I now have an issue with Occupy Wall Street.
This isn’t to say that before this I was extremely happy with them. I believed, as many have already stated, that the movement had indeed accomplished a great feat by shifting the conversation to income inequality and the ways the 1% profit while the rest are left to survive by whatever means are left. Not that their framing of the 99% was unique–there are other groups such as the other 98% that have been attempting this for a while but have yet to receive the headlines. I had a run-in with members of DC Occupy while covering the #99inDC march last December, and found their commentary and actions problematic. I was still very careful in my criticism of their methods because I didn’t want to be seen as attacking the burgeoning movement. Amongst progressives, Occupy is spoken of mostly with kind words and respect. Those who have critiqued it have often been given harsh words and had their own merits and commitment to change questioned. I caught a bit of this flack when I tweeted a sarcastic comment about violence committed against them in NYC.
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I participated in the #MillionHoodies march in New York City’s Union Square this past Wednesday, March 21st. When I arrived I noticed a lot less hoodies than I thought I was going to see. I assumed this was simply because of the warm weather. There was still an enormous crowd of people there to deal with the tragedy that was Trayvon Martin.
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With chants of “We are the 99%” and signage to that effect as well, I was a little thrown off. I thought the purpose of this march was to bring awareness to the death of a young boy. Soon after the march started confusion was all around. Which way were we marching? Who was leading the charge? After we walked a few blocks members of the Occupy section of the march started running down the street knocking down trash cans. I was told later that some attempted to knock down police barricades and police scooters used to guide the marchers. I immediately became uncomfortable because that’s not what I signed up for. I wanted to speak out against injustice—just causing general destruction wasn’t on my agenda. Soon some Occupiers started chanting “F**k the POLICE,” one young white male wearing skinny jeans and a Justin Bieber haircut started yelling “THIS IS WAR, WE WANT WAR!” To which a hoodie-clad young black adult said “Hey, uh we don’t really want war, why don’t you tone that down. I’m about to graduate college in a few months.” The white male kind of laughed and kept moving forward yelling something else.
At various points in the march, as organizers tried to make statements, they were drowned out by Occupiers chanting whatever they saw fit at the time. It didn’t matter if there was a full-on people’s mic happening, they would attempt to push things their way. I asked Daniel Maree, one of the organizers of the #millionhoodies march what he thought of the co-option by Occupy and their actions.”Honestly,” Maree replied “I feel like this is what happens when these emotions build up and they go unchecked and you know, injustice continues, you get it boiling over like this. I’m just happy nobody got hurt.” And while Occupy did help swell the ranks of marchers, I found their actions unacceptable.
This isn’t simply about emotions. This is a consistent streak within certain sections of Occupy. Their goal isn’t a specific action within our current system. Often they want to make a point, show that they’re movement is doing things. In DC, their goal was to get arrested. In NYC, they seemed less concerned with marching for Trayvon and more concerned with occupying as much space as possible with whatever issue that would gather folks to their cause. Occupying.
When Occupy Wall Street first got the national spotlight they were so worried about the co-option of their message, yet they have no problem co-opting others. A couple of Occupiers recognized me and asked if I noticed some of the nonsense that was happening. I said yes and one of them explained that after this march and two months of working with Occupy, she and her friends no longer wanted to be associated with them.
Every time I attempt to have a conversation about issues within Occupy, I’m told that there are no leaders, and that some people do crazy things, but “that’s not OCCUPY.” I grow weary of actions without consequences and disrespect without anyone being held responsible. Just because a movement did some good doesn’t mean that it’s infallible. Occupy chapters have serious issues and there have been serious discussions about its relations with women and people of color. With incidents like what occurred on Wednesday, I see a clear reason why people of color don’t flock to the movement.
We don’t have enough privilege to carry us through it.
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