Keeping It Real: Authentic Diversification in Occupy Wall Street

[feature image from reuters.com]

I’m going to be honest here — Occupy Wall Street stresses me the fuck out.

There are a lot of things that needed to be said about Occupy Wall Street that have already been said. And that’s a good thing. Since its launch in New York just over a month ago, OWS has expanded and developed, responding to criticism and refining its message while broadening its base. Such activity has solicited near-constant commentary all over the Internet (must be the hashtag); Autostraddle discussed it here after its launch, and here on the ground a few weeks later.

So. According to a bunch of signs held by a bunch of people, We Are the 99%, but upon further inspection, I’m not so sure. Call me a cynic or a Republican (just kidding, don’t ever call me that), but ever since the Occupy movement kicked off in New York just over a month ago (and I’ve attended OWS in three different cities since then) I’ve just been having… weird feelings about it. And it’s this weird visceral knee-jerk reaction of discomfort that makes it feel so stressful.

yes my thoughts exactly

Because I’m an activist, aren’t I? Don’t I have radical politics? During college didn’t I emerge sleepless from my dorm room after having spent the night deconstructing class, race, the two-party system, capitalism and the military-industrial complex as if I were the first person on earth to, like, notice the machine, man? Wasn’t I just waiting for other people to notice and agree? Well I was, and now here it is, so why does it feel so strange?

Occupy Wall Street is correct in that it’s starting a large-scale conversation about class. At the same time, it’s also problematic because it oversimplifies the class struggle. To characterize the fight as 99% vs. 1% and then to attribute this disparity solely to Corporate Greed, while true in some ways, overlooks a lot of details. It forgets the stratification that exists within that 99%. It characterizes everyone’s struggle as the same. It sometimes forgets that, although the 99% do not hold the majority of the nation’s wealth, that some people within the 99% grew up and are still living comfortably while others have only known poverty in their whole lives.

We need to recognize this as class war, but we need also to recognize the complications that come with it. We need to recognize and take advantage of intersectionality and diversity that does exist and isn’t reflected, and it has to be more than just Occupying the Hood. Because yes, it is powerful to recognize that the rich become rich at the expense of the rest of us, and yes, it is fucking radical to call that out on a national – and now on a global – scale, but we have to remember to give a nod to history. We have to recognize the historic systematic injustice that has landed certain groups of people at the bottom of everything. It’s recognizing that race isn’t just a separate and indefeatable (or worse, nonexistent or irrelevant) animal, but rather that it is something that is intrinsically tied to the socioeconomic structures that OWS is trying to topple today.

This movement, despite its best intentions, can be problematic. Brooklyn Boihood discussed it here, and Colorlines did a roundup of commentary here. Economic inequality, joblessness, police brutality, and a lack of resources that promote social mobility? These grievances are problems that Indigenous people, people of color, women and immigrants have been facing for literally all of American history. But now these problems are creeping into the white, upper middle class, and now everyone is appalled that people could possibly be treated this way. Real talk: for anyone not in that small percentage this has been our history. For some, it continues to be their reality.

We’re participating in a conversation in which the tone and terms are being set by upper middle class white people. That is not the 99%. And so it leads to a conversation that is exclusive in nature. The term 99% is, sometimes, a disservice to itself and to the people it claims to represent.

But where exactly does my distrust stem from?  My hesitance to fully support OWS feels like somewhere I’ve been before. Somewhere where I put myself in a position of rally and support, only to find that when progress rolled around, it didn’t always include me. And then I remembered: oh yeah, I’m fucking gay.

As a queer lady of color who’s been active in the LGBT community, I’ve seen what it’s like to be left behind. I’ve seen people in ‘my community’ or ‘our community’ attain victories under the banner of human rights struggle that are completely irrelevant to me, or only relevant to some. I’ve seen attempts at diversification, and often it looks tokenizing. I’ve seen maybe one million different permutations of the LGBT acronym itself – adding letters, rearranging letters, throwing in numbers – and I’m pretty sure it didn’t actually make anyone feel all that more included. And so I have to ask, if Occupy Wall Street succeeds, who will be left behind?

I don’t want to be looking up at this movement from a distance or a place of silence. I don’t want to be looking down on this movement from an ivory tower. This movement is interesting and meaningful because it is decidedly a very educated movement. And although a lot of its organizers and leaders (I know this is, like, a ‘leaderless’ movement, but let’s be real about who’s speaking and making decisions at these marches, okay) hold a lot of privilege, but hopefully that also means that they’re educated about privilege. And if they’re not able to recognize that, then honestly, what the fuck are we educating people for?

Am I being cynical or realistic? What is life? I’m exhausted from having an existential crisis every time I look at my Facebook news feed.

