Author: Mary Joyce Date: To: occupyresearch, occupyresearchsurvey Subject: [Occupyresearch] Fwd: Documentary - Race, Gender, and Occupy
Have not had time to watch the video, but it may be of interest...
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From: jordan flaherty <jordan@???>
Date: Wed, Mar 21, 2012 at 4:35 PM
Subject: [jordannola] Race, Gender, and Occupy
Yesterday, Al Jazeera premiered the first part of a two-part documentary
I've been working on, focusing on the Occupy movement. The film was made
for Fault Lines, the award-winning public affairs documentary program.
The first film is called History of an Occupation, and explores the first
two months of the Occupy movement. Part two looks at the movement as it
expands into actions around housing and other targets, and also moves from
fall through to spring.
This film is truly a collaboration. I worked very closely with Sweta Vohra,
my co-producer on the film, as well correspondent Sebastien Walker, Mathieu
Skene, the executive producer for Fault Lines, and editor Warwick Meade. We
also spoke with scores of people - both on and off camera - and looked at
the footage from dozens of independent filmmakers, some of which is in the
final film. Everyone we spoke with, even if they didn't make it into the
final film, helped expand our analysis and sharpen our focus. For full
credits, see this link:
There are many more issues we wish we could have discussed in the film.
Sweta Vohra and I wrote an article exploring in more depth some of these
issues, based on reporting we did for the film. You can see the article
At a recent panel discussion on the Occupy movement, a left-leaning
professor from New York University
identity politics - the prioritizing of issues of race and gender in
movements for justice - could be a plot funded by the CIA to undermine
activism. While most commentators do not go this far, the idea that
activists who focus on these issues are "undermining the struggle" has a
long history within progressive organizing. And in Occupy Wall Street
encampments around the country these debates have often exploded into
The process of challenging structural oppression has been difficult. We
spoke to many women and people of color who felt pushed out of Occupy. Some
activists, already bruised by dismissive media coverage, tried not to let
these conflicts show. When internal conflicts would arise they tried to not
let it happen on camera. But what we did observe are many fiercely
intelligent activists dedicated to waging these struggles within Occupy and
strengthening the movement with their work.
*The 99 per cent*
When people gathered in Zuccotti Park on September 17, the anger at
corporate greed was a unifying call. This was a protest that in large part
was about shifting power from the wealthy to the many. It was a mostly
white crowd, but it sought to incorporate a wide range of voices.
The economic crisis in the US had made the white middle class question
their future. Soaring unemployment rates, suffocating student loan debt,
and thousands of foreclosures began to close in. This reality propelled the
Occupy movement forward. And many feel that the presence of so many
relatively privileged white people brought increased media attention and
Organizers told us they immediately saw the next step as needing to raise
awareness among the many young people new to activism that came flocking to
occupations. "It's the job of the social justice movement to continue that
conversation," says Max Rameau, a co-founder of Take Back the
who has advised many of the Occupies.
He told us that occupiers need to "make sure this isn't just a movement of
the way white people have gone from being able to every day shop at
particular malls, and now they have to shop at reduced, discount stores …
this has to do, really, about inequality and long-term inequality,
including communities who have suffered for years, not just because of the
recent economic downturn."
Many women reported harassment in the camp, and even assault - especially
those that stayed overnight. "I think there were some (Occupy camps) that
allowed homophobia and sexism to thrive in a really significant way," says
Rameau. "I think homophobia and sexism in society exist everywhere, but
were allowed to thrive in some of these areas."
Manissa Maharawal, a PhD student and Occupy activist, said: "I love the
discourse of the 99 per cent. I think it's great, I think it's been really
unifying. But I would like it to go along with saying something like: ‘We
are the 99 per cent, but the way that we experience the 99 per cent can be
Jack Bryson, a 49-year-old Black public service worker, became an activist
after his sons witnessed the killing of their friend Oscar Grant at the
hands of transit police in Oakland. When he heard that Occupy Oakland had
named their camp Oscar Grant Plaza, he came to check it out. He was excited
by what he found, but also thought many young white activists he met had a
lot to learn about poverty and repression. "The black community, for 400
years, [have] always been the 99 per cent," Bryson said. "Welcome to our
Bryson was one of many who told us that Occupy activists needed to
understand the ways in which communities of color experience the criminal
justice system. He noted that Occupy Oakland had faced intense police
repression. But, he told us, what many failed to realize was that police
brutality is a daily fact of life in many communities. "Black, young men …
would love to come out here. But what happens here, with the police? It
happens on Saturday nights to Black young men leaving a nightclub, or a
black young man going into a gas station and being followed by the police."
