I posted the following blog on another site exactly one year ago when Occupy Wall Street was still holding strong to its original intention of creating a space for broad-based democracy. Much has changed since then…
Oct 24, 2011: What more is possible when racial and economic equity are fundamental to all of our movement building?
This question puts the focus on racial and economic equity, without naming other oppressions. It has been in the center of my work for many years and it still resonates for me as an essential and focusing question for transformative social change and movement building.
The Occupy Wall Street folks have not been willing to prioritize oppressions and are holding the intention that 99% of us will be able to see ourselves, our families and communities represented in the movement.
The Safer Spaces Working Group has begun to facilitate people of color, queer and women’s working groups, among others, in the development of a community agreement that will invite occupiers, in fact, the entire 99%, to try harder and be better at inclusiveness and base building.
I joined this working group because, while attending the General Assemblies (GA) — the cutting edge of large group participatory leadership in this country — I noticed and met folks who were literally standing in the margins discussing how they were not being heard or were experiencing hurtful oppressive behaviors from other occupiers. As a self-professed survivor of many movements, I knew where this was going and decided to support efforts to transform (or perhaps, usurp my own projections of) the ‘inevitable’ continuation of the most eloquent, available and, subsequently, educated and resourced people creaming to the top. This can and does happen in leaderless movements! [My all time favorite and earliest reference to this is Jo Freeman’s 1970 piece on the Tyranny of Structurelessness.]
By joining this working group, I became part of the networking and community building that is not visible on the surface when visiting the occupied park, attending the GA or scanning most news, whether mainstream or progressive.
The slow, thoughtful conversations about expanding accessibility and the working groups that are insisting that adopting anti-oppression values are central to the success of the movement aren’t exciting copy, but they are fueling the development of this movement. Last Wednesday night, when I attended the Safer Spaces working group in the Atrium at 60 Wall St. at 9 pm, about 30+ people of color were seated nearby deeply engaged in the POC Working Group, which started at 6 pm. Therefore, they were not visible en masse at the GA that night, which always starts at 7 pm, but they are co-creating this movement.
Joining this emerging, self proclaimed leaderless movement, I can now see that my favorite movement question, the title of this blog, comes from my experience of being in issue or population based peoples movements (i.e., drug policy, AIDS, LGBTQ) in the US that quickly formed not-for-profit organizations where the most educated and resourced people soon progressed to leadership and resource controlling positions. With this progression, the base or the originators — who were more diverse in race and class background — lost influence, specifically decision-making power around allocation of resources.
This fledging movement is dealing with the same struggles around power and access and there is a fundamental difference. First of all, the intention is systemic change, rather than advancing an issue, and the invitation is to do so by engaging a very broad base. Issue-based (environmental, education, union, etc.) and identity-based (transgender, people of color, women, etc.) activists and organizations are showing up saying ‘this is our movement’. Most important, there is absolutely no traction for forming another not-for-profit corporation.
Oct 24, 2012: After a year of participating and witnessing the evolution of the Occupy and Decolonize movements, I offer a new question:
What more could be possible if our movement work started with our most educated and highly resourced and our most disenfranchised citizens finding each other? What if this was the most radical action possible?
I am interested in your reflections and thoughts on this question, one year after the launch of the Occupy and Decolonize Movements.