And I guess what I feel is hurt. Hurt as someone who has fought and talked and taught about justice, equality and visibility seeing a movement about these values taking off — and not seeing myself reflected in it.

via fuckyeahanarchistbanners.tumblr.com

I don’t think it’s wrong to ask what will be in it for me. I want to be included in the solution. I deserve it. During the Netroots Nation panel that I participated in, panelist Heidi Barton Stink made this point about inclusive spaces: If they’re not meant to include you, then they never truly will. And maybe that’s true. But what’s also true is that this large movement is made up of a lot of smaller movements. The grievances that these protesters claim are grievances that people in the United States have been facing for generations, and it is because of  that that we should be involved. OWS makes the mistake of feeling like it in itself is the solution. But in reality, people have been working on finding a solution for ages. This is just a conglomeration of those groups, it’s an opportunity to gain followers and allies; it’s a wide audience for a number of messages. What exactly does ‘success’ mean for OWS? It could mean giving power to conversations and movements that activists, organizers and thinkers have been having for years. It could go beyond fighting against corporate greed to fighting for economic justice.

Having visited occupations in three different cities at three different points in the still-burgeoning movement, I’ve seen an explosion of progress, but I’ve also seen that there’s a lot farther to go. Each occupation is different, although the general sentiment is of course the same. The conversations that I’ve witnessed and participated in have reflected a lot of the activist culture in the respective cities of New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. I’ve seen a people’s mic in New York that spouted mostly esoteric activist jargon about inclusion and consensus from the mouths of mostly white men. But I’ve also seen a people’s mic in Chicago that included a diversity (an actual diversity) of speakers discussing their causes and experiences, speaking about hope and solidarity, and about how our greatest power is to empower each other.

outfit via ke$ha

One of the most meaningful statements I’ve heard in the protests has been in Chicago, where a speaker at the people’s mic elaborated on the mantra “Enough is enough.” The phrase, he explained, should be more than just a statement about being fed up with bullshit. It should mean that enough is enough, literally, and for everyone. Enough money to live comfortably, enough to eat, enough to feel safe. It was a check on power and privilege, from corporate greed to personal ego.

At the end of the day, I will support Occupy Wall Street, though I probably won’t be camping out any time soon. The movement itself has ignited something fierce in thousands of people, and that fire has the potential to reside in thousands more — if the movement can diversify authentically.

A place where this is beginning to see success is in the inclusion of the labor unions. Corporations have historically abused and exploited immigrant labor, and now that fight is appropriately shifting its focus to communities of color and undocumented workers while still paying respect to the European immigrants who fought for labor rights legislation generations before. Why? Not because they’re trying to appear more diverse, but because these are the communities that these issues are disproportionately affecting. OWS could take some notes from that kind of shift.

via runswithcoyote.tumblr.com

I will continue to support it because I don’t think that support should equal silence and blind following, that’s not a movement I want to be a part of. I’m not going to be silent because I’m not going to watch this movement take off and leave me behind. I believe that there can be change because OWS has responded to criticism before, and the call for diversification grows louder and louder with each blog post, each conversation and each news story.

People are drawn to OWS because, well, it’s sexy. In an age of education, dissent is sexy, questioning is sexy; hitting the streets and camping out are all genuine, passionate and visceral reactions to a very real feeling of having been slighted. But it’s also a group of people who don’t quite know what to do with themselves. OWS is an easy thing to latch on to because it’s there. Because it’s real. Because people are talking about it, and even when that talk is criticism, that criticism is still validating its existence, because it’s proving that OWS is something worth talking about. Now it’s up to OWS to take that attention and that momentum and distribute it, because the only time that enough isn’t enough is when you’re talking about building the power of the people.

phoenix has written 65 articles for us.

86 Comments

  1. This whole occupy movement seems like a waste of time to me. Perhaps its just the apathetic cynic in me, but I don’t think this is going to change a damn thing. I don’t fit in with this group. I have my full time job and a comfortable wage. I have health insurance (that I can’t afford to use, HA!) I have a roof over my head. Where do i fit in?

    • I must respectfully disagree. From what you write in your comment, you say you have health insurance but you can’t afford to use it. This is a sign of the times, even if you have a roof over your head and a full-time job. The fact that you work full-time, have health insurance, but can’t afford to use it, is problematic because it shouldn’t have to be that way. Health insurance companies make a profit through this current system. The 1% would not have to worry about affording health care.

      So I do think you fit in this movement, even if you do have many factors that the majority of this movement do not (like gainful employment, a comfortable wage, and health insurance).

    • where do you fit in?

      well. you say you have health insurance, but the cost of it is cost prohibitive. that’s a starter. shouldn’t health care, like education (but only k-12 in this country!) be a basic human right? god forbid you develop cancer, should your entire life’s work be washed away in fighting it? or worse, not be able to afford your treatment and die at a young age whereas if you had money, death would of been prevented?

      you have the nice middle class things – a full time job that pays well enough for your needs, and a roof over your heads. what if, tomorrow, your boss lays you off because the economy is crumbling and they can’t afford to hold onto you? suddenly, you’re behind on your rent/mortgage, and next thing you know the credit card companies and the mortgage company starts calling you all day long, you can’t afford to pay, and you lose your house. Or, if you rent, you fall behind and become evicted. now you are on the streets and homeless with no job, no prospects, and you need to figure out how to survive.

      you have nice things right now, but you are taking them for granted. no one has job security any more, because the bankers through their selfish, sociopathic actions, destabilized the entire economy. that is what many of the OWS protesters are protesting – this volatile economy was created by greed and deregulation, and the ripple effects are heartbreaking. even the rich, but not filthy rich, are worried about their futures.

      btw, I had a full time job in my field over the summer, but had to go down to part time during the school year since I’m finishing up my last year. I have a roof over my head, and as of october I have health insurance with copays I can afford. But my parents are struggling (mom got laid off in august, dad is disabled), my friends are struggling, and I’m paycheck to paycheck. everything is going up in cost but the wages remain the same. that alone is worthy of a protest. how are we supposed to participate in a consumer economy if we can’t afford to consume, let alone pay for our basic needs?

