Friday, October 28, 2011


I've talked about racism and the Occupy movement, but I haven't written much about sexism.  That in itself is probably an example of my own sexism.  Anyway, it was brought to my attention today that the issue of men hitting on women who aren't interested in being hit on goes on down at ye olde Occupy site just as it does everywhere.  The difference is we have people sleeping out alongside each other and being encouraged to do so.  Males, being males, not all, but some, are doing what they can to take "advantage" of the situation.  This has to stop.

Also, happening, just as it has in other movements historically, men are attempting too, and often dominating the groups and their General Assemblies. As I responded to my young female friend who brought this to my attention:

".. women need to be empowered and men need to be confronted about this. Sexism within movements historically is certainly not uncommon. I remember when the radical and revolutionary women's liberations groups of the late 60s and 70s challenged the male dominated movement...changed everything."  Everything, may be a bit much, but it changed quite a bit, including me, and helped me and other men grow, and was a necessary part of and a big boon to the movement as a whole. As Mao said, "Women hold up half the sky."  Probably a little more than half actually."

A side issue that I cannot believe that I have to address is that of safe sex at occupation sites.  People have got to assume responsibility for their own welfare and protect themselves.

NOTE: me thinks it is time for an autonomous women's wing of OWS

The following is from People of Color Organize.

Justified Rage from an Unsafe Space: Reflection on Occupy Wall Street

Posted on 28 October 2011 by bot
Occupy Wall Street Naomi Klein Justified Rage from an Unsafe Space: Reflection on Occupy Wall Street
Many Peoples, Many Identities: Racism and Sexism Within the Occupation