Boots Riley, a hip-hop artist and Occupy Oakland organizer, told us that he
hopes the Occupy movement can challenge the ways that people have viewed
policing. "I think that what happens normally is the media has most of
white America looking at people of color as deficient, savage, and when
they see something happen to them by police they believe that it was
somehow their fault," says Riley. "Our ideas and views about the police are
very tied in to our ideas and views about why people are poor."
If OWS wanted to be a movement that was going to shift power in the US,
these organizers felt it had to come to terms with the fundamental
differences in the ways that communities of color experienced racism, how
women experienced patriarchy, and how queer and transgender communities
experienced homophobia and gender bias. If Occupy Wall Street wanted to
talk about envisioning an alternative community, activists would first have
to face their own privilege.
"I was totally impressed by the leadership that was coming from young
people of color, young women of color," activist and scholar Angela Davis
told us in a conversation about Occupy camps she visited on the East coast.
"I think it's good that there's some white men getting involved, but they
also have to recognize that, in order to be involved in this campaign of
the 99 per cent against the one per cent, we have to recognize that the 99
per cent is hierarchically developed by itself."
Davis told us that Occupy was indebted to a long history of direct action
led by women and by people of color. She specifically noted the legacy of
resistance in prisons, led by those behind bars. "Let's recognize that
we're not artificially imposing these issues on the Occupy movement," added
Davis. "The Occupy movement has organically risen from those movements."
For Lisa Fithian, one of many white activists who seeks to challenge race
and gender bias in the movement, this consciousness raising is a crucial
part of struggling for justice."What I teach is that those with more
privileges whether because your color of your skin, your gender, your
education, whatever, how do you use those privileges strategically to
raise those of all?"
"We have to take our privileges, become conscious and use them to actively
change the social relationships, and access, and availability of
resources," she added.
*Blocking the process*
Manissa Maharawal, a South Asian woman, has been one of Occupy Wall
Street's most eloquent and passionate defenders. But she almost walked out
of the movement on one of her very first visits to Zuccotti Park. When she,
along with several people of color, stood up in front of hundreds of people
to block a proposal at a very early Occupy Wall Street assembly, she felt
anger and hostility from many of those present. She says it's "still one of
the more intimidating things that I've had to do in my life". The proposal
was for a document called the Declaration of the
and she felt language in the document erased oppression faced by people of
She did not want to have to block the proposal and face the angry stares of
hundreds of people. However, says Maharawal, it's something she had to do.
"What struck me then was that if I want Occupy to be something that's
around for a long time in my life … it needs from the very beginning to be
a movement that's taking these things on," she explained. "And that is
thinking about not just corporate greed and financial institutions, but is
thinking about how these things are connected to racism, to patriarchy, to
Ultimately, Maharawal and others who agreed with her succeeded in changing
the language of the declaration. Nearly two months later, one of the white
male activists who had expressed his frustration with her came up to her to
thank her for her intervention. "I'm really glad you did that, I learned a
lot right then," he told her.
"Making these connections is difficult, it's been like constant work in
this movement," says Maharawal. But, she adds, "this stuff doesn't feel
like minutia, it feels fundamental to me". She says this movement is about
creating a real alternative to our current system, and, for her, that means
fighting these systemic issues. "Why are we going to create a system that
just re-creates all these oppressions? That recreates racism, that
recreates oppression, that recreates gender hierarchy. Why would I want to
be a part of that?"
*Sweta Vohra and Jordan Flaherty are producers of Al Jazeera's Fault
Fault Lines presents two special programs on the Occupy movement premiering
March 20 & 27.*
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MARY C. JOYCE
Founder | The Meta-Activism Project | www.Meta-Activism.org Digital Activism Consultant | www.MaryJoyce.com Mobile | +1.857.928.1297
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