  2. At the Columbus Circle subway stop in NYC, I watched a young woman check her iphone while she simultaneously help her “We are the 99%”-esque sign. It struck me as odd. I’m aware that it’s possible to get iphones on the cheap, but it STILL didn’t sit right with me. It made me think about how people who are clearly rich if you look at the numbers almost never describe themselves as rich, but instead as “middle class.”

    Do people know that, according to Wikipedia, the top 1.5% of households are defined as those that make $250,000 / yr and up? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Household_income_in_the_United_States)

    Maybe some Autostraddlers come from families in the top 1.5%. I do. And I make sure to be real about it. Yes, again, I know lots of people can afford iphones, not just the 1%. But as I said, that image didn’t sit right with me, especially what her sign said.

  3. i have only recently become comfortable talking about my financial life, and i don’t want to go too into it here, but i can say that someone who is angry about their college loans from their private education that their parents are mostly paying for, or someone who is upset that they got a master’s and can’t find a master’s job, or someone who is pissed that they don’t have health care even though they have a trust fund–

    there’s a fundamental problem here and thank you because you pinpointed it. we are NOT the 99 percent. YOU are the white, middle class who is finally feeling my mother’s monologues: how will i feed my kids? how will i drive to work? how will i take a vacation? a vacation, a different place. i haven’t been anywhere but school and home in like, 8 years, do you want to talk about vacation? i can’t pay my rent until i get a scholarship check, you wanna talk about loans?

    we’re not the 99 percent because even though ows addresses a living wage, etc., the people organizing these (at least as far as i’ve seen) and promoting them are my friends who all studied abroad and have parents paying for a private education out-of-pocket. i’m a women’s studies major from a poor family in the ‘burbs. i’m going to be poor for a very, very long time.

    we’re not the 99 percent because welfare is different – A LOT DIFFERENT – than your student loans. because racism and sexism that affect pay scales DESTROY FAMILIES, and always will, even though once our economy recovers y’all will have the jobs and salaries you wanted. we’re not the 99 percent because i’m lucky i went to college. we’re not the 99 percent because some people still won’t, or only can by selling their souls to the military during wartime, or working 2 or 3 or 4 jobs. we’re not the 99 percent because living off-campus is a luxury, even if you have no furniture or a pot to piss in. because not everyone’s parents can bail them out, and not everyone can afford to take public transportation.

    thank you.

    these are my feelings after drinking a beer at 3 pm.

    • I said this before, and I’ll say it again.

      The rich want the poor and the middle class to be at odds with each other, because if we banded together to strive for the same things, the rich would be out of power.

      This is what happened in the French Revolution, and ever since, this is what the powers that be do to protect their power: divide and conquer the poor and middle class.

      • I hear you, but I also think that it’s a bit dishonest to paper over the distinctions and even the class anger that reside within the “99%.” I think Carmen has a right to that anger and the trick is to recognize it and turn it to good ends rather than letting it curdle every interaction with those who are more privileged; it’s something I’m working on and coming to terms with myself all the time (I wrote about it here: http://poorworkethic.blogspot.com/ just recently after mulling over Katrina’s essay and Sady Doyle’s amazing essay (http://tigerbeatdown.com/2011/10/08/the-percentages-a-biography-of-class/) that Riese pointed me to). I’m suspicious of any movement that calls upon us to put our pesky little personal histories and circumstances aside and just be nice so that we can join the unified front. And I don’t necessarily think that OWS *is* calling for us to do that; from what I can tell there is a lot of thoughtfulness at work within it right now that hasn’t finished manifesting itself.

        I am saying this because there is a class-angry part of me that read the comments earlier to the tune of “I am the 1%, where do I fit in??” and immediately began to rage, “OH GIVE ME A BREAK, YOU WANT *THIS TOO*? You can’t be satisfied with the everything that you already have, you can’t stand the thought of there being a single place where you don’t automatically know that you’ll be accepted?” And I know that is unfair and mostly unproductive — but I think we have to accept these things that are happening within us and let them give texture to any larger movement we may join.

      • the middle class is worried about things much different, economically, than the working and lower classes. they also experience a higher rate of class mobility than, say, people of color raised on food stamps in the inner city. college loans and welfare hotels are not the same problems. and i don’t think anyone should sacrifice their ACTUAL NEEDS being represented for the sake of some big “class war” that will probably destroy our next election anyway. what i’m saying is, banding together is great, but as katrina said, there better be something in it for me or else i’m totally, 100 percent, out.

