Dispatches from Indigenous People’s Day: Part 2

By Saara Azadi

I had spent Monday afternoon at Occupy Wall Street at a working group meeting.  Wandering with a friend, we heard the conch shell call and drums from a Mixeca group of dancers that had assembled in a corner of the park.  As the dancers began to offer blessings and tributes to our ancestors and the earth, a circle of onlookers formed around them. Some were taking photos, others were ensuring that a safe space was created around the dancers.  Wary of the police and potential disrupters, the dancers had sent an email to the People of Color Working Group earlier that day, asking us to come and “protect and support our danza circle tonight. Many of our folks… would feel safer knowing that there’s an outer circle having our backs during the ceremony.”  A young curly-haired woman of color nosed in between myself and my friend and said, “Wow, the energy feels really good here.”  As we linked arms – strangers, friends, family – you could feel the energy and spirit created by the dancers, the drumming, and our collective power.

While we ‘occupied’ the area under the Red Sculpture, the General Assembly (GA) was well underway in the area by the library.  The dancers continued – one explained that this was not a performance – that they were here to offer blessings to our ancestors, the earth, the elements, and to this movement and the many indigenous and global communities in resistance.  She went on to declare that they would finish when they were done.  I didn’t quite know what she meant; the dancing, drumming, and prayers continued….

Photo by Marina Ortiz

After some time I moved out of the circle to catch some of the GA.  I sat adjacent to a group of people signing in American Sign Language to one another, and saw the projector screen for the first time, with someone typing along verbatim as people spoke.  The People’s Mic sounded in two waves.  How great that we’ve made so many strides to be inclusive!  How amazing there are all these concurrent and differing ways to use the space!  Me and my almond bubble tea, I was feeling good.

The GA came to a ten-minute recess, and a middle-aged white man standing behind me made a snide comment about the Mixeca dancers.  In a loud voice intended I imagine for all within earshot, he rhetorically asked when they would finish already, that they’d drummed long enough.  I looked up quizzically and asked what the problem was – the GA seemed to me to be functioning normally.  What ensued was a useless back and forth wherein he did not once let me finish my sentence, listen to what I was saying, or in any way consider an opinion other than his own.  He escalated his own manner from dismissive to combative, while I evenly refused to be streamrolled. Seemingly annoyed that I had challenged and/or disagreed with him, he abruptly left in the direction of the dancers, leaving me to call out loud, “thanks for taking the time to listen to what I have to say…”

There was a younger white man seated there, who had originally responded positively to the older white man’s displeased and snarky comment.  He looked at and addressed me with genuine puzzlement.  What ensued this time around was a rather respectful conversation wherein I acknowledged his frustration, but wondered why he didn’t think it was amazing that there could be a GA, a hippy drum circle, a passing performance troupe, a food line, sleeping people, chess-players, and a whole mess of other activities – including the Mixeca dancers – all happening at once in one space.  Why fixate on them?  The GA continued and I expressed appreciation and respect for those who had to work a little harder to hear, a little harder to focus.  Because it’s hard!  This whole occupation is hard!  And so what?  The struggle is hard.

And here’s where he dropped the bomb – “The GA is the most important thing.  Nothing should get in the way of the GA.”

The reason I had the patience and took the time to talk with this person was because he spoke from a place of sincerity and respect.  I kept returning to the point that today is Columbus Day – a day when this country grotesquely celebrates the legacy of colonization and genocide, while we are here! On Wall Street! Built by slaves to keep out the native peoples! – but it just didn’t resonate.  No, he hadn’t considered that others might not view the GA as the most important forum at OWS.  No, he hadn’t thought about the effects of shutting down the offerings from an entire community.  No, he hadn’t even wondered what they were doing here and why they were dancing in the first place.  No, he hadn’t walked over to see for himself or ask what they were doing.  He candidly informed me he wasn’t that interested in blessings or dance.

