Statement from and Call to Join in Solidarity with Non-Dominant Communities at OccupyDC/Occupy K St.
Please note: the following is a living document that we hope to grow. If you identify as a member of nondominant communities and have feedback and/or would like to participate in the building of this document, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
This message is a collaborative document from members of non-dominant communities who are a part of the Occupy movement in Washington, D.C. Realizing that this occupation holds its own particular power for influence in the heart of the U.S. Empire, we offer you this message that speaks to the current realities of non-dominant groups on a global, national, local and hyper-local level.
We share an understanding that people of color, women, gender and sexual minorities, indigenous people, people with disabilities, immigrants, people from non-dominant religious backgrounds, and other marginalized groups comprise the majority of “the 99%.”
We reiterate that for non-dominant communities, the economic crisis did not begin in 2008. Economic crisis is a long-standing reality that shapes our perceptions and experiences. For marginalized communities in the U.S., economic crisis has been a defining characteristic of the “American Experience.”
We came together to create this document out of a deep-seated concern that some within the Occupy DC/Occupy K St. movement are attempting to maintain political messaging that is race and gender “neutral.” We understand that political “neutrality”, in the same vein as the terms “colorblind,” supports a preposterous idea of society that maintains the status-quo of patriarchy, sexism, ablism, racism, homophobia, colonialism, imperialism and other systems of oppression and exploitation that have impacted our people far longer than the current economic tide.
We share a common understanding that systems of oppression intersect in our world. This creates a structure where a small number of people (overwhelmingly able-bodied, publicly heterosexual, cisgender white men) profit within the capitalist system at the expense of the 99%. The exploitation of and discrimination against the non-dominant communities that comprise the majority of the 99% is the primary ideological weapon used by the 1% to confuse and divide the 99%.
This has created a paradigm where many folks who happen to have the privilege of having a combination of the aforementioned identities hold power beyond their understanding. It’s critical that in this moment we create communities that represent what we all would like to see in the larger world. This involves creating a space where all people are able to come to the table as their full selves. This would involve circumstances wherein people are not afraid of hearing homophobic or racial slurs, or at the very least can expect to be supported after a verbal assault. We would like to work on continuing to build a community where people’s experiences and analysis of the world, including marginalized people, are valued and listened to, rather than shot down.
Like everyone in this movement, we abhor the corporate control that influences our daily lives. We reject the systems of hierarchy that exist in our current society and reject their replication within this movement. We worry that we already see this movement becoming a microcosm of systems of power and privilege that exist in the greater world. We must be conscientious of these systems’ impact on global, national, local and Occupy-specific levels in order to prevent harm to our movement.
For those of you who haven’t participated in the fight for justice before, we are deeply excited and grateful for your presence.
We welcome you to the struggle. We are happy to have you here. We, and our allies have been working for generations to build solidarity and work towards a world premised on equitable systems. We invite you to join us in this project, and hope that you are as excited as we are about building a movement that is accountable to the realities of all of the 99%.
Quoting the declaration of the Occupation of Wall Street, we would like to reiterate: “the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members. Our increasingly interconnected world obscures the underlying truth that all of our grievances are connected.” Systems of domination and oppression are at the heart of all inequity. In addressing the symptoms that have been laid out in this document, it’s critical to understand that they are the product of the overarching systems of domination and oppression that have established our status quo.
The following are a list of grievances that we would like to make public about incidences and phenomena that we have witnessed at Occupy K St. We hope that by seeing this you will understand the dire need to bring issues of privilege, oppression, and entitlement into the open to frame an inclusive, more effective movement.
- The language of occupation is problematic. Washington, DC has seen four waves of occupation: the theft of land from its original inhabitants, the oppression of the government’s establishment in the city to the people of color who are resident of the city, the white people who now occupy areas as part of gentrification, and, now, by the middle class white people who are intending to “occupy” McPherson Square. In addition white people calling the economic oppression they experience “slavery” and using symbolism reminiscent of chattel slavery.
- Cis-men complaining about being asked to inquire about pronoun preference instead using gendered familiar language such as “dear” or “hon”.
- White men claiming they understand racial oppression because they have experienced “reverse racism” or other types of oppression, that they don’t see color or that we are living in post-racial America, that class is more important than race, that bringing up slavery is dwelling on the past and that they can’t possibly be perpetuating racism because they “have a black friend”.
- White people approaching people from marginalized groups and insisting that they find solutions for making spaces inclusive and then instructing those people how they should feel, act, think.
- A woman of color being told to “get in your place”. White men complaining about women “taking up too much space” and threatening to tear down a safer spaces tent.
- Men of color being racially profiled and falsely accused of wrongdoing.
- People who perpetuate oppression defending their behavior rather than listening and being open to change. White men expressing opposition to the use of progressive stack. A proposal that stated that members of a committee “should attend anti-oppression training and anti-racist groups” being blocked by an individual who also refused to encourage marginalized people to attend the meeting before the GA.
- Women being talked over, shouted down, ignored, dismissed, threatened, harassed, etc. and in one instance being told by men that they “don’t see gender – therefore women’s issues aren’t a problem” and in another having her biographical information sent over a listserv to strangers.
- An inability to address issues that arise from sharing the space with people who are homeless, some of whom suffer from untreated mental illness, drug addiction, etc. and lived in the Square prior to the occupation. A failure to elevate issues faced by the homeless residents to equal standing as other issues.
- White people setting the agenda and taking leadership roles during meetings, elevating issues that negatively impact them and dismissing issues that privilege themselves while oppressing others. The failure of white people to acknowledge or realize why people from marginalized groups may feel excluded from the movement.
- Positive references to “forefathers” that fail to identify them as slave owners, misogynists, etc.
- Tokenizing of marginalized groups and pervasive forms of “othering”. Appropriation of culture (white people dreads, names and symbols from marginalized cultures being appropriated).
- White people favoring a focus on national issues as opposed to local issues and failing to identify with local issues because DC’s issues reflect the astounding disparities that elevate white people (specifically white males) and oppress people from marginalized groups.
- A white man comparing addressing the colonization of Americas to “an oppression pissing contest”.
- White people acting out white privilege then denying that it exists.
- During an action, people took down the DC flag -unaware of its significance to the residents of DC and their struggle for statehood.
- Outreach actions to encourage DC residents to join Occupy DC rather than learning about or offering support to ongoing community struggles.
- Failure to make meetings and assemblies accessible to people who are deaf and to people with disabilities.
- Failing to create safe spaces by failing to adequately address oppressive, offensive, threatening behavior.
- A privileging of individuals who sleep at McPherson, ignoring the myriad of obstacles that many individuals from marginalized groups face including concerns for personal safety, childcare and other family responsibilities, work obligations, etc.
- Many of the residents of the DC do not speak English. Lack of language access and sensitivity at Occupy DC have made this space inaccessible and unwelcoming to many.
- People whose privilege affords them relative safety in interactions with the police exposing the camp to greater police presence through aggressive acts and vandalism.
- An overly U.S.-centric view that fails to acknowledge that the 1% seeks to dominate the entire world. A naïve aversion to the term “empire” places Occupy DC at odds with other Occupy sites, despite DC being the heart of the empire.
We are living in a critical moment. It’s up to each of us to hold our communities and ourselves accountable for the oppressions that we benefit from, while learning about the experiences and perspectives of other peoples. That is key to building a movement that is founded on solidarity and building power.
We are all the 99%.