By Coya White Hat-Artichoker
I have been enthralled watching what is happening on Wall Street and has spread to other parts of the country and globe. I am fascinated because of the large numbers of people I see in the streets, and the amount of discontent. I appreciate the clarity that they are not disorganized but rather, since we are dealing with 99% of the population with a multitude of issues, you are going to see every different kind of protest and issue.
I also appreciate the critiques brought forth by my other indigenous brothers and sisters, both within and outside the US, highlighting the use of the word “occupy”; asking folks to recognize and acknowledge the colonial legacy and history in using settler language to frame what is hopefully a mass people’s movement for liberation. The words of Audre Lorde echo for me here: “the master’s tools will not dismantle the master’s house”. It’s important to acknowledge that there are communities who have been living under occupation for over 500 years. And when we talk about occupation, why aren’t we also talking about the West Bank and Gaza Strip, Puerto Rico, or Guam?
I love that people chose Wall Street to start these protests, and I love that we are talking about the accumulation of wealth by a small percentage of people and what it looks like for the rest of the people who do not share those resources or can access resources of that type. I also feel that we need to acknowledge the history and legacy of the mass accumulation of wealth within the United States to begin with, and therein lies the ability to talk about colonization and capitalism. The United States became one of the richest countries in the world because they slaughtered First Nations people for land and imported slaves for labor. It’s really easy to build the wealth of a nation, when you have stolen land and imported labor that is completely exploitable.
The ties to our present day still exist when we think about how these systems have been codified through immigration policy, supra-state structures, and corporations. It’s important to realize that this mass discontent did not occur in a vacuum. It’s possible that a large majority of folks are suffering and experiencing what a smaller minority already knew, which is that our current system of capitalism is not sustainable if we believe people should live in humane conditions.
Free labor and stolen land built a large mass of wealth. It continues to be done today through structures like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank which operate at a supra-state level. This means that they operate outside any nation but dictate to countries the world over what the economic structure of their societies will be. This might be okay if their first priority was people, not profit. The IMF and World Bank will never have poor people, folks living with disabilities, people of color at the center of its policies due to this economic manipulation. Rather, what we see is a lot of forced migration, predominantly affecting indigenous peoples and people of color communities.
I want this mass movement to succeed; I want to see real change. I also believe that if we want to be able to coalesce into a movement that can articulate how we got to this present moment and who we are in this moment, it means we must acknowledge the historical legacy of wealth accumulation, colonization and global migration. We have an incredible opportunity in front of us to build real coalitions with each other and to learn from one another.
If we are truly the 99%, we have to figure out how to acknowledge the complexities of the past, while getting very clear about who are our allies and what we are attempting to change. For me, the clarity is about capitalism, it is a system that demands an underclass; in order for it to work, there needs to a section of society or societies living in poverty. If we say we are in this movement for the 99% then we are also saying that we cannot continue to live with and support a system that demands that any of us suffer so that some of us, and that “some of us” keeps getting smaller, can live comfortably. I hope that as discontent continues to spread, that we remember we are not each other’s enemies and we are not each other’s problems. But we exist in a capitalist structure that will always attempt to divide us and tell us that we cannot or do not belong to one other.
My friend tells me that people on Wall Street are spending a lot of time educating one another, and I really believe this is what creates change. We have to know our history, how we got here, and recognize that if we do not hold the totality, we risk re-creating the very systems that have brought so many people out in the streets.