When I first heard about Occupy Wall Street, I thought it was a fantastic step in the right direction; I was the first to bring it up in every class that had any mention of current events. That is, until three not-so-sensational points were brought to my attention:
1. I discovered (via this Racialicious post on colonialism) that the U.S. is still all indigenous land. And that in "occupying" this indigenous land, we are perpetuating colonization, which has historically been proven to be oppressive to any native groups subject to this brutality. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm sure Occupy Wall Street was well-intentioned in starting this protest and was probably unaware that they were treading on land that wasn't theirs to begin with, and I'm arguing that the impact their actions (no matter how positive the aim) create matters just as much as their intent, if not more. I am aware that most of the capitalism is still a system of oppression we need to be advocating against, and I believe that the secret to breaking free of this bind lies in the tactics we use.
2. The protests against capitalism . . . Are capped at capitalism? Capitalism may be the problem at hand, but it seems that Occupy Wall Street fails to acknowledge other oppressions that tie in with and strengthen capitalism, such as racism and sexism. We see this through various documented accounts, as well as critical pieces such as ernesto's "Seven Occupy Wall Street Racial Justice Roadblocks." In a Facebook note titled "A Black Woman Who Occupied Wall Street: Why I Won't Be Going Back," Reena Walker describes the hostile climate at the site of the protest:
"The days I spent at the Occupy Wall Street action in the park were harrowing to say the least. The racism is rampant . . . [The] 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."
I don't know about you, but this definitely doesn't sound like a grassroots social justice movement to me.
3. The word "Occupy" can be very triggering for certain groups (e.g., native groups). While many protesters may take back this historically condescending term, there are also people who still feel the sting in the crass syllables (one friend I asked associated the word "occupy" with "take over," "invade," and "impose"). This also poses the question: Is the word "occupy" really ready to be reclaimed, especially if occupation, gentrification, and colonization still run rampant in U.S. cities? Suzie from Occupy Judaism Boston notes that, "On the one hand, this word has been used to describe a large host of imperialist takeovers - on the other hand, we know that reclaiming words can be very powerful (i.e. queer)."
I don't claim to have any of the answers to any of the issues I stated above. In fact, I'm not even quite sure if there is a collective and formulated game plan associated with the Occupy Wall Street movement, so I'm a little lost as to whom these protesters are really fighting for when they focus on beating off capitalism with cardboard planks attached to yardsticks and bullhorns and impassioned shouts of "WE ARE THE NINETY-NINE PERCENT!" while pushing indigenous folks, people of color, gender and sexuality minorities, and other oppressed groups to the edge of the protests, where many willingly walk off because of the (intended or unintended) ignorance more privileged protesters hold.
There is strength in solidarity and unity, and until we can demonstrate safely (this means without fear of being harassed, belittled, mocked, or discriminated against, people!) with a clear goal and a strategy chart in mind, I don't believe that Occupy Wall Street can accurately say that they represent the ninety-nine percent.