From:   shaista husain <>
Sent time:   Wednesday, November 16, 2011 12:43:43 PM
Subject:   Re: [september17discuss] On the implications of how we frame our rhetoric

Jon Good,
I read this article a while ago, actually it was circulating a month before the print date, and is extremely useful as a starting point--YES A LOT OF FOLKS of COLOR do feel this way inititially, so let's not just keep on dismissing what we don't want to examine. The article is only one starting point, but it doesn't open up the framework--we've already begun re-framing. Some of my discussions on this board, on the issues of race, racism, racial profiling, demographics, and the census--were framed rather clumsily--actually, it was just a typical gut reaction-alienated, and thus, alienating-- 'tactically flawed' as someone called it, due to my own fears, insecurities and defense mechanisms that left me eating my own bitter words. These issues are really not individual problems between a few people, no one alone can address it, not comrades who have been called out, nor the ones pointing fingers--we can not carry the burdens individually. It is irresponsible to leave such silences, we all have internalized racism, these are the dominant narratives and structures of oppression that marginalize us and cause our divisions. One can't simply just erase histories of oppression, one must look at the history of the census and history of racial profiling, even our most active progressive labor unions are divided by documented/undocumented workers--racism impedes every step of our struggles. We must cross the threshold in a collective way, cross these borders/fronteras of our language, our perceptions in order to build means for the self determination of those most marginalized. Our ways of framing race, pluralism and diversity have to be re-defined--"Caminante, no hay puentes, se hace puentes al andar" ("Fellow Travelers, there are no bridges, one builds them as one walks.”Gloria E. Anzaldúa.) ... What you think is a minority, must become a majority: Whiteness is a false category that does not differentiate between ethnic white immigrants. We are ALL illegal immigrants on this land. We are all migrants exiled within our selves, there are unequal power divisions between us. This movement is about finding a way back to each other--and the sum is greater than its parts. "The Occupy movement's exhilarating potential lies in forging a unity that can make a new majority of the old minorities." is the title of Angela Davis piece in the Guardian, i have posted it below and also am pasting a transcription of her speech she gave at OWS, a comrade from PoC has just transcribed it for us., where she addresses these problems with such beauty and clarity, that only someone who has crossed so many thresholds, can write with such healing lucidity.
So, in conclusion, the way that i was trying to address this issue was parochial and bitter--but here, Angela presents the problem as an historical opportunity for liberation and transformation.

Zuccotti Park, Oct 30

Occupy Wall Street: You are reinventing our poltiical universe. You
have renewed our collective passion. You have reminded us that it is
still possible to build vibrant communities of resistance. You
continue to show us your commitment, your dedication, your collective
labor, your refusal to assent to class hierarchies, racial
hierarchies, gender hierarchies, sexual hierarchies. Your movement
calls on the majority to stand up against the minority. The old
minorities are the new majorities. And with our collective power, we
say “no” to Wall Street. We say “no” to big banks. We say “no” to
corporate executives making a million dollars a year. We say “no” to
student debt, “no” to evictions, “no” to police violence. We say “no”
to global capitalism. We say “no” to the prison industrial complex,
“no” to racism, “no” to class exploitation, “no” to homophobia, to
xenophobia, “no” to transphobia, “no” to ableism, “no” to the
devastation of the environnment. We say “no” to the military
occupations and to war. We have come together as the 99%. There are
major responsibilities that are linked to your decision to assemble
here in unity. How can we be together? How can we be together in a
unity that respects and celebrates the differences among us? How can
we be together in a unity that is not simplistic, that is not
oppressive, but rather complex and emancipatory? Our unity must be
complex and emancipatory. And so I evoke the black feminist Audre
Lorde, lesbian feminist Audre Lorde. “Differences,” she wrote, “must
not be merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of polarities between
which our creativity can spark like a dialectic.” In this complex
unity, we say “yes” to life, we say “yes” to community, “yes” to
happiness, “yes” to education, free education, and we say “yes” to
economic and racial and gender and sexual equality. We say “yes” to
the imagination, we say “yes” to creativity, we say “yes” to hope, we
say “yes” to the future.
Finally, a few words about my hometown, Oakland, CA. You have heard
about the police assault on Occupy Oakland. Scott Olsen remains in the
hospital. Oakland GA met a few days ago in the park named for Oscar
Grant and called for a General Strike, a General Strike throughout the
city on November 2. A general strike. This is revolutionary. I share
with you the language of the poster:
“Decolonize Oakland.
We are the 99%.
We stand united November 2, 2011.
General Strike.
No work.
No school.
Occupy Everywhere!”

