I initially supported the Occupy movement because the injustices plaguing those who call ourselves occupiers are nothing new. Poor people have always known that money speaks to politicians far more loudly than it should, often more loudly than voters. Women have always known what government intrusion into private citizens’ lives really looks like, and who wants it most dearly (no matter what they say). People color have always ALWAYS known that our economic and political system are set up to favor those who already have power, and to keep those with less power from ever advancing. Furthermore, people of color have always known what it means to distrust those who claim to speak for them, and those who claim to walk the streets to protect them.
These things were all pretty new to a lot of middle-class white people. They have had a lot of great ideas all along about solidarity, about peace, and about justice, but it wasn’t until they moved out onto sidewalks and into tents or under tarps that they realized just how frighteningly right they were about how ugly life in this country can get if you aren’t one of those who were favored by lucky circumstances at birth.
Now people who always knew they’d go to college are realizing that it doesn’t get them as far as they were promised. Now people who always thought that it was someone else getting underrepresented in government are realizing that they don’t have that much power, either. It takes a lot of privilege to get by these days, and people who always assumed that they had enough are now realizing it doesn’t buy nearly as much protection these days as it used to, and now they’re getting pissed.
None of these problems are new; hell this fight predates the United States of America as an independent nation, but frankly a lot of new people are entering the fight now that it’s not just people of color, women, and those trapped in generational poverty who are suffering.
My goal right now is to make sure that those occupying don’t forget that we’re the ones who are new to this fight, and who’s really been fighting it for generations before any of us started voluntarily camping outside. I’m here for the bodies in the foundation, for the people who were fighting before me. This movement has deep roots, but they’re not middle or upper-class, and they’re not white.
I’m around in the movement to honor those roots, and to help something grow out of them that will truly (hopefully, finally) be better than what’s been grafted onto them before. So many economic justice movements have succeeded only in putting white people back at the level that we consider our right, after which the past is whitewashed and for the ones who’ve been suffering all along… nothing changes.
But with each mistake, we must surely be learning, and I want to be part of every single opportunity to do better in the hopes that maybe we’ll get there a little bit sooner. The people who benefit from this movement first won’t be women or people of color or religious minorities or LGBT people or those who were poor to begin with. They’ll be the last to benefit, because they ALWAYS ARE.
Someone’s got to be involved who won’t stop once she’s got hers, because otherwise we will not deserve the sacrifices (often unwilling) that those people have made so that our efforts can have a chance. We haven’t really earned it so far, if you actually listen to what activists of color have been saying since this movement started, but this movement isn’t over and I believe it’s not too late.
So that’s why I’m here. I’m here for the women, poor people, LGBT people, and people of color who were fighting before me and don’t have the luxury of quitting when the 99% becomes the 80%, or the 70%, or the 36.3% (which is how many non-whites the 2010 census says live in the USA). They taught me everything I know about fighting for social and economic justice, but they couldn’t possibly teach me everything THEY know.
We need them, but before we deserve them we have to be a movement worthy of them. For that, there’s still work left to do. I don’t want to speak for them, because I’m new to the fight, too. We can’t just not talk about them until they’re here to speak for themselves, though. That’s just a sugarcoated way of intending to ignore people of color until they force us to pay attention (an experience with which we are all now familiar, or we wouldn’t be here). I’m not the expert on all the ways racism infects and corrupts our political system because I’ve been white all my life, but at least I know who the experts are. Someday that won’t be a valuable contribution, but I think today it still is. Sad but true.
This is a conversation that I haven’t really seen happening in the Occupy movement, and I think it’s largely because while we have some truly amazing and badass people of color helping out… it’s a lot of white people. The best of these white people probably just don’t feel like they’re qualified to talk about racism and what kind of damage it really does, and they’re right. But the alternative? Not talking about it at all?
I don’t know. It just doesn’t feel right.
So I figured I would at least try. I’m sure I’ll screw it up and I’m sure I really don’t know much when it comes down to it, but I just can’t see how I’m helping anybody by sitting and being quiet and hoping that a bunch of people of color will come along and say it all perfectly.