenous peoples, do not feel the movement addresses.  Supporters of Decolonize Wall Street bring criticism to the name of Occupy Wall Street itself, responding to the movement by highlighting the fact that the U.S. is indeed, all occupied indigenous land, and that highlighting more “occupation” serves no justice to those whose rights have already been taken away. It was only recently that Occupy Denver took steps towards incorporating the Denver American Indian Movement and their goals into the movement. The blog People of Color Occupy Wall Street has also offered information of the colonizing history of downtown Manhattan, which is not only Lenape and other First Nations territory, but also was built up by enslaved African peoples.

Occupy the Hood began in reaction to OWS claims of representing the 99% all while being represented predominantly by white people. This dynamic often leaves little room for concerns from minority communities in the larger discussion of OWS discussions. From Occupy The Hood’s Facebook page:

We are The Least Represented We are Among The Ignored We are Among The Unemployed We are Considered The Under Educated We are Considered The Minority We are The Consumers But most importantly WE ARE THE HOOD!!

The neighborHOODs is where the hearts of the people are. Our homes, our parks, our selves. It is in our best interest to have all abled voices heard to bring forth a peaceful solution in this world we have been given. There are millions of people that are effected by the Wall Street crisis. The questionable, unethical activities downtown Manhattan… and in Corporate America directly effects our economic struggles and the future of all business and personal endeavors.

Occupy The Hood brings up the dire need for this movement to not be whitewashed, a fact that was brought home by recent events at Occupy Atlanta. Atlanta, a predominantly black city, experienced its own turmoil with the Occupy movement when last Friday, Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis stopped by Occupy Atlanta to speak, only to be waved off by the predominantly white general assembly. Apologies were made, the general assembly asked for Representative Lewis to come back to speak, and the Occupy Atlanta site was renamed Troy Davis park. If there is anything that highlights the desperate need to get it right, Kung Li over at Colorlines explains the turbulent history of race and occupation in Georgia:

Getting it right about race is important for the Occupy movement everywhere, but especially here in Georgia, where there is nothing subtle about the relationship between race, corporations and the government. Georgia’s government was created by and for plantation farmers, the original 1 percent, running antebellum corporations. And that 1 percent has been using everything in its power, most notably the criminal justice system, to hold on to its centuries-old gains.

One of the main aspects about Occupy Wall Street that puts me so on edge is the liberal use of the word “we.” “We” is an easy word to use, often too easy, putting all concerns under one vast umbrella and proclaiming solidarity for the 99%.  If anything has served history well, it’s that acts that are often executed in the name of “we” are often about only a few “we” whether intentional or not. While it is accurate to say that the “we” is a 99%, “we” also erases many of the connections of privilege that are inherent in American lifestyle. “We” also absolves a certain amount of accountability from movements: if we are all in this together, then what could “we” be doing wrong? Ashwini Hardikar points out her own harassment at OWS at what happens when the larger when “we” is simultaneously inspiring and excusing.

Which brings me to my next concern: the co-opting of a militaristic word by the OWS movement. Occupy, while a word that many feel adequately expresses the urgency needed of Americans to rise up and confront the inequality of economic stability in this country, is also a word that seems unexamined in its own imperialistic history. Much like Decolonize Wall Street stated when they said that people were re-occupying already occupied territory, occupy has also been used in America’s forceful takeover and occupying of such places as Japan, Haiti, Iraq, Afghanistan, Central America, Vietnam, the Philippines ““ the list goes on. Activities in the name of occupying for the “greater American good” have included everything from the School of Americas to military training and supplying weapons to citizens during the Cold War in Afghanistan. The ways in which America has benefited from political, military, economic and cultural occupation has only cemented the deeply problematic nature of wealth built in the states. Even comparisons to “Arab Spring” hold their own contradictions, as most nations that the OWS movement seeks to compare itself with, have they themselves been the victims of the worst of American occupation and foreign policy. Not only that, but it de-centers the actuality of experience: somehow the struggles in America become similar to those in Arab countries, yet with none of the life-threatening occupation by foreign troops, violence, live gunfire, mass graves, kidnappings, and all.