Washington Square Park, Oct 30, Q&A (time markers in the square
brackets below match up to this video)

[1st q] how you suggest we fuse these concerns [inequalities] without
further marginalizing some or muting their voices, but bring attention
to this very different set of issues and make real cultural change?

That is the question you are working out through your practice. That
is what I meant when I said that we have to learn how to be together
It’s important that this movement expresses the will of the majority
from the outset, but that majority must be respected in terms of all
of the differences within…

[Q] Is there anything we can do at OWS to support the work you do to
end the prison industrial complex?

There is a lot that you can do to end the prison industrial complex.
Education will help to end the prison industrial complex. Housing,
jobs, health care, especially mental health care – all of these things
will help to make the prisons obsolete.

As an activist, you courageously served time, for a long time, in your
struggles. How should we approach using the prison system as a tactic
when participating in direct action, recognizing that for many in the
movement, the ability to be arrested is a great privilege and can
cause weird dynamics, because for so many, they’re enslaved by that
system. How do you propose/suggest that activists carefully deal with
that dynamic when using civil disobedience as a tactic?

I think it’s important to take prison abolition seriously. We can
begin to add prison abolition to all of our radical political agendas.
As far as civil disobedience is concerned, it must be taken seriously
as well. It should not happen simply because it seems dramatic. It
should happen in order to further a particular goal, and I understand
that there is a new app: I got arrested. It’s important to have
context in the larger community. Lawyers, community activists, other
people who will respond when civil disobedience happens. It should be
organized, and it should happen for a reason. In the meantime, we call
for prison abolition. We say free Mumia. We say abolish the death
penalty. Honor Troy Davis.

[12:12] Shaking apathy, POC inclusivity.

Your question is both about inclusiveness and about exerting pressure
on those who don’t necessarily want to be included. The more we build
the movement, the more those who are staying away will feel compelled
to join us. The real question, I believe, is to insist on
inclusiveness, not only formally, but by demonstrating that we can all
be fluent in each other’s stories, to use a quote from Jacqui
Alexander, “we have to become fluent in each other’s stories.”

[14.13] Do you have any words for POC who may not be here, because
they feel somehow disempowered, because they normally haven’t had the
privilege, or feel comfortable taking up space? And also, how do
leaderless movements affect traditionally marginalized people?

That is the question! I’m not sure I have the answer. But I can say it
is important to insist on the involvement of people of color, of
women, of people with marginalized sexualities, of immigrants, and
especially undocumented immigrants. Everyone has to be willing to
listen to their voices. Those who have traditionally exercised
privilege have to become conscious of the way that privilege can
continue to be marginalizing. So this is work we must all do.

[16.32] In a few months, turn to electoral process. Democrats like to
front like they’re against big banks. How can we intervene in
electoral politics?

This is one way the two party system has never worked. It does not
work now, and we clearly need alternatives. Personally, I believe we
need a powerful, radical, third party. In the meantime, this movement,
which is not a party, can accomplish much that political parties are
unable to accomplish, and so it would seem to me that the best way to
exert pressure on the corrupt, two-party system is to continue to
build this movement, and to demonstrate that it reaches not only
across the country, but across the ocean, and connects with people who
are struggling in the Middle East, and connects with people who are
struggling in Africa and in Europe and in Australia and in Latin
America. That, I think, is the best way to put pressure on the
political system right now.