It’s been over a month since the Occupy Wall Street Movement began. Like many others; despite my active involvement and overall support, OWS has both inspired and enraged me. It’s made me remember why I became an organizer. And it’s made me realize why sometimes, I want to quit.
A lot of us have reasons for feeling enraged. At my first GA, several young white men who identified themselves proudly as those who had been at Zuccotti Park since “Day One” shouted disagreements with a Black woman who voiced legal concerns about the risks of arrest for undocumented protestors.  The men used their self-proclaimed “veteran” status to silence and ridicule the legitimate concerns of some of the most economically disadvantaged and historically marginalized of the 99%–undocumented workers.
A few days later, on indigenous people’s day, a white man who identified himself as “one of the OWS organizers” physically and verbally attacked a female jaranera who was performing son jarocho music. Apparently, she was “standing on the flower bed.”
The two cited examples of racism and sexism that have manifested themselves in the OWS movement are not isolated occurrences. The arrogant dominance of young white men is constant and has turned many experienced organizers—particularly women, queer and trans people, and people of color—to withdraw support for the movement.
But despite the many amazing organizers who have justifiably left OWS and vowed to never return, many others just won’t walk away. They see the potential of the movement. They hate many of the people and ideologies behind it; they hate the privilege and the arrogance, but they see the potential.
Every organization, every movement, struggles with acknowledging systematic oppression. Movements that deny racism, movements that deny sexism; movements that are completely unaccountable to the very people they claim to be liberating; these movements will fail. Again and again, we have witnessed their failure.
Systemic Inequalities Within the 99%
As a queer white woman, I’ve struggled with how to contribute to the OWS movement. After my first GA, I felt conflicted. Inspired and enraged. I never wanted to come back, but I wanted to set up camp and stay every night. I recognized that as a white person, it was my responsibility to use my own privilege and power to try to battle the racism I’d witnessed; but as a queer woman, I felt uncomfortable and unsafe dealing with such blatant and unacknowledged sexism. Yet again, the biggest leftist movement of our generation is seemingly clueless about race, class and gender.
As an organizer, I saw the benefit of the populist message that “We Are the 99%”, but the deeper I became involved, the more I’ve realized that many who are “occupying Wall Street” neither understand nor believe that there are systemic inequalities within the 99%.  Many neither understand nor believe that we are not a big ol’ “American melting pot” of “one people”, but that we are many peoples, many races, many identities.
Some see nothing wrong with white male voices facilitating every meeting. Some think it’s okay to curl up next to a surprised sleeping woman and ask if you can share. Others don’t flinch when a white man hands out white flyers to white people about Occupying [Black] Harlem.
But some of us—many of us—are not going to sleep as the movement passes us by. We’re not going to walk away, even though we could. Even though, in some ways, it would be easier.
Sexism Unresolved: Queer Women Occupy the Park
After making excuse after excuse to myself about why I wouldn’t sleep on the concrete ground of Zuccotti Park like everyone else, I realized that I was absolutely terrified. Terrified of an unknown body next to mine, of the potential experiences and memories that they might bring. Terrified because of stories I’d heard, because of sexism unresolved.
A lot of women, queers, and trans people—along with many people of color and undocumented immigrants—do not feel comfortable sleeping in an open space with a lot of men, surrounded by police. Police presence ensures that protestors could, at any time, be risking arrest; and a racist police system ensures that people of color will be targeted. Unrestricted male presence in all sleeping areas ensures that protestors could, at any time, be exposing themselves to molestation and/or rape; and patriarchy ensures that women, queers, and trans people will be targeted.
Maybe I was out to prove something to my friends that were too afraid to stay, or maybe I had to prove to myself that I wasn’t going to let male privilege prevent me from another experience.
As I walked around the park trying to scope out a safe space to sleep, I was on the lookout for the women’s sleeping space that I heard about. Despite many tours and several sleeping invitations from men, I couldn’t find a single women’s (let alone queer or trans) space. I saw a lot of single men scattered about the park, heterosexual couples cuddling under their sleeping bags, and a number of sleeping spaces that were covered in tarp and not “open to the public.”
After about an hour of roaming and observing, I found a group of three sleeping young women, and I decided to lay my sleeping bag out at their feet. As I lay in my “bed”, trying to write, I felt the eyes of several people fall upon me. The eyes of those who are eager to make conversation. Eager to be invited.
I decided that I’d feel safest if I de-gendered myself by putting the sleeping bag over my head and just going to sleep. As I nervously closed my eyes, I was woken up several times by loud voices. Once by a man yelling about losing his stuff, another time by an altercation between several men over politics, and finally by a midnight “mic check” of someone who was angry about theft within OWS.
I finally drifted off to sleep, and in the morning I awoke with men on every other side of me, despite my deliberate attempts to be in a woman’s space. I was annoyed, but validated. My experience proved what so many had told me: OWS is not a safe space.
Ends and Means: Making OWS a Safer Space
It’s been one month since the Occupy Wall Street movement began. Despite OWS organizers priding themselves in increasing diversity, they have yet to really address issues of systemic racism, sexism, and classism within the movement. But in some ways, they are right. The movement is growing. Over 100 cities in the U.S. alone have endorsed the Occupy movement, with over 82 countries participating in the October 15th global day of action.
But again, movements that deny racism, movements that deny sexism, classism, homophobia, ableism; and do not prioritize an anti-oppression framework; will fail. OWS has a critical role to play in eliminating oppression within the movement; they have a role to play, but they cannot do it alone. They need us. They need the active participation of queers, women, people of color, unemployed people, low-income workers, union members, and undocumented immigrants. They need all of us.
Instead of struggling for a new [white man’s] “American Revolution”, we need to struggle for a People’s Revolution that acknowledges that the “America” we live in is a history that is founded in genocide and slavery. The “American Revolution” was founded in colonization and imperialism.
I understand and respect the many people—and there are many people—who see the obstacles as too great and the opportunities too small to further engage in this movement. But to those optimistic enough to see a purpose, for those imaginative enough to envision a new future, and foolish enough to dedicate themselves to its creation: I’m with you.
The movement may not be perfect, but it is our movement. Our rage is justified. Our impact is inevitable.
Charlene Obernauer

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

"Anyway, it was brought to my attention today that the issue of women who think they're being hit thinking men are hitting on them goes on down at ye olde Occupy site just as it does everywhere."

There, fixed that for ya.