And for this lack of curiosity, for this lack of humility, for this lack of self-questioning and active pursuit of understanding, I am disappointed in / challenge / do not excuse OccupyWallStreet.

The older white man returned – apparently he had marched over to the dancers to see when they would be done.  They essentially blew him off: 10 minutes, 20 minutes, WHEN WE’RE DONE.  He relayed all this to the younger white man, but entirely for my benefit. He was livid at having been told off, at having been given so little regard.  He couldn’t look at me, talk to me, or engage with me directly.  There was nothing for me to work with.  I leaned over and thanked the other guy for talking with me and left to return to the circle.

Seems like we weren’t just linking arms to create a safe space for the dancers, to offer them a feeling of protection from cops and crazies, to create that good energy my new curly-haired friend pointed out.  We were linking arms to protect them from us.  I thank my companer@s from native communities for coming to offer their blessings, to mark Indigenous People’s Day, to decolonize Wall Street.  But first, we have to decolonize OccupyWallStreet.

And in the glow of the halal carts, as I joined a conversation with new friends and old, out of the corner of my eye I saw the younger white man.  Alone and with a hesitant step, he gingerly make his way towards the circle of Mixeca dancers…

We will finish when we’re done.


11 Comments to “Dispatches from Indigenous People’s Day: Part 2”

  1. “decolonize OccupyWallStreet”
    Thank you for all of this
    Gabriella Calender

  2. Hi! Can this be translated in spanish, I would like to share it with the mexica danzante community. I also would like to say this:

    we experienced some serious racist behavior on
    the part of the general population there and directly from the
    it was ridiculous to have multiple people coming up to us some more
    aggressive and angry than others saying to stop, to bring down the
    noise and that simply wanted us to go. It was
    politically incorrect of them to not let us complete our ceremony

    It was upsetting to have the GA organizers choose to later give us an
    apology letter through a young person of color (occupying for 15
    days), using him as a token. It was upsetting to have to deal with all the white folks
    afterward asking questions and wanting to “build” with us, asking me
    about being able to build a sweatlodge in the space!!! Sweatlodges are so sacred for us, how could some one ask that question and not get that this space was’nt even open to us being there. This is
    what Colonialism and white supremacy look likes, and all need to have powerful conversations around how we have internalized this conversation and continue to play it out.
    We are still waiting for this apology letter….but really the apology is true when it is followed with some concrete actions!

    • Spanish translation is a great idea Karen. We will ask around and see if we can find anyone able/willing to do so. Let us know if you have ideas.

      It’s awful how a lot of folks at Liberty Square treated you all with such disrespect and even hostility. Really awful. We have so much work to do… At the same time, I have heard many more comments/discussions about how powerful and important and inspiring the danza was, and how it transformed the space in such a needed way. So thank you all for persisting and resisting in such a beautiful way, despite the racism, despite the contemporary colonial mentalities.

  3. Thank you sonny!!! Thank you for reminding me of the power of that ceremony! It shifted something in me, and I am sure it shifted a lot in many of our hearts. Like my sister Vanessa said I loved that feeling of ecstasy that I felt that night! I get that anger can be paralyzing. So I am flowing with the love and power we created together.
    And that is why I want to be in action….to be inaction – out-raged…with love and compassion.
    PA’Lante mi gente!

    • anger/rage AND love/compassion have to coexist and work together and fuel our struggle. we can do this. glad we’re all in it together…