I agree with you that capitalism sucks, and for the majority of my
life, the overwhelming majority, since I was a student in high school,
right here in Greenwich Village, I have said, along with thousands and
millions of others: Down with capitalism! But we need a more complex
alternative… I agree that eventually we should be able to exist
without money and we should imagine a time when money becomes
obsolete. In the meantime, there is a whole range of issues that can
define our radical struggles, but I agree: “down with capitalism”.

[22.41] What’s your opinion on the language of Occupy Wall Street?
What role does language have in making this movement sustainable,
political and inclusive?

Great question. We challenge language. We transform language. We
remain aware of all of the resonances of the language we use. We know
that the movement in Puerto Rico is raising the slogan “un-occupy”. We
must be aware when we say “occupy wall street” that this country was
founded on the genocidal occupation of indigenous lands. We must be
aware when we say “Occupy Wall Street” or “Occupy Washington Square”
that occupations in other countries are violent and brutal. Palestine
remains occupied territory, and we have to learn how to say “no” to
military occupations. At the same time, we transform the meaning of
“occupation”. We turn “occupation” into something that is beautiful.
Something that brings community together. Something that calls for
love and happiness and hope…. Oftentimes the assumption is that
democracy means the right to vote, but it should mean much more. And I
think this movement is developing new, more creative strategies for


that is what this movement is all about: how to transform formal
equality into substantive equality, into real equality. And so, we
stand behind calls for housing, free education, the decommodification
of education, and healthcare, but we call for the use of the
imagination. Demands for jobs, demands for justice. Equality. Freedom.
That, it seems to me, is what this movement is about: freedom, and the
redefinition of freedom.


I think it would be great if this could be another revolution… drawing
from the past, inhabiting the present, imagining the future will allow
this movement to move us forward. We never know what the future is
going to bring. We can never fully know the possible consequences of
our activism. The scholar activist Stuart Hall has said there are no
guarantees. There are no guarantees, but we have to act as if it were
possible to build a future which reflects our dreams, our aspirations,
our imaginations.


when I said that we need a third party, a radical party, I was
projecting towards the future, and while I think independent political
parties play an important role today, I also have to say that we
cannot allow a Republican to take office. Don’t we remember what it
was like when Bush was president? That was only a few years ago, and
as much as we can say that Obama has disappointed us, it is a
qualitatively different situation. So I think the best way to put
pressure on the Obama administration is to continue to build this
movement. This movement reflects the forces that made it possible for
Obama to be elected in the first place. Let us not forget that, and
let us continue to build this movement so that it embraces trade
unions, so that it embraces people who are in churches, and poor
students, and movements, and everyone. If we say the 99%, we have to
commit ourselves to organizing the 99%.

[36.59] 3 potential ideas for how OWS can investigate our own
potential to be part of the dangerous class?

Number 1: the slogan. “I am Troy Davis.” Troy Davis, as he faced death
at the hands of the state, offered us the possibility of continuing
the movement against capital punishment in his memory. So that is one
I have been active in the prison abolition movement for many years.
This year is the 40th anniversary of the Attica uprising. It is
perhaps serendipitous that this movement takes shape 40 years after
Attica. Become a part of the dangerous class by studying the way in
which prisoners in Attica 40 years ago, black prisoners, Latino
prisoners, white prisoners, native American prisoners, came together
in community, in democratic community, to call for radical change.
That is the second way. I can give you many more ways, but you only
asked for 3.
Identify with undocumented immigrants. That is another way. Identify
with trans people, who are arrested at a greater rate than any other
group of people in this country. That is my [third] way.


There is conservative, and there is conservative. My strategy has
always been to bring those who are most receptive into the movement,
and the larger we get, the more those who are conservative will feel
left out, and they will join us. It’s as simple as that!

On Wed, Nov 16, 2011 at 1:16 AM, Jon Good <> wrote:
The below article articulates very well many of the challenges of how this movement is perceived by communities of color.  Certainly our intent is not to be alienating, but if people feel alienated, then we need to consider it when we speak.