From the beginning, this culture has been a culture of occupation.

What do occupiers do? They seize territory by force or threat of force. They take resources for use at the center of an empire. They degrade the landscape. They kill those who resist this theft. They enslave those whose labor is necessary for this theft, this degradation of the landscape. They eradicate those who are in the way–the humans and nonhumans whose land this is–and who must be removed so the occupiers can put the land to better use. They force the remaining humans to live under the laws and moral code of the occupiers. They inculcate future generations to forget their non-occupied past and to aspire to join the ranks of their occupiers, to actually join in the degradation of the landbase that was once theirs.

Because exploitation is so central to any culture of occupation–that’s part of what defines it–this exploitation infects and characterizes every part of the culture.

This means any [government within our culture], by all means including the United States, is a government of occupation, set up to facilitate resource extraction (to bring resources from the country to the city, from colony to empire), a process these days called production, and to prevent interference in this process by those whose lives are diminished or destroyed by the devastation of their landbase, and also by those whose lives are diminished or destroyed laboring to serve production.

Any [economics within our culture], by all means including capitalism, is an economics of occupation, set up to rationalize resource extraction, and to pre-empt reasonable discourse about non-exploitative community relations.

Which is not to say that OWS is invalid – it just means that like all things, there is much more to examine than what first meets the eye. Often internal criticisms of any large scale lefty movement are perceived as divisive tactics, reasons why the left has such a hard time gaining ground, as opposed to right wingers. But is that a goal the left wants? To strategically be like right wingers? To work in a quickfire fashion like the GOP? Sure, these groups are seamless in getting things done, often with great funding, but what does it mean when you set aside many for one? What does it mean to occupy without decolonizing? To talk of the 99% and yet not really encompass all of the 99%? Is this something for which the left should want to aspire? Or are the left’s goals harder to reach because the rights are so very easy? Isn’t that one of the reasons we got into this mess in the first place? Activist Grace Lee Boggs might have the closest thing to an answer of what needs to be done.

“Thank you for starting a movement. But you have a long way to go. This enemy of ours is not just Wall Street– it’s a whole culture. It’s a way of looking at us, and valuing ourselves and each other. And how you are going to move beyond challenging Wall Street, how you’re going to move to become part of the solution, is not gonna be easy. You’re gonna have to do a lot of thinking. You have to look at how you yourselves have become part of this culture. You’re gonna have to look at how many of you would be happy if you could become part of Wall Street, and become part of the corporations, if they would give you jobs. There’s a long road ahead, because you have the opportunity to create something new, that’s based on completely different values. But you’re gonna have to be thinking about values, and not just about abuses.” – Grace Lee Boggs

Like Boggs would say, this is the start of a dialogue, the beginning of a conversation. We have a lot of work to do.

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8 thoughts on “Occupy Wall Street: Where We At”

  1. Your article reads like a right wing attack on Occupy Wall Street. Good job. You sound just like a Fox News reporter tearing us all apart for this or for that. Next thing you know you’ll be calling us Communists! This is exactly why the left has been so weak and failed to win elections. Instead of left wing movements supporting one another and providing insight and mutual respect, here you are attacking a movement that is honestly trying to start a national dialog about the poor, the disenfranchised and the voiceless. If this was the 1960’s would you be attacking Civil Rights workers for “occupying” lunch counters? Or “occupying” the front seat of a bus instead of “occupying” the back of the bus?

    O.k. so instead of discussing how people have been losing their homes to illegal repossessions, or how the unemployment rate for African Americans is 15% to 35%, which are real issues, you offer up a lengthy critique of the word “Occupy.” What? Hello – you aren’t even dealing with any of the issues of Occupy Wall Street. You are ignoring the deep financial trouble people are in and pretending like nit picking is more important than real issues.

    So o.k. since “Occupy” is a term bad people use, what would you name the movement then? Because it’s a movement based on improvising everything and since the people down there are indeed camping out and literally “occupying” the park, doesn’t it kind of make sense to call it that? It is a literal occupation and they are refusing to leave. Would you be happier if they called it “Camping” at wall street? “Sitting” at Wall Street? Would those be more hipster friendly & politically correct terms?

