By Sumumba Sobukwe of Occupy Wall Street
Uhuru brothers and sisters!
I have an important report back. As some of you know, I attend and work with other Occupations and General Assemblies (GAs) around the city. After attending the Bronx GA last night, as well as others in the past, I can tell you for sure that there’s a disconnect between many GAs and Occupy Wall Street (OWS).
Since nearly the beginning of OWS, I’ve taken on the task of visiting and trying to provide other citywide Occupies with the material supports they need to grow and flourish. While I’m happy to report we’ve been able to provide some assistance and solidarity to some of the Occupies, many still hold a view of OWS as being led by “Dirty Hippies”‘ and or “Elitists White Guys with Millions of Dollars” at their disposal.
Of course all this is untrue, and my presence as a homeless person of color and point in a couple of groups, has assuaged some of those myths, but I have seen some folks from OWS attend other GAs and seek to give them “advice” on how to run their GA or be quite dismissive of
the way they are run. This is the wrong thing to do and adds to the negative feelings about OWS.
Fact is, each Occupy is autonomous and we need to learn to respect that. I’m not sure why some of us think that the way OWS does things is “perfect” or “pure,” but I will say that other GAs,
particularly those of color seek to do things differently because they have different traditions histories, cultures and realities. We need to be respectful of the fact that there are hierarchies (usually Matriarchal) that exist in other GAs and communities of color, these structures, while not “perfect” have helped them sustain and survive the things that those in the “majority” could never imagine.
Although the overall false perceptions of OWS are usually based on media, and hearsay, our OWS-centric attitudes and structures do not always mesh with other Occupys. Not to mention that we’re also seen as “outsiders” when we plan actions for, and in a community where we
don’t interact or do outreach in first (as I’ve said this for a while now) and specifically as it pertains to our direct actions.
All of these issues are important, if we are to build OWS and the Occupy movement in the city and around the country, and also point to our need to grow and evolve as people and a movement. Just a few days ago, I heard some complaints from parents in Brooklyn about how some folks from OWS “talked down” to them at the Occupy the Department of Education meeting a couple of weeks ago. Of course these parents were Black and Brown, who may or may not share the same sensibilities and understanding of the issues that we have, but that doesn’t give us a license to disrespect them, especially when it’s their children who are affected by the
decisions of the DOE. As I heard someone tell another in the Harlem GA say: “How can they talk about ‘the 1%’ or ‘ruling class’ when they are coming off as dismissive colonizers (cloaked in anarchy) themselves?” I’ll never forget hearing that and it rings loud in my ears each time I hear folks talking about OWS.
What can we do to change perceptions so we can build a citywide and effective Occupy movement in this city? I would suggest the following things:
1.) Stop assuming the OWS model of doing things (from GAs to “leaderless/horizontal/direct democracy” culture, etc.) is the only or best way to operate. Most GA’s employ a variation of our models but they do it in their own way and sometimes better.
2.) Learn about the issues affecting other communities. How many of us know anything about Rahmarley Graham or Eleanor Bumpurs? Or the Ocean Hill Brownsville Project, or Stop and Frisk or the GASODUCTO Pipeline? Or immigrant issues? Or the asthma rates in Harlem and the Bronx?
3.) Develop social skills. It’s bad enough that some of us spit on or cursed at security and staff at the United Federation of Teachers headquarters and then 50 Broadway and had fights at Charlotte’s Place, have stolen things from West Park, and been kicked out of nearly every public/private space that has been given to us, but to be disrespectful of community
members that we are trying to win over, will finally kill this movement. Being a “rebel” or “revolutionary” doesn’t give us the right or justification for boorish behavior, in fact it should make us want to continually evolve and become better people with healthy interpersonal skills.
4.) If you live in any part of the Five Boroughs or anywhere else there’s probably a GA near you. Join and become an active part of it. OWS alone won’t be able to bring about change.
5.) Go to GAs with a open mind. Again many GAs do things slightly different (sometimes very different) from the way we do things, and that’s OK. Remember that each GA is autonomous and they know best what works for them.
6.) Wait for a request for assistance! No matter how much assistance a Occupy needs, it’s best to allow them to ask or request that assistance. The perception of patronizing outsiders coming into GAs or communities to “save them” is what makes us look “invaders” and controllers.
7.) Don’t make promises or try to “speak” for OWS. I’ve learned this personally the hard way (lol), although i never made any promises to any GA, I made the impression in some cases i was “representing” OWS just because I said I was from OWS. I later learned that the best way to present one’s self is to tell the people at the GAs which working group you are part of and what you do at OWS. We aren’t there to ‘promise’ resources, but we can provide links to them and explain how the proposal process works at OWS.
8.) Show real solidarity and seek to build bridges. I don’t think (or hope) this point isn’t something that needs explanation.
9. Realize that “citywide actions” should take place, originate or at least have input from people throughout the city (not from OWS Direct Action alone).
10. All GAs are equal. Again, let us not assume that OWS is the most important Occupy in the city, all are important and let us take that attitude into other GAs.
Point of Information: All of these points come from my own observations and the feedback I get from people at other Occupies around the city. There are many other issues of course, but let us take into account these above. If anyone is interested in attending other GAs with me in the future let me know. Also there will be a dialogue/meeting entitled: “Is OWS a FRINGE OR MASS MOVEMENT”‘ next Friday February 24 at 7 p.m. at 60 Wall Street, where these issues and others will be addressed.
Information for some of the neighborhood GAs in NYC:
Occupy Brooklyn: http://occupybk.org/
BedStuy Organize: http://occupybk.org/