        • Explain to me how making the national conversation (in the media) on wealth inequality as a whole (which is what I’d say is the main thing that has come out of the OWS movement so far) not something that helps you? By highlighting the issue and getting leaders to be forced to discuss it and admit to a terrible fault in the system – something should hopefully come out of it that benefits everyone (until crony capitalism attacks again).

          What is it that you want? You keep criticizing OWS for not being a reflection of you specifically, but when we’re all individuals, how can it perfectly reflect any of us?

        • I have this issue where I forget to say things, then realize it after I post. Forgive me!

          Anyways, I wanted to add – if you are someone who has been historically so marginalized that you see no hope in OWS either – then instead of cowering to the status quo, rise above it and direct the conversation at an OWS near you, rather than dismiss it as not being inclusive enough. If you don’t show up, how can someone be exclusive towards you?

          And finally… going back to what the different classes worry about – since the industrial age and the invention of the middle class, the poor has worried about surviving, the middle class worries about protecting the wealth they’ve already amassed, and the rich worries about creating more wealth for generations down the line to keep themselves in power. Not just in this country – in every country that has a middle class.

          • the problem is right there:

            “middle class worried about protecting the wealth they’ve already amassed”

            the problem is that this conversation is not about the 99 percent. it’s about people who have problems with mortgages, student loans, high-ranking job salary. not federal day care. not institutionalized pay equality.

            it’s a middle class movement. that’s how it excludes me. i don’t need to show up and tell them that because they don’t want to hear it.

          • That was an observation of life since the industrial age – not the goal of the movement whatsoever (well, who am I to say – but from what I’ve seen, it’s not).

            You should show up – it would do you some good to relax and take in an atmosphere of people WHO ARE STRUGGLING TO GET BY. It’s not just the middle class there, at least in NYC. It’s everybody. Rich, poor, homeless, privileged students, the working class that now works three jobs, everyone.

            What you are doing right now is playing into the hands of the rich, who have for centuries turned the middle class and the poor against each other when in truth they should be allies. Divide and conquer. Partisan politics. Partisan social classes. Polarization. The people in power WANT this. They want us to hate each other, because if we do we can never stand together against a common enemy.

          • You know, it’s patronizing to tell people who they ought to accept as their allies. It’s patronizing to tell people that they are playing into the hands of their oppressors. Not only are you not convincing anyone, but you are being extremely offensive, and it pains me that you don’t seem to notice that.

            When the movement has left you behind every time your needs are inconvenient, it’s only logical that you begin to distrust the movement. And then some people have the nerve to come back and act like you’re stupid for distrusting them this time around, BECAUSE THIS TIME WILL BE DIFFERENT, DON’T YOU SEE?

            It’s not just the rich who divide the poor from the middle class. Much of the time the middle class does that just fine all on their own.

  4. As someone who is multiply oppressed (immigrant trans woman of color), and as someone who an active participant down at OWS, i do feel you and your anxieties. But I think, as people whose voices are marginalized, we cannot afford to ignore the strategy of forming unified fronts. I think the idea of the 99# is possibly one of the best memes that has been surfaced and it has an incredible resonance with the masses of people here, and internationally. Yes, OWS needs to become as inclusive a space as possible – and many of us are working very hard to do so, but isn’t it a forgone conclusion to say that marginalized peoples (at the bottom of the 99#) cannot/are not going to lead this movement as it evolves? That is where i do believe some cynicism comes into play… I prefer to diligently work to make sure that OWS does affirm and promote leadership of marginal voices rather than step away from it because it makes me uncomfortable, or because someone more privileged trying to shut me up. but of course, i do feel you – though my calling is different. thanks for writing.

  5. At this point in my life I’m in a really – for lack of a better word – interesting situation. And this movement has made me think a lot about privilege.

    I am currently living in America because my parent is a representative of Australia here. While I had grown up at home (Canberra, the capital of Australia) as a middle class CISgender white person and gone to school with the children diplomats, I had never experienced their particular world of high privilege.

    For the duration of this two year posting though, I AM experiencing that. I live in a multi-million dollar home in a suburb that screams ‘privilege’ and ‘white people majority’ to anyone who hears its name. Myself and my family have our rent, healthcare, electricity, water, and other expenses all paid for by our government back home. I attend parties with my parents where I am introduced to important people.

    I am saying all this because I realise that it will shape the way I think about my experience here. When I go back home and people ask me what my experience was like? How did I like America? etc. I realise that my feelings and opinions will be hugely influenced by the privilege that I have experienced while living here. I really like this country. There are American cultural values and rights that I really like and appreciate and some that I will never understand (or should I say, ‘the’ one – the ‘right’ to own a gun – culturally it is just so alien for me – but that is OT).

    Mid next year I will be returning to my Australian lifestyle. Student tuition wise – I have the privilege of the HECS loan which I am so grateful for. This whole experience has really made me think hard about privilege, especially living here in this current climate.