    I am interested though – because you seem feel so strongly about the word “Occupy.” In your last article I commented on you seemed perfectly happy using the term “Slut” in the Slutwalk, which, according to you, is empowering, but the word “occupy” needs to be changed. So if third wave feminists can reclaim the word “Slut”, then why can’t Occupy Wall Street reclaim the word “Occupy?” Whose side are you even on?

    And FYI it is not 99% white as you and the right wing media and Fox News say every single day. I know, because I have been down most every day. I would say it might be about 60% white but it fluctuates because so many people come and go. There are a whole lot of other cultures and ethnicities down there if you walk through the crowd. Really there are. It is not the White Supremacist Tea Party as you seem to infer at length. Anyway, I tried to comment on your last article in a well-reasoned and calm way and and you didn’t address any of the issues I raised and said I was clearly advocating and defending rape culture. And now I see you are attacking a very positive and hopeful movement without any real suggestions of your own. You pretend to be “discussing” the issues surrounding OWS, but I’m sorry it comes off as a really serious double-standard. I just find it’s really interesting that when the far left critiques people who are actually trying to create positive change in society they sound almost exactly light the rabid right wing media.

    You do appear to be missing one crucial aspect of OWS which is critical to understanding it. It is simple: OWS protesters are not using the language of victimology. OWS protesters don’t see them selves as victims but as agents of change that can’t be stopped. Instead of wallowing in pathological victimhood these people are risking being arrested every day, sleeping outside in the rain and the cold with little or no shelter and they barely get by on donations of food. And for what? they are there to try to bring attention to social injustice and white collar crime and all the families and individuals that have been drowning in debt for a generation. And here you are trashing them. I just have no idea where you are coming from.

     

    1. Coco raised some well-thought-out and well-researched points in regard to some of the issues that some members of the population have with the OWS movement, and what other movements are springing up to address these issues. One of the recurring criticisms of the OWS movement is the lack of unifying goal, and this post is explaining part of why that is. Examining issues of why a larger social movement may make some segments of society feel excluded is not “right wing” or “Fox news” or “trashing” the protesters. It’s looking at how the movement, as a whole, can seek to be more inclusive of the people it’s trying to represent.

      I’d really recommend reading Coco’s other pieces about the OWS movement. They address many of the things you accuse her of not addressing in this one.

      1. Hi pileofmonkies,

        I did read the other pieces. That’s why I am so surprised at the deep rooted ambivalence and mistrust of what the protesters are doing. I am also not interested in engaging too much more beyond this. God forbid articles appearing on Persephone are actually read and discussed by people. God forbid someone should voice a single word of criticism, after all, “We’re the Persephone Goddesses and we’re freaking awesome.”

        Besides, if I am accused of promoting “rape culture” just because I asked a number of questions and offered some critiques, then I have effectively been erased and discredited. After all, if I am someone promoting “rape culture” then how can I criticize or even have the right to engage in a dialog with anyone on this site? The answer is simple, I can’t.

        1. First, the site’s tagline changes weekly or so, and the current one (“We’re Persephone goddesses…”) is a paraphrase from an episode of Parks & Recreation. Past taglines have included “We don’t do windows,” “Our readers are 111% more awesome than the readers of other ladyblogs,” and “Never mind the squid,” if my memory serves me correctly.

          Second, who accused you of promoting rape culture? Coco just said you were welcome to write a counterpoint, and I suggested that you read the other posts in the series. You’re putting words in people’s mouths, which is annoying and tastes funny.

          Third, we encourage discussion and dialogue, but we do ask that “critiques” be coherent and respectful. I have no way to refute many of your points, because they don’t make sense. There’s absolutely no context for the entire second paragraph of your second comment (not the original 600-whatever word comment), so I cannot engage in a dialogue about it.

            1. Ahh, so even in the comment where you specifically said he (I’m assuming “he” from context) was not personally promoting rape culture, he’s still assuming that any reasonable response to his “critiques” is a personal attack.

              Trying to wrap my head around outraged dudebro comments is hurting my ladybrain. I’m going to get some coffee.

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