It has been so inspiring to hear folks I have not had the pleasure of meeting before Occupy Oakland speak out about how we need to be open to hearing criticism from each other and be constantly working on ourselves. At one general assembly, some people spoke out about not feeling comfortable in the camp because they were being hit on by older men or because they were being insulted by homophobes. A proposal to section off a wimmin/queer/trans safer space for camping passed overwhelmingly, and next on stack was an older man announcing a men’s group meeting. Angela Davis came to speak at our general strike and her speech was dominated by “kill the ___ inside your head” rhetoric. This kind of thought is obvious to more people than I’d thought before and it is being spread even further. If only one thing comes out of this movement, I have hope it will be more of a willingness to work together and work on ourselves. There is a lot to work on, because behind all of this positive momentum, there are some ugly challenges.
Occupations become their own cities. The people participating find new neighbors, new local activities at the library tent or craft tent, new local cuisine at the kitchen tent, and new ways to get even more involved, with various meetings all day long, and then of course there is the general assembly. We can create our own cities and work together every day without the cops and without money. We can create our own cities and provide services for each other that the city will not provide. We can provide free education, free food, free medical attention. We can listen to our neighbors. We cannot create a utopia, a safe space, a zone free of all oppression and confrontation.
There will be violence. There will be arguments. There will be theft. There will be abuse. These things exist within all of that which we exist within: patriarchy, class struggle, gentrification, racial tension, queer- and transphobia, misogyny, dishonesty, greed, and on and on. This is the system we all live in, we were all brought up in, we all know. All we know. Welcome to the real world, in which we are poisoned every day. We can take the time to care for ourselves but we will always be interrupted by more damage, more abuse. The occupy movement does not claim to be a network of tent city islands unaffected by this real world.
The homeless are not the problem, the homeless are our family. The problem is lack of jobs and options for those who cannot work, privatized and inflated education, gentrification, and a plethora of other things which aid in one’s becoming homeless. The problem is also the media’s installation of fear and detestation of the homeless into the minds of those who have not experienced this lifestyle. The violence is not the problem. The problem is the idea implanted in the minds of young kids that they must fight to survive, living in a violent state, a desensitization to violence as seen in movies and on TV–including the news broadcasts. We are all products of a sick system. How dare this very system criticize us for not being less affected?
In the 1980s, the CIA introduced crack cocaine into low income communities of color. At the same time, a large number of psychiatric hospitals were closed and the ex-patients scarcely had alternatives to the streets. For decades, community members have been losing their housing due to the development of posh studios and condos appealing in aesthetic and available in price only to more wealthy, more white, transplants from other parts of town or other towns altogether. Recently we have seen this phenomenon reach a new level with the housing collapse, bank bailouts and foreclosures. These are the kind of things the Occupy Wall Street movement may be speaking out and camping out against.
People who are products of generations of legislation and city planning like this have already been occupying cities everywhere. Perhaps creating a space for people to exist together, laying their struggles out right in front of city hall to dry from the rain, is a good way to make the city face the problems like homelessness, illness and hunger that they ignore every day. Since city officials are not homeless people, they may not understand this like others do. They hand out eviction notices along with vouchers for and information about a local shelter, which will not open for another three days (many shelters in the bay area are only open during the more rainy months), and which requires a rent payment (How long are those vouchers good for? Long enough for the city to forget?) They may even think they are doing good. (Have you ever heard of the city reaching out to folks being kicked out of their homes like this?)
The corporate media, city officials, and internet commentators have done their best to point out how crazy and out of control those involved with the occupations are. Reports of urinating in public! People gotta piss. Reports of dogs biting reporters! Hey, we said we did not welcome the mainstream news. Reports of drug usage! Just because it’s out in the open doesn’t mean it is unique. There was even a person murdered outside of the Occupy Oakland encampment, as well as a suicide in Burlington, VT and another death in Salt Lake City, UT. These are tragic occurrences, but do not stand solely in the occupy movement. People die, people are murdered every day. This is not a problem with the occupations.
I am unsure whether I have a place writing about the things I’m writing about. I am just some white lady, but I feel it is urgent to have these dialogues. The occupy movement brings people from so many different backgrounds and paths together and few of us share the same story. I have been homeless and I have been unemployed and I have never experienced wealth, but I will never fully understand the feelings and experiences behind the racial tension present in our communities. I feel like even this racial tension is a product of the system and a tool to render us powerless, pitted against each other before a common enemy.
Is it wrong to believe the state is smart enough to put white cops in black neighborhoods and vise versa? Smart enough to portray young black men as criminal-aged violent gangbangers and young white men as college-aged upcoming entrepreneurs? Things like this can frustrate and paralyze, but communication is a beautiful thing so I may as well try my best. I believe that is all we can do.