Decolonize the 99%
Last Wednesday at the Oakland general strike, I along with thousands of demonstrators chanted, “We are the 99%! We are the 99%! We are the 99%!” I honestly felt proud, powerful and conflicted all at the same time. In one sense, I’m thrilled that there is a movement that is demanding the redistribution of wealth and the transformation of violent economic systems. At the other end of the spectrum, there is privilege and oppression within the 99%. Human suffering, occupation and displacement have existed for a very long time, yet why are we waking up to it now, or are we even fully awake?
As I reflect on these questions and my own experience with the occupy movement, I have come to realize that the 99% frame is a double edge sword that is both brilliantly effective as well as potentially dangerous. It should not only be about targeting corporations and banks, but also about pushing forward larger projects of decolonization and liberation which dismantle inequality and human suffering along the lines of race, class, gender, sexuality, citizenship and nation. If we don’t recognize the nuanced webs of privilege and oppression within our institutions and interpersonal relationships, we are not fighting for a holistic freedom for all people but rather for the individual privileges of some.
I can’t deny that this is a very exciting time and that I’m honored to be a supporter of this movement. And yet, participants and supporters need to be self-reflective and continue to push the margins around the discourse and vision of what is possible. As many of us took to the streets on Tuesday October 25th to express our out rage of the decampment of Occupy Oakland, thousands of Black and Brown families in the Oakland flatlands had already been violently displaced from their homes due to foreclosure. As hundreds of us reported the terror of being tear gassed and shot at with rubber bullets for the first time, police brutality and flying metal bullets were and continue to be a common reality for many urban communities of color. While UC Berkeley graduates like myself struggle to find jobs in this current economy, formerly incarcerated people like my cousins will always have barriers to employment because they are caste as second-class citizens.
Why wasn’t there an urgency to organize before the financial crisis hit more white/privileged communities? I bring these issues up not to be a deadbeat critic of the Occupy movement, but rather for us to be aware of the privileges and complexities within it. The urgency can’t be about the squeezing of the middle class life style or the deterioration of the “American Dream” due to the 1%, but rather about the suffering of those who are the most marginalized in society both domestically and abroad.
In a moving op-ed piece written by Jakada Imani and Van Jones in response to the excessive law enforcement of Occupy Oakland they note: “The Occupy movement is powerful, not because it is fighting for the rights of a few hundred people to sleep outdoors, but because it is fighting for the right of millions of Americans to sleep indoors.” I agree that this movement is not just about the encampment but also about the people who are struggling to make ends meet; and yet, as we work to dismantle economic violence for Americans, we also need to crack open the confines of nationalism. Therefore, this Occupy Movement needs to include the transnational struggles of people across the world considering global capital has no borders and the U.S. holds political and economic dominance on an international level.
Furthermore, as we push this movement forward and call out violent economic institutions, we also need to work on dismantling and calling out the oppression within the 99%. It is important to remember that the Tea Party members, the racist border vigilantes, and the prison unions make up the 99% as well as the public sector workers, undocumented immigrants, and incarcerated peoples. As we fight against Wall Street, we need to build agendas that undo dehumanizing practices and institutions and push forward a progressive 99% that acknowledge the contradictions.
Lastly, I challenge us to question the very notion of the word occupation. In Oakland, we occupied (and continue to occupy) indigenous Ohlone land long before a few hundred people occupied city hall. If we want to truly push forward a movement of liberation that radically transforms the configuration power and capital, we must recognize that the problem is much bigger then the 1%. This struggle has deep historical roots that go back more than 500 years ago with the inception of conquest and colonization of the Americas.
We do not have a simple feat ahead of us because the true struggle is much more then the 1%. It’s also about decolonizing the 99% so we can build towards racial justice, global equality and liberation for all!