All posts by Lazy Susan

Doing something good – Occupy the Hood

All across the country masses of people are becoming radicalized through their exposure to the violent and dehumanizing tactics of the police, yet many people of color expect to be stopped, frisked, beaten or arrested on any given day. The occupy movement seeks to be all-inclusive, but can we simply re-appropriate without acknowledging the pre-existing meaning of the word “occupy”? We are used to a world in which the military occupies communities of color overseas and the police occupy communities of color inside the US and people of color occupy a hugely disproportionate number of prison cells. As black cultural theorist and journalist Greg Tate wrote in the Village Voice, “Out there on the street, though all we need is to feel like you got our backs like we got yours, herein might lie the rub. People fresh to the daily struggle might need to earn our trust more. Clearly we’re in no hurry to make loads of new friends spanking new to police brutality.”

In Oakland and many other places, people of color are a big part of the Occupy Movement, but there are inevitable racial tensions arising out of culture clashes and mutual distrust. Racial oppression, exclusion, and fear of different cultures are so ingrained in all of us that it may not be possible to achieve a genuine consensus in massive public forums. Therefore it is exciting to hear that some people of color are organizing local autonomous neighborhood assemblies to establish their goals and desires for the larger movement.

An organization calling itself Occupy the Hood (www.officialoccupythehood.org) has established a presence on Youtube, Twitter and Facebook, with links to chapters across the country, and Denise Oliver Velez published an inspiring blog posting in the Daily Kos asserting that the Occupy Movement can incorporate the concerns and causes of communities of color. For example, Occupy Flagstaff in Arizona has been raising awareness of a plan to cover a mountain sacred to native tribes with snow manufactured from treated waste-water, as well as a plan to reinstate uranium mining around the Grand Canyon. Occupy the Hood Boston was specifically initiated to address issues impacting their own community, in particular police brutality and the system’s indifference to inner city violence. One of Occupy the Hood Boston’s founders said that she, like many others who have lost family members to violence, simply wants peace of mind when it comes to living in the hood; “If they can sit in the South End [Boston] at one in the morning drinking cappuccino and not have a fear of being shot then the same thing should happen here.”

It seems obvious that the Occupy Movement should mean the same thing for communities of color that it does for white people, but the methods and/or tactics used to realize that vision might be very different. Compared to most of the other Occupy movements, which rely on hand signals, stacks, and group facilitators, Occupy the Hood Boston is a bit more reminiscent of the organizational structure of the civil rights movement, but without leaders. Any member can propose an action and those who agree form a ‘Coalition of the Willing’ and take direct action. Participants in the General Assemblies of most other Occupy movements must be on stack and use hand signals for the chance to be heard, while OTHB participants need only to rise and speak. This freewheeling nature of Occupy the Hood allows for vigorous debate and unrestrained free speech.

Despite their differences, it should be noted that all of the Occupy movements are essentially fighting for the same thing, each using the strength of its collective voice to create awareness of social and economic injustice. Occupy the Hood is simply representing the people most grossly affected.

Occupy didn’t start on Wall St.

Events of the last few months feel exciting and truly unprecedented given the way things have been going for decades. Through the occupy movements, we in the US have joined a global struggle against social injustice and economic tyranny. While it may be true that the whole world is watching in wonder and astonishment, it is more because the US is the heart of the neo-liberal monster, not because we have invented anything here.

Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Yemen, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Spain, Morocco and Greece are just a few of the countries with recent protest movements that started before Occupy Wall Street but mirror our own. This is a worldwide moment we joined when we pitched tents in our local parks.

In Egypt, 300,000 people occupied Tahrir Square for 18 days in January and February, 2011, and the joy and revolutionary energy was felt worldwide. Egypt was the image Adbusters evoked when they ran the notice last February that is credited with sparking the movement here.

But what has evolved here is actually much more like the movement in Spain, where in May people set up camp in plazas across the country that brought thousands of people of all ages and backgrounds out into the street to participate in marches and general assemblies. There, like here, the movement was started by a slick, media savvy, radical but liberal protest group, and there, like here, the fundamentals of anarchism were embraced, such as consensus and horizontal decision making. In Spain there has been an urge to censor any person or group that called itself anarchist or advocated the explicit use of non-passive resistance.

Peter Gelderloos wrote an article in Counterpunch describing the May 15 movement in Spain, how the movement started, and how participants in Barcelona carried the spark of revolution home to their neighborhoods after the police crackdown forced them out of the Plazas. He also details what he sees as the challenges to the US occupy movement, such as the more transient and less rooted nature of our culture, the fact that past protest movements have been so brutally crushed that they are ground out of our consciousness, and our arrogance born from ignorance that we can replicate the worldwide protests without absorbing the lessons they have had to learn. Visit Counterpunch.org to read his reflections. Needless to say, we know many Europeans view us as rootless and arrogant, but we are not going to let it get us down, and certainly he is right that we need to spread our wings to embrace the solidarity of the worldwide movements and learn all we can from them.

A warning that bears repeating about the overly simplistic analysis embodied by the rhetoric of “the 99%” is how, in times of economic hardship, appeals to populism have lead to fascism in Europe. It could happen here if certain interests latch on to the linkage of nationalism and radicalism.

What I find most hopeful in Spain are accounts of the neighborhood assemblies, which are as diverse politically as the movement itself, but some of which have come to embrace anticapitalist goals and are committed to disrupting the plan to dismantle our communities in the name of economic policy. The neighborhood assemblies often meet in public in the center of everything, drawing in bystanders, blocking traffic, and generally making their presence known. They discuss tactics, such as occupying a hospital slated for closure, but they also plan participation in larger marches and actions the way an affinity group would. The participation of regular neighborhood people gives the police pause, and the rootedness to place provides people from diverse backgrounds with diverse common cause.

Here in Oakland, a few neighborhood groups are popping up, organized or inspired by people from the occupy camps. Hopefully, you will read this and be inspired to talk to your neighbors and friends about meeting to discuss your revolutionary goals out in public, working on this learning curve we are all struggling with, and forming strong bonds that will enable us to work through the stuff that could bog us down.