Editorial: Should We Occupy or Decolonize?
By Davey D
The term ‘Occupy‘ is a loaded word that has long been problematic in many communities of color. To put it simply many have long felt they have been the victims of Occupation…. Those of Native background understand that Occupy has led to genocide. During the Civil Rights and Black Power struggles of the past we’ve heard term Occupy as one that rallied people together..This was especially true with the Black Panthers who noted that the police were ‘occupying forces in our community….With all that being said, in the end, one can see why there’s been a push for name change..
On the flip side, many feel that this a movement that is growing and folks know the name Occupy..Like it or not, its an identifiably brand now. From here to South Africa there are over 1300 Occupy Movement sites and damn near all including the ones in South Africa use the term ‘Occupy’.. The question arises why change the name midstream?
The attempt of those in the Occupy Movement was not to use any term that would be incendiary… If anything the term was used to signify reclaiming space, taken over by the 1%… In the case of Wall Street, it was recognizing that those financial institutions had been cut off to the 99% and hence there was a need to ‘Occupy’ that space in all dimensions..
In a recent discussion someone once noted that we have long taken terms once offensive and changed the meaning, why can’t the same be applied to Occupy. In the past folks have fought vigorously to take offensive terms like ‘Queer‘ in the Gay community and flip them. The word ‘Nigger‘ has been argued to no longer be an offensive term but now one that is a term of endearment. Efforts to shut down those words have been met with scorn, ridicule and folks claiming those taking offense are out of touch.. Can that happen with the term Occupy? Can it be flipped?
There is no ignoring the fact that the word Occupy cuts deep in many communities and last week in Oakland there was a push to change the name.. from Occupy to Decolonize.. A vote was taken and 63% voted yes to name change vs the 37% who opposed. 90% is needed for a measure to pass at a General Assembly in Oakland.
In Seattle a similar discussion unfolded last month.. The proposal to change the name was also defeated, but a statement was issued which can be found http://occupyseattle.org/blog/2011-10-25/declaration-decolonizeoccupy-seattle.
In New Mexico similar discussions and proposals were put forth as outlined http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/10/13/1025832/-Indigenous-People-of-OccupyBurque-Challenge-the-Term-Occupy-%28Photo-Diary%29
One of the concerns raised was that folks who came out to push the Decolonize proposal in Oakland were not regular attendees of GAs.. However, many if not all are long time activists in the community who been fighting the 1% long before there was any sort of Occupy Movement..
Also from the footage shown in the video below, many have been down at GAs in the past and in support of Occupy Movement..So it’s not like we have a group of folks who just showed up on the scene..What wasn’t shown in the film were those who don’t want to change the name.. Contrary to popular belief, quite a few were people of color who are down at GAs all the time.. so it’s not an across the board black or white issue..
The other criticism is most people don’t understand what the term Decolonization means… I know from talking to students in my class it’s not a term that most are aware of… Does an unfamiliar name kill the momentum of a movement just started? Why not take a bold stance, change the name and use this as a learning opportunity? After all the term Occupy within two months has become part of the American lexicon, can’t the term Decolonize follow the same trajectory?
In any case, this is an important discussion and hopefully it continues with the aim of building community, raising awareness and opening hearts and minds.. Will such discussions at time be contentious? Absolutely, but what political discussion in the city has not been?
It was just last month that folks in various Occupy sites had to grind it out around discussions of Violence vs Non violence and the diversity of tactics.. One result was folks getting educated to what Anarchists are about. One got to understand that among those who identify as Anarchists/ Black Bloc there’s a politic, various perspectives and a movement that’s been around for long time and is not centered around simply breaking windows. In short people were able to have their horizons broadened.. And yes, the debates were testy, the discussions not always pretty, but necessary..
The discussion is the term Occupy vs Decolonization is just as important in fact it may be even more because of the sheer numbers of people who live in cities like Oakland who are affected by 1% economic policies who are being urged to join the Occupy Movement, but have hesitated because the a bothersome term..
What I personally have found problematic is how folks have been dismissive of this concern.. There have been some, that have expressed indifference and impatience with both the proposal and discussion. Some have suggested that this is slowing momentum and they didn’t show up to be apart of Occupy to debate name changes.. I say that’s the fault line where everything comes to halt and we work it out.. That’s where the real work needs to be done. Wall Street and their 1% cronies are not going anywhere…
Healing and understanding how that 1% and its tactics of divide and conquer has resulted in class privilege and lots of negative presumptions is something that needs to be addressed immediately and for as long as it takes…To not do so will have us all fall victim to some of the same tactics that netted us behind the proverbial 8 ball in the past.
One of the strength in the Occupy Movement has been the forging new relationship and building new alliances. That’s not something that can be easily packaged and explained in a neat 30 second soundbite that we all immediately get, but as those relationships take hold, folks involved start to understand the importance of them and how its essential for any and all work moving forward.
We often talk about having a world devoid of ism and schisms..Many find that desirable. In order to get there will require some long hard soul searching discussions. Its the birthing pains of new world..That’s the challenge before us lets embrace it with courage and whole lotta love.
written by Davey D