Editorial: Should We Occupy or Decolonize?

Here’s some thoughts to the debate around the use of term Occupy vs Decolonize that’s been taking place at some of the Occupy sites Most recently here in Oakland.

The term ‘Occupy‘ is a loaded word that has long been problematic in many communities of color. To put it simply many have long felt they have been the victims of Occupation…. Those of Native background understand that Occupy has led to genocide. During the Civil Rights and Black Power struggles of the past we’ve heard term Occupy as one that rallied people together..This was especially true with the Black Panthers who noted that the police were ‘occupying forces in our community….With all that being said, in the end, one can see why there’s been a push for name change..

On the flip side, many feel that this a movement that is growing and folks know the name Occupy..Like it or not, its an identifiably brand now. From here to South Africa there are over 1300 Occupy Movement sites and damn near all including the ones in South Africa use the term ‘Occupy’.. The question arises why change the name midstream?

The attempt of those in the Occupy Movement was not to use any term that would be incendiary… If anything the term was used to signify reclaiming space, taken over by the 1%… In the case of Wall Street, it was recognizing that those financial institutions had been cut off to the 99% and hence there was a need to ‘Occupy’ that space in all dimensions..

In a recent discussion someone once noted that we have long taken terms once offensive and changed the meaning, why can’t the same be applied to Occupy. In the past folks have fought vigorously to take offensive terms like ‘Queer‘ in the Gay community and flip them. The word ‘Nigger‘ has been argued to no longer be an offensive term but now one that is a term of endearment. Efforts to shut down those words have been met with scorn, ridicule and folks claiming those taking offense are out of touch.. Can that happen with the term Occupy? Can it be flipped?

There is no ignoring the fact that the word Occupy cuts deep in many communities and last week in Oakland there was a push to change the name.. from Occupy to Decolonize.. A vote was taken and 63% voted yes to name change vs the 37% who opposed. 90% is needed for a measure to pass at a General Assembly in Oakland.

In Seattle a similar discussion unfolded last month.. The proposal to change the name was also defeated, but a statement was issued which can be found http://occupyseattle.org/blog/2011-10-25/declaration-decolonizeoccupy-seattle.

In New Mexico similar discussions and proposals were put forth as outlined http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/10/13/1025832/-Indigenous-People-of-OccupyBurque-Challenge-the-Term-Occupy-%28Photo-Diary%29

One of the concerns raised was that folks who came out to push the Decolonize proposal in Oakland were not regular attendees of GAs.. However, many if not all are long time activists in the community who been fighting the 1% long before there was any sort of Occupy Movement..

Also from the footage shown in the video below, many have been down at GAs in the past and in support of Occupy Movement..So it’s not like we have a group of folks who just showed up on the scene..What wasn’t shown in the film were those who don’t want to change the name.. Contrary to popular belief, quite a few were people of color who are down at GAs all the time.. so it’s not an across the board black or white issue..

The other criticism is most people don’t understand what the term Decolonization means… I know from talking to students in my class it’s not a term that most are aware of… Does an unfamiliar name kill the momentum of a movement just started? Why not take a bold stance, change the name and use this as a learning opportunity? After all the term Occupy within two months has become part of the American lexicon, can’t the term Decolonize follow the same trajectory?

In any case, this is an important discussion and hopefully it continues with the aim of building community, raising awareness and opening hearts and minds.. Will such discussions at time be contentious? Absolutely, but what political discussion in the city has not been?

It was just last month that folks in various Occupy sites had to grind it out around discussions of Violence vs Non violence and the diversity of tactics.. One result was folks getting educated to what Anarchists are about. One got to understand that among those who identify as Anarchists/ Black Bloc there’s a politic, various perspectives and a movement that’s been around for long time and is not centered around simply breaking windows. In short people were able to have their horizons broadened.. And yes, the debates were testy, the discussions not always pretty, but necessary..

The discussion is the term Occupy vs Decolonization is just as important in fact it may be even more because of the sheer numbers of people who live in cities like Oakland who are affected by 1% economic policies who are being urged to join the Occupy Movement, but have hesitated because the a bothersome term..

What I personally have found problematic is how folks have been dismissive of this concern.. There have been some, that have expressed indifference and impatience with both the proposal and discussion. Some have suggested that this is slowing momentum and they didn’t show up to be apart of Occupy to debate name changes.. I say that’s the fault line where everything comes to halt and we work it out.. That’s where the real work needs to be done. Wall Street and their 1% cronies are not going anywhere…

Healing and understanding how that 1% and its tactics of divide and conquer has resulted in class privilege and lots of negative presumptions is something that needs to be addressed immediately and for as long as it takes…To not do so will have us all fall victim to some of the same tactics that netted us behind the proverbial 8 ball in the past.

