Lately, I’ve been ending most of my e-mails with “hope to see you in the streets!” This revolutionary corniness can be directly attributed to my participation in the OWS protest on the Brooklyn Bridge on October 1st. Like many of my friends, I was pretty cynical about this at first. I saw some of the early photos of the occupiers and almost collapsed from activist PTSD. America’s Tahrir Square wasn’t going to be lead by the same crusty white anarchists I’d brawled with for much of my organizing life…was it?
And then, you know the story- the pepper spraying incident was the collective “come to Vishnu/Allah/Jesus etc.” moment for many of us. More of my friends in NYC were attending the GAs and participating in meaningful ways. This was enough of a reason for me to hop on a bus from D.C. to NYC to raise some hell on Wall Street. Full disclosure: I grew up in New York with the NYPD. I’m fully aware of what they are capable of, but even I was shocked by their shameless kettling and subsequent arresting of 700 protestors on the Brooklyn Bridge. In spite of all of this, I came back to D.C. with a renewed fervor to recreate this incredible space here.
Having returned, I found out that some others had already occupied D.C. I was excited and confused- the former because the movement was spreading and the latter because I didn’t know any of the organizers. D.C. is a pretty small town if you’re an organizer or a leftist. For the most part, we know (of) each other and we get confused when folks outside of our circle organize Really Big Things e.g. an occupation of a federal park. I put my radical ego aside to find out who these folks were and to get involved.
I’ve been attending our GA meetings at McPherson Park for over a week now. There’s a small crew of us who have known and worked with each other for years that show up regularly to help out. At first, we shook our heads in dismay. What the hell was going on? Who was facilitating? Why was this occupation such a mess? Why aren’t they asking us for mentorship?! I’ll admit it- I was kind of a prick. I was preaching patience to my friends while asking them to join us, but not practicing it myself. Slowly, a process has been developing, more open conversations are being had, liberal values are being tossed aside from more radical ones, and people are growing and learning. If you’ve never seen movement building in process, it’s a beautiful thing and you are missing out. Even the most jaded activist can’t help but be inspired by seeing fresh new faces learn how to facilitate meetings and build consensus. We’ve been building committees to take care of logistical needs but also to take care of each other. But we still have such a long way to go…especially considering that there is a second occupation at Freedom Plaza, sponsored by Code Pink, going on ten blocks away.
For the past few days, we had a record turnout of nearly 200 people. Some of them were folks attending the Freedom Plaza occupation but a lot of them were students. I saw more POC faces in the crowd than I’d seen any other night and felt so uplifted. Prior to that, during the evening GAs, I’d look around this big group of people, hoping to see more POC faces but sadly, there wouldn’t be too many. There still aren’t enough to make this a real diverse and representative space. Perhaps because it is an alienating space that is made worse by negative racist experiences.
For example, last week, a drunk white woman verbally assaulted me and told me to go back to Bollywood. For anyone who has been denied his/her basic humanity through such prejudiced attacks, you know what a hurtful experience this is. It’s even worse when you haven’t slept in days because you’ve been helping build the infrastructure for what is very wrongly labeled a “leaderless, liberated space.” This event did have one positive effect: my white friends and allies stepped up to the plate to not only support me but also to run interference when other white folks said stupid things. They’ve been active in running anti-racism trainings, to school others who would make racist comments or indulge in cultural appropriation and have been amazing examples of what true solidarity and alliance-building across racial communities looks like.
Regardless, we can’t let people with problematic politics take over this space. We need to turn out and do the work no matter where we are. This is going to take more compassion and patience than we’ve ever exerted but it’s worth it. As POCs, we’re accustomed to our experiences, narratives, voices, and experiences being in the margins more than in the center, but we know that ain’t right. This is a chance to change that. We shouldn’t have to come into predominantly white spaces and carve a niche for ourselves- we should be there from Day 1, putting our voices out there in solidarity with our white allies. If there are real issues that prevent POC communities from getting directly involved, then let’s find creative other ways for them to plug in. As Sonny has noted, we should be sensitive to every individual’s capacity; I have the privilege to get arrested and not worry about it, but my undocumented friends don’t. But like Aimé Césaire said, “There is a place for all at the rendezvous of victory.”
In D.C., it’s important to remind everyone about that and mobilize our local communities of color to get involved in any way they can. We have a political reality that exists here that is so unique to this city, and we’re forced to work within those parameters (e.g. sharing occupation space with national mobilizations). That is totally okay. I’ve learned so much from the wealth of experience that the out-of-town activists at Freedom Plaza have brought to our city, especially from the Pagan Cluster and their amazing facilitation trainings. But right now, the most important thing is to be out there, with our righteous anger and keep going back. And never stop organizing more people so the space is reflective of our society at large. It might require every last bit of our patience, but we can’t lose this historical moment. Some of the folks at Freedom Plaza have one-way tickets back home. That’s real.
I care about D.C. and I’m pissed about how our city officials are killing social services in the D.C. budget. I’m just as pissed about the total ineptitude of the Federal government and the corporate wrongdoings of Wall Street. I’m pissed that my dad lost his job during the recession and that my best friend works a minimum wage job with a Master’s degree. But I don’t want to be pissed alone, I want to be pissed with my fellow POC homies, I want our post-meeting angry conversations about racial inequality to go mainstream, and I want us to be a big part of this movement.
Rise up y’all. And if you’re in D.C., join me in McPherson Square.
Hope to see you in the streets.