Speaking up about speaking out against the Occupy movement
Over the past few weeks we have seen local and national outrage at the treatment of Occupy protesters by police. Who can forget the image of Seattle’s own Dorli Rainey, mercilessly hosed down with pepper spray while protesting peacefully? Campsites have been razed, often with little or no warning. The unified cry that has risen from these events? That such tactics are a threat to democracy.
No disagreement from me.
I have been vocal about Occupy in general, but also Occupy Seattle specifically. Many of you — but certainly not all — have been upset with me for highlighting concerns and flat-out failures of this movement that professes to represent 99 percent of the country’s population, of which I am a part. Many of you have taken the time to contact me directly to express your anger. I have been lectured about my (assumed) young age, my (assumed) ignorance of “the struggle” and my (assumed) lack of appreciation for the work of such legendary civil rights activists as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. I’ve been told I need to stand for something, lest I fall for anything. I’ve been told that perhaps I shouldn’t be writing for a newspaper like Real Change, that my opinion stands in direct opposition to its mission. Some of you have even told me not to show my face around Occupy Seattle.
The majority of the emails I’ve received have been blatantly racist, referring to me in racially derogatory terms and making reference to petty, black cultural stereotypes. Here’s a sample, with misspellings in tact:
“You self rightios Black Power types are always all talk, no action. That goes for your entire race.”
All have come from folks identifying themselves as active Occupy Seattle protestors or those who stand in solidarity with them. Those same people who demand protection of their democratic right to protest somehow rationalize in their minds that it’s OK to treat me this way because they don’t like what I have to say. In reality, it’s reprisal for exercising a sacred democratic right afforded to all of us: the right to speak my mind.
No movement has been successful without those who were willing to step up and be critical. In the ‘60s, Bayard Rustin, an organizer for the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, was so concerned Dr. King wasn’t living up to the foundation of the nonviolent movement he risked his life to confront King — and to demand better of a movement that stood to impact generations and claimed to work on his behalf as a man of color in America. He was right. But rather than take the constructive criticism, people in the movement tried to cast him as an abomination and a communist. Yet he was right, and King recognized that.
Renowned activist Grace Lee Boggs came out critical of the Occupy movement. Should we challenge her entire life’s work or assert that because she’s not in a tent, she lays down to injustice? Of course not, that’s a ridiculous claim to make. But more importantly, she can stand for justice and be critical of Occupy at the same time, and that’s OK.
As a member of the 99 percent who wants authentic, sustainable change in this country, who is directly impacted by oppressive laws and policies, I shouldn’t have to prove my investment in fighting injustice as a means to qualify my concerns about Occupy Seattle. I shouldn’t have to trot out my history of civil/human/women’s/children’s rights work to validate my position or defend myself from the nasty rhetoric that folks keep trying to lay at my door.
I shouldn’t have to trot out my family’s history: How my grandfather, who lives in Seattle to this day, fought to teach in public education and wound up the first black teacher in the entire state of Washington. Or how his wife was one of the very first black students to be admitted to and graduate from nursing school in Seattle, and then integrated the nursing profession for an entire city. Or the work of my mother to fight systemic racism in the Seattle Police Department. Or how institutionalized racism directly contributed to the deaths of those I love the most. I don’t have to move into a tent to validate the work, sacrifice or legacy of my family, or to legitimize my criticisms.
I want change. I’m willing to fight for it, to suffer for it, to go to jail for it when it’s right. When that day comes, we’ll be standing shoulder to shoulder, right on the front line.
I have readily said the Occupy movement and Occupy Seattle is something. But I continue to question if it is what it claims to be. I continue to be concerned over the lack of cohesive direction and strategy, the lack of equitable representation of the 99 percent and those, to this day, who have always struggled under economic inequality and continue to at a disproportionate rate. These issues have to be drawn out and highlighted for the movement to get stronger and grow. Thus, writing critically of Occupy Seattle is in itself a viable contribution to the movement.
I don’t want it to fail, but I fear in its current form, on is current trajectory… it will.