Monday, October 10, 2011

On Occupy Wall Street

Having just returned from OccupyBoston on what may prove to be a decisive night, if rumors are correct.. I'm pleased to say that I am still seeing what I thought I was seeing and hearing from people actually at these burgeoning events. It's impressive, and important, and exciting almost beyond belief.

I'm not even going to engage with the "but what do they waaaaaant" crowd, or the "they're so inarticulate" crowd, because so many folks have answered these concerns clearly enough. But I thought I'd share some of my thoughts on why these occupations are important.

I was initally repelled by the analysis especially from leftists, and I have to say especially (though not entirely) from leftist men, which sounded like a lot of armchair quarterbacking about how to "win" the "occupation." This contrasted pretty dramatically with what I found interesting and inspiring about the occupations on wall street and beyond. The occupations, by focusing on creating spaces for living and for having dialogue, highlight how little space we have in our lives for either of those things. The society we live in parcels out living space and space to talk and think, based on money first and foremost. Caregetting/giving, learning, reading, talking, getting/giving food, communicating - all are privatized more and more.  People assume they are supposed to happen in our homes, but fewer people can actually afford to do them at home, or can't afford the home itself. We are supposed to hire people or services to provide them, if we can afford it, and ration our participation in all of these most human and humanizing activities based on their cost.

So the most radical thing the occupations have done is made visible a lot of that work, and made it accessible. They show it is possible for people to self-organize things like food, like medical care, child care, a library, media centers, internet, etc.

There has been commentary, especially from, I would say, a more macho side of the left, about how camping isn't real protest. These people are just camping, they are not, so to speak, sticking it to the man. Well, the most effective way the man keeps everyone in line is through our dependence on expensive infrastructure which we don't control and can barely afford. 

In the camps, people are providing it for themselves and each other. So rather than saving up money, inheriting it, borrowing it,  abandoning one's responsibilities, or simply not having any yet, in order to stick it to the man without fear of losing your health care or child care or whatever...these people in these camps are demonstrating how you can do without the man. And the skills that come from that are indeed transferable.

And as I keep suggesting, these skills are also unglamorous. Often seen as "feminine." The caregiving, organizational, maintaining skills.  But they are the skills that make things accessible to more people, especially to people more at the margins. They are also the skills of people who are not dependent on the system, they make it easier to resist selling out or buying in.

And then there are the skills and practices of decision-making and discussion. People are learning what a general assembly can be - they are seeing people who care about whether decision-making is done in a non-hierarchical way - about whether voices are heard. People are not only noticing whether too many similar people have spoken, but are saying "I think someone else from a different gender/ background should speak instead of me, because a lot of people like me have already spoken." Just demonstrating that it's worthwhile to consider these things, that it makes for better decisions. And one of the nicer moments of that was learning that OccupyBoston rather quickly made itself aware that the term "occupation" is rather a loaded and non-liberatory one for many indigenous/native peoples on this land as well as elswheere. Especially as the day approached which celebrates the invasion of native people's lands by Columbus. And although the work of decolonization is undoubtedly still to be done, the fact that this was acknowledged and space left to discuss and move forward on native people's concerns in relation to occupation as well as Wall Street shows, already, a better and more inclusive (in the right way) movement than I have seen. Overall I have been impressed with the gracious and generous participation and analysis of many Native people to these various camps, as well as several important critiques which show the way towards better moves in the future.

So yeah, add in the diversity I saw at Occupy Boston. Yes, in Boston. As I walked around, I heard multiple languages and a good smattering of solid working-class Boston accents. I saw asian, arab, latino, black, white, native, and all kinds of folks, in clusters, twos and larger groups. I saw folks from sixteen to sixty, at least. I saw queer, cis, trans, and straight folk in every style and scene and age, crusty-punk kids in layers of dingy denim and patches, college kids in t-shirts, union members in their union gear, medic in home-made uniforms with goggles and bandannas. While linking with the medic tent, I met an EMT who came to offer her time, and a former military medic checking out the piles of donated supplies (including two huge tubs from the nurses' union). I chatted with the father and mother from Braintree (south shore!) who had brought their four children to see the camp "I work in Boston" he said "I drove by this every day, watching it grow. I think it's just great. It's so great what you're doing here. I wanted to bring my kids so they could see people standing up for something, doing things for themselves." 

I also overheard conversations, among groups of people, on subjects ranging from critiquing the gender binary to McChesney's analysis of media propaganda. There were hundreds of people there when I arrived, and more were streaming back after what had sounded like a truly huge students march (Boston is a college town after all). I saw guitars and saxophones and the inevitable drum circle. But overall what I saw was excitement, and hope, and people connecting across their differences - not by erasing them, but because we saw that we are on the same side anyway whether we like it or not, and we've got a lot of work to do.

From the early days now: two good reports and the first decent analysis. Although by now even the New York Times editorial staff has wised up and basically admitted that their first hatchet/hack job by Gina whatever is a pile of crap.

And Mike has been doing a great series of posts (yes, each word there is a differnet link), especially strong for me is the way he lays out a lot of background very clearly as he is wont to do.

And of course Zunguzungu is always a treasure, of thought and of further links. Just read everything. 

and lest you think this is totally unrelated to other stuff I do - I'll just say that my dissertation is about "exilic spaces" which are spaces in which people's interactions and relationships are not determined by colonial capitalist power. People's identities are not defined only by their oppressors and exploiters, but instead are lived out in relation to a life outside, in resistance to, and predating global capitalism.

I came to this through focusing on creative practices which embody and reinforce exilic spaces of discourse. This term comes from Jamaican scholar Obika Gray, whose work I am eternally indebted to Erin for introducing me to. In this case 'spaces' are a metaphor for'a way of speaking/communicating in which communication -including music- is not commodified. So, riddims, sampling, answer tunes, call-and-response, fan fiction, all aspects of dynamic, social interactions with music, they create around themselves kind of exilic space in which you are not, traditinoally, expected to ask permission in order to participate. And they need exilic spaces - safe spaces where their actions are not controlled or monitored (that don't require you to ask permission), in order to flourish. Copyright freezes communication/music into commodifiable chunks which are attached to particular entities ('owners'), and if spaces of creativity track and enforce this it can kill the essence of living dialogue/musicking. I'm not entirely sure how much the occupations are exilic spaces, but the wilful carving out of a different society in the cracks and fissures in commodified space made by our ability to live fully within it.. well it makes me think anyway.