portland independent media center  
images audio video
newswire article commentary united states

community building | economic justice

Belittling the Occupy Movement

Recently it has come to my attention that the global Occupations are being blamed
for the disorderly behavior that is taking place at many of our protest sites. This
is understandable, given that the power structure is hell bent on discrediting us by
any means at their disposal. It is also laughable.
Recently it has come to my attention that the global Occupations are being blamed
for the disorderly behavior that is taking place at many of our protest sites. This
is understandable, given that the power structure is hell bent on discrediting us by
any means at their disposal. It is also laughable.

The problems we are facing were not created by us, but we deign to shed light on
them and so we are blamed for them. The truth is, every person at our protest is
there because the system is broken. If there were no occupations, the number of
people experiencing homelessness would remain unchanged. If there were no
occupations, there would remain on American streets over a million runaway youth.
Every day, people would be assaulted on the street, overdose on drugs on the street,
urinate, defecate, sleep, and die on the street. The only thing that has changed
about these problems since the occupations began is that now people are paying
attention to them.

There is no way to have a protest on the street without facing the problems of the
street head on. These problems are studiously ignored by politicians and the public
alike. As occupiers, we will not ignore them. This is both a matter of conscience
and necessity. We believe that by facing them we can begin to create opportunities
for these problems to be addressed.

The problems of the street are best understood by the people who live them. In
Occupy Eugene, those people self identify as Street Families. They are a collection
of close knit groups with unique cultures that are as complex and nuanced as any I'm
aware of. I don't know much about Street Family cultures, but one thing I've learned
since the occupation started is that many of them are very suspicious of charitable
strangers.

This makes sense, especially when we remember that one of society's primary tools
for maintaining the current order is belittlement. Many people and organizations
take a paternalistic and insulting stance toward the homeless. Every act of charity
comes with strings attached. Getting access to food, shelter and clothing is a
traumatic and pride swallowing experience for the extremely poor.

Pride is a funny thing; even when we're at the bottom of our luck, penniless,
wracked by addiction, depression, stress, psychosis, or any combination of the
above, our pride still drives us. To have it insulted still hurts.

Mark it down, too; this isn't their fault. Very few people set out to become
homeless. It is class warfare that drives people into homelessness. They are
victims, collateral damage in the war to move all resources into the hands of the
few and the powerful. And as with any self respecting power structure, ours is
expert at blaming victims.

When we're talking about the problems of the street, it's not just about long term
single homeless adults. There are over a million runaway youth in the United States.
They come from all manner of backgrounds, and they are frequently victimized on the
street. When the topic of street kids comes up, it's hard to get away from the
question of blame. Some people blame the kids. Some people blame the parents. I have
a really hard time with all of this.

When I was a teenager, I ran away from my parents home. My parents are loving,
compassionate people. They are far from perfect, as am I, and as is everyone else
involved in this movement, this city, this world.

It would be dishonest to blame my parents for what happened then. It would be
dishonest to blame myself. To the extent that there's blame to lay (and to a large
extent there's not), I place it in the same blood stained hands that hold the brunt
of the responsibility for our social problems. They are they hands of a broken
system, and they are the hands would rather protect that broken system than fight
for justice.

My running away was the product of a complex web of interactions involving a cast of
players that extends far beyond my immediate family. Those interactions were
mediated by a culture of domination, oppression, and intolerance. It is a culture
that rushes to blame victims, yet somehow always fails to identify structural
problems. It is a culture that insists upon personal accountability, while ignoring
the context of personal stories.

The problems of the street won't ever go away until we address their structural root
causes. The occupation is addressing those root causes. We are addressing the
systematic inequalities that lead to homelessness, to runaway youth, to widespread
substance abuse, and to untreated mental illness. We are directly addressing a
civilization that refuses to treat its people when they are sick, and instead casts
them out into the street.

These problems are not new. We did not cause them. We have, however, brought them
together into one place. In doing so we have brought them into the light. This has
been uncomfortable for use. It is never pleasant to face one's problems, but if we
wish to address them - both symptomatically in the short term, and by eliminating
their cause in the long term - we must first be willing to look at them.

This is a real issue of personal accountability. We must each be accountable to
ourselves to think realistically about unpleasant realities. As long as the
occupation is on the street, we will live with the problems of the street. The
street is the last refuge for honest people in a civilization built on lies. The
street is where our toxic culture sends the people it deems disposable to die slow
deaths. The street is the site of the greatest inequalities and the greatest
injustices of our age.

We, as members of this culture, must hold ourselves accountable to meet the
culture's refugees and work with them compassionately. We must hold ourselves
accountable to empower the powerless, and to never dehumanize or objectify someone
on account of their economic status, their mental health status, their addiction
status, or any other account.

This is not a distraction from our cause. It is our cause, as much as any direct
action. If we ignore the issues of the street, they will overtake and subsume us,
and rather than being the heroes of the movement we, too, will become its victims.
If we can succeed in addressing the issues of the street, while also addressing the
issues of Wall Street, we will change the course of history.

post from fb

Belittling the Occupy Movement 11.Nov.2011 09:55

blackineugene

oops!

In 4th to last paragraph "This has been uncomfortable for use" should read "for us".

Assertiveness Needed to Protect Occupation 11.Nov.2011 09:59

Liam Kellen

Sam has been a high energy positive force in the Eugene movement, and I agree with most of his comments above. Occupy Eugene didn't create alchoholism, drug addiction, or homelessness.

But at the same time there are cases of individuals wrecking havoc or at least significantly disrupting the General Assembly meeting or the larger work of the encampment. In some cases discussion, mediation, and a nod to their self=pride can mitigate the disruption and even perhaps help bring the indisidual into the common work of the new social model.

But in other cases individuals wreck havoc because: 1. They have a psychotic or at least nihilistic mental blockage to cooperation, which may be aggrevated by methamphetimine or alchohol intoxication. They also may be looking for a physical fight and commie-socialist organizers are as good a target as any. 2. They are informants or agent provacateurs for government bodies or for right wing organizations.

I'm not here going to debate how much "on purpose" disruption has occured at Occupy Eugene or other encampments. But if you will grant that conscious disruption is at least theoretically possible, my question is what is Occupy Eugene able to do to stop or at least mitigate such disruption?

I think one answer is the better training of an internal "safety committee" that goes a step further than "peacekeepers". Members of a safety committee must be assertive enough to escort drunks and troublemakers from the Occupy site. They must have the backing of the General Assembly, and they must have recourse if needed to local police as a last resort. Whose interests do the police serve? the 1% or the 99%? Are they union workers or agents of repression? Obviously, there are contradictory loyalties within the various policing organizations. But until a new social order has its own Foucauldian "people's tribunal committees" we are operating within the grid of the social structure, no matter how inovative we are in our internal organization.