  6. So, I’ve never posted a comment before and almost just didn’t but…

    I believe the act of humanity coming together in this way supports a move toward unity and a rejection of duality. I think one can be in support of this movement whether in person or in thought– with no judgement of which is “better than” because we are collectively choosing to change society to one where there is no “better than”. Let’s also choose to no longer let ourselves be controlled through fear or anxiety and be optimistic each day for the future we are creating.

  7. I realize I’m writing this from a position of privilege (I’m a gay white girl), but I don’t think there’s ever been anything wrong with asking “What’s in it for me?” Isn’t that how underrepresented groups have made what gains they have?

  8. I agree and I disagree. you’re right, It’s really important to have a discussion about inclusion. And you’re right, now that the white middle class has had a taste of poverty, they’re starting to say what’s been on the minds of the underprivileged for years, and their protestation is a bit of a slap in the face.

    But i disagree that we are not the 99%. we ARE the 99%, because this is a human struggle, and if we ever truly want equality, we have to stop looking at it as “them” and “us”. other people have already said it, “us” versus “them” is a ‘divide and conquer” tactic.

    my biggest problem with OWS is that it seems like too much talking and not enough action. you said,

    “Am I being cynical or realistic? What is life? I’m exhausted from having an existential crisis every time I look at my Facebook news feed.”

    this isn’t an existential problem. It’s a matter of real life economics, inequities woven into the fabric of our economic system that have horrifying and concrete realities for real people. Theory is interesting and fashionable, but talking doesn’t change anything. I’ve already read Guy Debord and Baudrillard, but I’m not in college anymore. OWS needs to stop being sexy and start making demands. and if you’re concerned about getting left out, it’s up to you to make sure your demands are heard.

  9. Thanks for writing this article. OWS is important for us and everyone even if it doesn’t have a specific queer agenda. Didn’t get a chance to read everyone’s comment, so I apologize if I repeat others.

    Cutting unfair and unjust ties between corporations and the government is important for so many reasons. Take Prop 8, for example: large corporations and businesses donate unlimited amounts of money to campaigns in favor of Prop 8, the ads go up,and bigots come out to the polls to rear their ugly heads. There’s no knowing if Prop 8 would have passed without the money from large corporations (and the Mormon church), but arguably their campaign money did help the proposition and they sure had a lot more money than the anti prop 8 campaigns.

    On the use of “occupy”: in many of the larger occupations across the country, people are living in small, functioning communities that allow them to live by example, living the way they believe society should live on a daily basis. I had the chance of visiting Occupy Portland recently and was moved by how warmly a homeless man was welcomed to the food serving station…something that shouldn’t be abnormal, but so often is. If he had been standing ten feet away outside the park’s boundaries, he would have been ignored and left hungry by citizens and the government. Inside the park, it is every single person’s obligation to do all that they can to keep everyone healthy and fed, regardless of economic standing and every other factor. These are basic human rights. Shouldn’t this be how our society operates in the “real world”?

    Finally, you can be in the 1% and acknowledge that you were born into privilege, that you don’t deserve your wealth any more than the next person deserves to be poor. Many people in the 1% inherited their wealth from their parents or grandparents who worked hard and gained socio-economic status at a time when the American dream existed and hard work led to success. If you still think the American dream exists with today’s growing income inequality, failing public schools, etc, you are kidding yourself. People in the 1% can still believe that a system where 1% of the population controls 40% of the nation’s wealth is a broken system, and they can (and should) fight against it just as much as the 99.

    It took me a good 5 minutes to figure out how to spell “privilege”, so I hope that was somewhat coherent.We need to learn not to be afraid of change. Keep it up.

  10. Also, this (on the “vagueness/lack of demands”:

    “It is not the job of the protesters to draft legislation. That’s the job of the nation’s leaders, and if they had been doing it all along there might not be a need for these marches and rallies. Because they have not, the public airing of grievances is a legitimate and important end in itself. It is also the first line of defense against a return to the Wall Street ways that plunged the nation into an economic crisis from which it has yet to emerge.”

    -The New York Times Editorial Board

  11. Thank you for writing such a smart article that cuts right to the reasons why I’m uncomfortable with OWS. I just read out some of this article to my mother, and she immediately said that she doesn’t think that the reasons why this is happening is important, as long as it’s happening. But I disagree. Reasons are always important. If we don’t know why something’s happening we can’t prevent the injustices that may be caused by it, we can’t see the situation clearly and semi-objectively.

    Anyway, that’s just part of what this article made me think about. I loved that you talked about the extreme generalization that’s going on with the whole 99% thing, because that bothered me from the start, and I do think that it’s an awfully convenient way to ignore the reasons why a lot of people are at the bottom of the food chain, while allowing middle class/upper middle class people like me a “noble poor working man” status. Kind of like how John Lennon became the “Working Class Hero”, even though he’d come from a middle class family, was well provided for all his life, and had never held any kind of job before becoming a Beatle.

    For all of that though, I agree that OWS is a good thing. I just hope it doesn’t leave some of us out in the cold.

  12. Okay, let me start by asking that no one come hunt me down for this, I’m just looking for clarification in really, really simplified terms. Promise. Not trying to poke people’s ire or get a rise out of anyone… and please excuse my long winded explanation :)

    I don’t get it. I honestly don’t.