Occupy Wall Street's Race Problem

by Kenyon Farrow

The economic crisis has disproportionately affected people of color, in particular African Americans. Given the stark economic realities in communities of color, many people have wondered why the Occupy Wall Street movement hasn’t become a major site for mobilizing African Americans. For me, it's not about the diversity of the protests. It's about the rhetoric used by the white left that makes OWS unable to articulate, much less achieve, a transformative racial-justice agenda. 

In this way, white progressives subscribe to the same “slavery” line conservatives use to incite white fears of economic and political subjugation. Rush Limbaugh, according to Media Matters, equated the 2009 health-care law to slavery, noting, “It's not going to be a matter of whether you can or cannot pay. It won't be a matter of whether you have coverage or don't have coverage. What'll matter is that all of us will be slaves."One of the first photos I saw from the Occupy Wall Street protests was of a white person carrying a flag that read “Debt=Slavery.” White progressive media venues often compare corporate greed or exploitation to some form of modern-day slavery. But while carrying massive amounts of debt, whether in student loans, medical bills, or predatory balloon-payment mortgages is clearly a mark of a society that exploits poor and working-class people, it is not tantamount to chattel slavery. In fact, slaves, who were the property of others by law, for centuries symbolized wealth. A slave, as property, could be sold as a commodity to clear debt. Currently, black households carry about $5,000 in wealth compared to $100,000 for white households, according to a recent Brandeis University study. Arguing that white working- and middle-class people are slaves to debt or corporations undermines not only the centrality of the African slave trade to the birth of the modern corporation but the distinct ways in which debt prevents many blacks from achieving middle-class status.

Pundits have observed that many black people may be staying away from the Wall Street protests to avoid (additional) direct contact with police. Last year, New York City carried out 600,000 random stop-and-frisks, half of which were conducted on black citizens, according to the New York Civil Liberties Union; it makes sense that blacks, who are often in daily contact with police, would stay away from an event where interaction with law-enforcement officers would be inevitable. In fact, on October 22, scores of OWS protesters joined a Harlem demonstration against the practice of stop-and-frisk, during which several people were arrested.   

In contrast, many nonwhites assume the worst in any interaction with police, and if the worst doesn't occur, we often consider that the exception, not the rule.But when the New York Police Department began to act violently against the mostly white protesters on Wall Street, many of the videos posted by OWS attendees on YouTube made the point that protesters were arrested, beaten, or pepper-sprayed “just for asking the police a question” or for “just exercising their right to protest.”

In a London Guardian op-ed, white feminist writer and Democratic strategist Naomi Wolf wrote that she was arrested at an OWS demonstration while “standing lawfully on the sidewalk in an evening gown,” as if to connote that nice white ladies on the way to high-society gatherings wouldn't or shouldn't be treated as criminal by the police. She went on to detail the ways in which police lied or broke the law in handling the protest. Though blacks and Latinos are never mentioned directly, statements that accuse police of misconduct when they clash with ostensibly law-abiding activists highlight how much white occupiers take for granted that only “criminals” will be the target of police violence and harassment.

Another fundamental flaw of white progressives (like many participating in the OWS movement) is the “take back our country and/or democracy” framework. In order to be invested in that idea, you have to see and believe that you had some stake in it to begin with. If you've been stopped and frisked 50 different times with as many fines to pay, or you're HIV-positive and your welfare benefits were cut off because you were too ill to keep an appointment with a case manager, it's hard to believe that the government is just broken—it seems pretty insistent and hell-bent on your demise.

Comparing debt to slavery, believing police won't hurt you, or wanting to take back the America you see as rightfully yours are things that suggest OWS is actually appealing to an imagined white (re)public. Rather than trying to figure out how to diversify the Occupy Wall Street movement, white progressives need to think long and hard about their use of frameworks and rhetoric that situate blacks at the margins of the movement.