One of the strength in the Occupy Movement has been the forging new relationship and building new alliances. That’s not something that can be easily packaged and explained in a neat 30 second soundbite that we all immediately get, but as those relationships take hold, folks involved start to understand the importance of them and how its essential for any and all work moving forward.

We often talk about having a world devoid of ism and schisms..Many find that desirable. In order to get there will require some long hard soul searching discussions. Its the birthing pains of new world..That’s the challenge before us lets embrace it with courage and whole lotta love.

written by Davey D


8 comments on “Editorial: Should We Occupy or Decolonize?

  1. great post fam, is it cool if i repost to my blog? weare99percent.blogspot if anything i could put the top part and relay the reader to finish readin it at your site. i always am sure to credit any sources i use though.

  2. i commented here yesterday but my comment does not appear to be posted anymore. strange.

    anyways, i made the film that you have posted (and taken stills from).

    first a correction: the vote was 68.5 to 31.5. It needed to pass by 70% to get an amendment and re-vote.

    and a comment: this article is particularly disappointing to me. you don’t discuss the racism involved in occupy oakland nor the greater occupy movement which is what is really at the core of this issue. many people who supported the proposal have not been at occupy oakland, as you noted in your article, but it is precisely because of the racism and sexism present at the encampment that kept many away, including a few proposal writers. the encampment simply wasn’t a very safe space for women of color. it is not that the name change would have changed that but it would have been a step in the right direction and maybe shown poc that occupy oakland was taking racism seriously.

    last sunday’s GA was the most diverse GA i have seen in weeks. it was mostly poc, and most participants voted in favor of the proposal. you say that this is not a black-white issue (since it was indigenous mothers that presented the proposal, i dont see how it can be…) but if you notice in the video, the people speaking in favor (yes, they are present in the video, watch it again), there is a lot of white privilege happening. I am not saying that Poc did not speak in favor of it–there was boots and his daughter (and also a person of color who was concerned white men would be marginalized!). but it was pretty striking the racial tension at the GA that day. there were white people screaming that the proposal was insignificant and that indigenous people were getting special treatment and that made them feel slighted. this is the true problem with occupy oakland and probably what will be its demise if it is not addressed proactively.

  3. Pingback: Editorial: Should We Occupy or Decolonize? « The Industry Cosign

  4. The number of cultures that have suffered occupations is close to 100%. You may recall WWII when almost all of Europe suffered a brutal occupation. northern Ireland is still occupied etc….. Therefore to assert that the word occupy has a different meaning to one race is tenuous. It is being properly used as the name of this movement. Corporate culture has occupied great portions of our lives and we are now turning the tables and forcing them to reckon with us.

    Race has always been used as a wedge to divide populist movements. If they can’t co-opt your movement into the BS 2 party system (ala the tea party) then they will seek to divide by racial and cultural differences (this is clearly laid out in the peoples history of the US). Occupy has successfully avoided joining the Dems I hope they avoid this as well. This is a class struggle and should remain one until it succeeds.

  5. If you want to facilitate a social direction where people who feel they are not in control of their own life can change it, then focus on something that lends to personal growth instead of corralling impressionable young people toward pointless ideological garbage. It’s as bad as the Koch brothers manufacturing the tea party movements for THEIR agenda.

    People who have their lives together laugh at the nonsense these protesters and “Hip-Hop” ghetto intellectuals are focused on. These intellectual frauds are all engaged in discussions that keep their (underclass) audience in an endless feedback loop of powerlessness while the educated classes are focused on building businesses and building a lineage with a foundation that can last far beyond some cargo cult collection of ideological beliefs that have no utility, no purpose, no direction and no point other than to make the people entrenched in this nonsense feel important.

  6. How about ‘Reclaim Democracy’.

    Or ‘Reclaim X’, X being the name of any location like ‘Occupy X’.

    I never liked the word ‘Occupy’ because it doesn’t really say anything or give a reason. It could be toilet ‘occupied’. Seems like a pointless term. I can see that it was used because it’s simple and could precede any location – Occupy X – but I don’t like it.

  7. Pingback: The Campaign to “Decolonize” Oakland: Native Americans Say “Occupy” Terminology Is Offensive | We are brothers

  8. Pingback: The Campaign to “Decolonize” Oakland | Unsettling America

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