    The reason I don’t understand is that I’ve had to earn everything I own. My parents were working class, then moved to middle class so at 12 I had the benefits of being privileged, white, and in suburbia with two stable and sizable incomes from my parents. Then at 15 everything changed. Parents got divorced, Mom started popping oxy, I got kicked out without so much as a duffle bag.

    Fast forward from that point to now: have a decent job in an office, a used truck that I own out right, my own apartment in Portland, health insurance, a 401k plan and, with some budgeting, almost anything I think I want/need.

    Girls, I’m 24, it’s only been 8 years. Yeah the first few years with no state help, living on the streets while making myself graduate high school were a b!&^*, but I forced myself through it.

    That is my reasoning for not understand OWS. It seems, like with most other protests, this one has either migrated from it’s noble beginnings or too many people are throwing their own spin on the issues.

    All that I see when I try and gather information on the movement are people claiming to be the 99%, but with more privileges than they realize. The iPhones, laptops, etc. You can’t claim to be at the poverty line, but still spring for internet or a data package that saps 250 a year. You can’t go out and grab beer and smokes, then complain that you can’t afford to eat healthy.

    I get the concept that corporations do not deserve the same rights as people. I get that some CEOs of companies trounce their workers when it comes to wages.
    I also understand that healthcare should be universal, but isn’t that what we’re striving for? Didn’t that come down in a vote already?

    Remember: Very. Simple. Terms. I just would like to be able to decide whether I can join OWS or not. (maybe color me a picture or get Sesame Street to show case it?)

    ~Jen

    • First, just to clarify, the media is portraying this as a bunch of once middle class, now poor, white college educated kids looking for a handout from the government. It is not.

      As for what this movement is, in my opinion, about… is in two words: wealth inequality. Here’s an article that’s mainly charts and graphs to show you how bad it’s become: http://www.businessinsider.com/what-wall-street-protesters-are-so-angry-about-2011-10?op=1

      The fact that you came from a tough situation and then succeeded in making something out of yourself through hard work is considered luck these days. People are protesting because the OPPORTUNITY to better one’s self through hard work regardless of their background has vanished – the so called American Dream no longer exists. You can no longer go from rags to riches (or even to a comfort level) like you could 10-20 years ago.

      You can no longer pay your rent and put food on the table because you can’t land yourself a job (no matter how qualified or over qualified) that pays a living wage, because they are now few and far between. Hell, it’s tough to get a minimum wage job these days. And, if you are lucky enough to have a job, even the smallest error will get you fired – because hey, there’s a 1000 people lined up willing to take your job for even less money. That’s why people are protesting.

    • I forgot to add two things.

      The 99% would include everyone who makes less than $500,000 a year in income. Hence 99%, not whatever the percentage number “poor” is in income. The 99% are people who make nothing, and people who make just under $500,000, and everyone in between.

      With that being said, re the usage of smart phones and expensive laptops and the like. I wrote a blog post on my responses to common critiques of the movement, including the fancy electronics issue: just because one protests economic injustice doesn’t mean they need to go back to the pre-modern technology age. Just because one has the means to buy expensive equipment does not mean they are suddenly too privileged to protest – and they will use all of the available tools at their disposal to do so.

    • @ Jen

      Okay, so you worked hard and now you’re in a relatively stable position. Congrats. Here’s the problem: a lot of people have worked just as hard, and they’re still fucked.

      The problem is that there is no longer a correlation between hard luck and success (and I’m beginning to wonder if there ever really was, especially after reading this essay). You can work your ass off and not get anywhere – maybe you weren’t lucky, or maybe you’re not straight, white, male, and cis-sexual. Maybe you’re disabled, maybe you’re trying to support your parents or family, maybe you have a criminal history that follows you like a ghost.

      I would recommend checking out We are the 99% tumblr. There are a lot of stories of people who worked hard and still can’t make ends meet.

      As a side note, you can’t really judge people on their financial situation based on if they have laptops… for students and many people, having a computer is a necessity. (I get by without one only because my school has a laptop lending program.) In addition these people are not necessarily claiming to be at poverty line…. just part of 99%.

  13. I’ve got to start popping up around posts that deal with things other than these issues…but you know…i’m a creature of habit. Your statement: “It characterizes everyone’s struggle as the same. It sometimes forgets that, although the 99% do not hold the majority of the nation’s wealth, that some people within the 99% grew up and are still living comfortably while others have only known poverty in their whole lives”= real talk.

    So….can the 99% include the undocumented or are immigrants not allowed? And does the “I worked hard for what I get” message sound wickedly familiar to the Bootstraps model or what?

    Here was my message to OLA:

    I marched to Occupy LA with an Asian Pacific Islander and a Claremont Colleges contingent last night. What we were greeted with…was interesting, at best strange. As political science students, we observed a strange bureaucracy at hand. For how long it took us to SPEAK was absurd and the attitudes of others against those who wanted to speak was weird.