  4. These articles are insightful into the everyday occurrences of a movement. However it concerns me to see certain aspects being left out. Columbus Day as we know it today came from a movement to combat anti-immigrant feels towards the Italian population in the late 1800’s. A first generation Italian politician pushed hard to pass this holiday into law with the Knights of Columbus in hopes that it would help integrate immigrant Italians into mainstream “white” America. Columbus day before this, did indeed celebrate all the negative connotations and was used to promote war and citizenship. Yet after 1905 it became a day of pride for Italian Americans who worked in deplorable conditions in the mines along with other ethnic groups. And to completely deny how important this holiday is to some Italian Americans is wrong to say the least. Times have change and it should no longer be appropriate to name any holiday after someone like Columbus and all he represents instead, this day should be change to “Italian Pride Day”. My point is celebrating a holiday named after Columbus is hurtful and wrong for not only native Americans but for any group that has undergone displacement. However, we must also consider that this specific Holiday came from a movement to help stop discrimination against Italian Americans. There are two stories in this Holiday but only one is getting told. Which is why I believe the second Monday of October should be switch to Italian pride day or even Da Vinci day, or Galileo Day. Native Americans deserved a Holiday in memorial to their sacrifice at the hands of the colonizers who took their lands as well, since it is long overdue.

    By the way…I don’t even have any Italian Heritage

  5. Do you have any info about the danza group?

  6. The danzantes that came out that night come from 4 different danza groups in new york city, we choose to danza as a collective of individuals all touched by what is happening in our communities. We all danza together when we are called to do so for big ceremonies or in these cases. The danza circle i represent is Cetiliztli Nauhcampa and you can find info about us at http://www.cetiliztli.org The other 3 groups present were Tletpapalotzin, Atl Tlachinolli, and Huehuetlatolli, all of which you can find on facebook.

    • Thank you for the info, Karen! I wanted to be able to call you all by name when telling people how powerful Monday was. It was such a blessing to be a witness and connect with other Indigenous people on such an emotional day. I truly felt blessed.

      I was disappointed by the disrespectful manner that organizers and others behaved in – trying to shut the circle down, shouting things, and generally not respecting the sacredness of what was happening – but hopefully this can be a learning moment and people will realize that ‘even’ within activist communities there is a lot of work to be done. I also hope, as you mentioned before, that an apology is offered along with a clear course of action for moving forward in a more inclusive and respectful manner.

      Thank you again for sharing so much with us – it meant the world to me and many others.

      la lucha sigue!

  7. Thanks, Saara, for your beautiful and powerful and crystal clear dispatch.

    I just wanted to share one *I’m-in-this-journey-too* thought with you, and absolutely don’t mean it to chastise or “call out” or anything.

    I have been trying to change my vocabulary, in response to voices and writings of disability justice organizers, so I don’t use the word crazy when I mean something was strange, or frustrating, or amazing, or terrifying. Of course sometimes I don’t even realize I’ve said it, because it’s old habit. Sometimes I sort of want to use the word for things like corporations and capitalism and racism, things that seem really messed up, and meanwhile *not* use it to describe people with various mental health issues, yet unfortunately that still keeps the crazy = bad word association. I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t gone to therapy or grappled with stuff like anxiety or depression. And then sometimes I think “crazy” is radical, inventive, beautiful, liberated, not fitting into a conformist world.

    All this being said… I think the term “crazies” does dismiss a category of people, people who are grappling with sometimes multiple mental health issues and who are wrongly treated as less-than in their everyday lives. I think that if this movement is going to center oppressed voices, people who are typically dismissed in this way need to be front and center too, in changing the world and in shaping OWS into a healthy and supportive space for everyone… and of course being called on their shit and pushed to change like anyone else if they are being racist, sexist, abusive, etc.

    Since the history of who has been called crazy has been linked to racism and sexism (check out Jonathan Metzl’s book “The Protest Psychosis” http://www.beacon.org/productdetails.cfm?PC=2087) and/or linked to the compounding impacts of poverty, drugs, state and interpersonal violence, racism, environmental toxins…. all the things we are fighting to change, I think it’s very important not to be dismissive. As a term for people like the guy in your post, who was super fucked up, I think maybe “crazies” has too much other connotation and unwanted impact.

    Just some thoughts, and if you want to chat more about it I’m totally open. Like I said I’m growing in this myself.

  8. They don’t shut the drummers down for the G.A. and they’re noisy. There might not be any more G.A.s if Bloomberg arrests 600+ occupiers Friday morning.

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