Occupy Wall Street for a Radical with a Job
I haven’t said a lot about Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movement generally because I haven’t quite decided where I come down. It would seem that this movement is tailor-made for me. After all, I’ve been waiting for the (peaceful) revolution for a while. I don’t believe that we can solve our problems through voting. I’m an enthusiastic student of Howard Zinn, and I’m frustrated by how the myth of economic prosperity has been used to blame and shame ordinary people, to turn natural allies against one another by tapping into our Puritan ideals of “it’s my fault if I don’t succeed.” I think this country needs a drastic paradigm shift.
The occupy movement addresses this myth in some ways, by pointing out through the 99% concept that ordinary people are struggling, that often it’s not your fault in this country if you don’t succeed, because its structures and its politics do not support you. I support this tactic. I love the “we are the 99%” blog, and how it tells the diverse stories of people who are struggling. I also love tactics like closing big bank accounts, staging teach-ins, and donating to a big library of radical books so that everyone can learn about feminism, homophobia, racism, etc.
But the movement is not perfect.
The occupiers may be challenging the economic prosperity myth, but at the same time we’ve seen racism, transphobia, and sexism in the camps that shows many occupiers are buying into a different myth about power structures. Just as the idea that America is a great, prosperous country has been used to shame those who don’t succeed, the support for the ideas of white, straight, able-bodied cis men in this country often keeps these Americans from seeing their own faults. Radical liberals who have these traits tend to dominate discussions and challenge the perspectives of more marginalized people, rather than listening up, or, as Tumblr gleefully terms it, “taking a seat.” There are reports of rape and anti-trans violence in the camps. The entire movement suffers from its blind spot regarding the fact that this is already a colonized country, and all us white folks, for richer or poorer, the colonizers.
Beyond these problems, which others have blogged about at length, I have further difficulties finding a place in the movement. Of course, the “occupy” tactic mostly works for those who don’t have jobs, or those who are able to quit. I am employed at a wonderful organization that does work I care about, and I have no interest in leaving to join the revolution. I believe that the work we do is revolutionary–maybe not all of it, but certainly some. And as much as I believe in revolution, and realize that a revolution needs bodies to take place, it’s hard to tell, in the middle of a movement, whether this is The One. I still find myself more comfortable writing about change, giving talks, and having conversations than I do waving a protest sign or putting my body in the way. I believe strongly in a revolution of ideas, in change through education. That, to me, is the beauty of the occupy movement, and that’s the part in which I feel most comfortable participating.