    The meaning of the MOVEMENT is beautiful—-the fact that there is an underlying agreement with the LAPD to stay peaceful is the result of the faces of the 99% being the white middle-class. Brown bodies are threatening to the police—we were relieved when a member named Julia spoke of the Anti-Police Brutality Committee. We knew that there was a dissenting voice against LAPD passive participation and it made us feel a little less apprehensive.

    How is that, Occupy LA, centered in one of the most diverse parts of the City, never once thought of translation services for Spanish and Chinese speakers, and the hearing impaired? Or does the 99% not include ESL speakers, non-English speaking immigrants or the undocumented? And what about those of us who CANNOT hear without a proper sound system? The People’s Mic opened up a space that immediately alienated folks and brought out the racism of others.

    Our group went up, after being derailed by the numerous processes, to make these points. I am hearing impaired. The People’s Mic is NOT effective for that reason. So, they went up and told the audience, in Spanish, in Mandarin, and in English that Occupy LA should be considering the folks that it claims to be representing, especially in that area. How could that NOT have been thought of before?

    When our friends spoke in Mandarin and the People’s Mic was still supposed to be in effect, a white man attempted to imitate the sounds in a way that was COMPLETELY racist and utterly ineffective…thus proving our points. This movement claims to represent ALL of the 99%. It hasn’t been effectively doing so. The paranoia against anyone who brings a dissenting opinion is baffling. I support the cause, I challenge the implementation.

    We challenge the Occupy movements to incorporate language translation for the neighborhoods that they are based in. We challenge the “facilitators” to think about their ableism when they vote for things that may exclude others. We challenge the Occupy movements to think about who they are speaking for as well as who they are ultimately excluding.

    What happens if you can speak FOR the 99% and not TO them? Who, then, are you really representing?

    So um yeah. That was mad long. God, I love AS.

    • That’s a really interesting criticism.

      In NYC it is similar although not the same. When marching some of the chants were in spanish (translation of “the people united, will never be defeated” was a popular one) and the people’s mic worked for that. I suppose even if you don’t speak spanish you can pick it up a little quicker than a more foreign language like mandarin (I say this not to be racist, but spanish is much closer to english due to latin).

      At one of the GA’s I went to, there was a guy translating via sign language.

      I think it is hard to expect a translation into other languages via the people’s mic – if the crowd doesn’t have enough people of that minority, it will be hard to get the message across.

      In NYC we have no choice but to use the people’s mic – amplification is illegal. I don’t know if it is any different in LA – but if it is, they should use one of those speaker things and have someone translate.

      The bureaucracy is annoying – I know in NYC it’s been a cause of tension during the GA meetings because so many people want to talk, and they aren’t use to having to keep their messages short.

      As for the paranoia – I sort of experienced that. Or rather sensed that. I am naturally loud-spoken and not afraid to be a dissenting opinion – but in large groups I think the mob mentality kicks in a little too easily. I guess that is human nature?

      • Thank you for your reply. It proves that our message that we were delivering was valid and so much so that most people couldn’t argue with it.

        The chants may have been in Spanish (cute) but the messages weren’t. Of course, it’s hard to expect translations into the People’s Mic, that’s why L.A. shouldn’t have had one. They should STILL be expected to translate. Or do we all speak American now?

        For almost 20 days, they operated with a PA system (which was completely legal) and the General Assembly voted to do without it, therefore purposely leaving out the people they were once able to reach. Not that they ever bothered to translate, anyway.

        So it’s easy to go along with, our movement is American, thus we should only speak English (because it’s easier) and well, the 99% in America speaks English right? So you know, we’ll just keep doing our thing and hope that some folks can follow along. And well, if you can’t hear, than oops…sorry, lemme get back to playing my DRUMS and chanting and walking around waving burnt sage and industrial hemp because I feel closer to the earth even as I’m possibly appropriating indigenous practices on formerly indigenous land. Oh also lemme ignore how the People’s mic can exhaust people in the audience, therefore preventing the message from being fully heard, especially by those who, since there’s no sign language or amplification, STILL CAN’T hear. It’s okay, though. You can just go to our twitter page.

        The minority voice is still a voice, no? So, if 3 people don’t understand what you’re saying while you’re up there in front claiming, “WE ARE YOU. YOU ARE ME. I AM YOU. WE ARE the 99%” then basically, the statement sounds like a piece of hippie bullshit…when it shouldn’t. In this country, where Spanish-speakers are NOT a minority, this movement should be doing more than just incorporating kitschy chants.

        Let’s talk about immigrant workers in households, restaurants, etc. (NY is the perfect place to start!)

        Somehow I can’t get past the talk of corporate greed, when there’s no talk of mass consumerism. I can’t get past the talk of police brutality, when there’s no discourse around race, sexuality and class.

        It’s amazing that I can stand next to a man draped in a Confederate flag talking about taxes and the government, shouting about the 99%, and have to wonder in my head, “Luna, why is it that you feel so uncomfortable right now?”

        The 99% includes anti-immigrants, racists, bigots, homophobes, and others who hold repressive ideologies, even as we all suffer from economic greed who tell me, “Look. It’s not about race or skin color right now, yo. Its about us as a people. About us as a movement. We’re all united. Together. Talking about those things divides us when we should be together”.

        *side eye*

        Yeah, okay.

  14. I have so many complicated feelings on this issue, I don’t even really know where to start.

    I went to Austin, TX this past weekend and happened to walk past their Occupy protest. There seemed like there was a core group of people (about ten or fifteen) who actually cared, and then a good two hundred hipsters sulking around smoking American Spirits and walking across the street to some coffee bar. I mean, I’m not saying that they’re privileged, spoiled kids… Let’s put it this way, I talked to my crazy, very hipsteresque ex who’s pretty involved in OccupyAustin on a surface level. She said she wasn’t going to camp out because she had an “important” party to go to later in the afternoon, but that she’d “show up and make some posters.” It’s the people with the attitudes like this that have turned me off the movement. I was about to set out hitchhiking to make it up to the Wall Street protests, but I think I’m better suited making my voice heard in College Station, doing music and getting people talking.

    I’ve got an interesting life story so far. I grew up lower middle class and was only near poverty once in my younger life. I got a private school education pre-k through high school, and attended Texas A&M on scholarships for a year and a half. However, my parents finally decided to cut me off because I am openly and flamboyantly queer (trans AND lesbian), and a vocal medical marijuana supporter (the final straw for my teetotaler mother). They did this when I was still paying off my own loan, and I am now eight months behind on a $2000 balance, which is no doubt racking up that 11% interest at a nice pace. I got lucky and got myself a car for free and fixed it whenever I got a paycheck from my part-time job at a pharmacy. I had to drive the POS back across Texas and ended up back in College Station, squatting at my friends apartments and working three days a week max just to get food. BUT. I’m actually happy about this, I decided when I was still in junior high (diary entries confirm this) that money, stability, and family were not too important on my list. I’ve seen the greed and the inequality in the system and I’ve decided “fuck it, I don’t want any part any more.” Its not fair that because I didn’t finish college and get a paying degree (I majored in English so even if I had finished I wouldn’t have had much opportunities), I can’t get a job. Potential employers see on my resume that I’ve dropped out TWICE from college, and they don’t even bother. I’m seen as a slacker and have even been called such to my face. I tried for three years to turn myself around, pull myself out of debt and try to get back in school, but it’s impossible. And that’s just my story, I’m one of many. Once you fall from a position of privilege, you can no longer pull yourself back up. And I’m one of the ones who was lucky enough to at least have a shot. There are so many more who are not white,young, and female; their voices are just as valid as mine, and less attention will be paid to them. That’s what I’m most afraid of in this movement… Self-made success has been made unattainable. That’s why I’ve dropped out of the system completely, there’s no point in struggling and being miserable anymore; by this time next year (after I hopefully pay off that damn credit card and sell the car for scrap) everything I own will fit in a backpack and I will be travelling the country with my crust punk friends.

    I’m long-winded and stoned, getting to a point isn’t my strongest suit. But what I will say is: don’t listen to any one side of any story, especially this one. The media lies. Plain and simple. I don’t even know right now because I’m not there, so I guess I will keep doing my thing for now and see where this all goes.

  15. I’m not sure if I’m just repeating stuff, but I feel like I have to say this.

    I also have been having the mixed feelings. However, as all these comments seem to illustrate, there are always going to be mixed feelings because class relations are so horribly snarled and complicated. This isn’t an anti-war protest where the common goal is pointedly clear – this protest includes all that but cuts way deeper and more personal than that. I’ll be the first to tell you that I come from a position of privilege, I’m a middle-class queer white girl. I don’t think that should discount my voice from this movement, nor do I think that it makes my voice more worth listening to.

    I can understand on a basic level anger from a much less privileged point of view that suddenly the world is listening when the white middle-class finally decides that they are fed up. There’s really no getting around or glossing over that issue, and no point getting defensive about it. I think it’s also extremely naive to try and get everyone to just ignore feelings of resentment to become a United Front. I’m not going to insult people living in poverty by presuming that I understand all they’ve gone through, or that our ‘struggle is the same’, or that they ‘need my help’.

    We ARE the 99% but that doesn’t mean we are monolithic. There’s just no way that the interests of the white middle class are going to exactly match those of people who have been living in poverty their whole lives. I interpret the OWS mission as a springboard of sorts for all kinds of people to adapt and apply to their own life experience, while striving towards a (VERY, very generally speaking) common goal of eliminating corporate greed and fixing a broken economy (isn’t that one thing we can agree on?).

    I don’t think that’s a good reason to dismiss OWS – the fact is that ALL of our lives have been affected by corporate greed in vast and various ways. I think splitting the movement into polarized ‘sides’ and trying to make each other’s voice irrelevant is toxic and pointless.

    Sorrryyyy for the novel. I guess I’m just trying to collect my thoughts about the whole thing. It’s hard to know what to think, or what a solution may be, if there is one.

  16. Pingback: Oh You Crazy White People… Occupy White Street Lacks Black People – Tester

Contribute to the conversation...

Yay! You've decided to leave a comment. That's fantastic. Please keep in mind that comments are moderated by the guidelines laid out in our comment policy. Let's have a personal and meaningful conversation and thanks for stopping by!