By Sonny Singh
(What follows does not reflect or represent the views of the People of Color Caucus at Occupy Wall Street but only the views of the author himself.)
At the notorious Occupy Wall Street spokes council meetings, the People of Color (POC) Caucus, of which I am a member, often finds itself in the role of whistle-blowing and bringing a critical perspective to the discussion. I have gotten the sense that most people at spokes — sometimes including the facilitators — just want to “get through” the agenda with little to no drama or disruptions. While I can relate, given that these meetings are long and often frustrating, this approach doesn’t create a culture that fosters critical thinking or the voicing of dissent. So, often when the POC Caucus voices concerns about a proposal being made or something happening in the room, I sense a lot of hostility towards us.
Last week, the issue of banning “violent people” from Occupy Wall Street came up at a spokes council meeting I attended. Those of us in the POC spoke shared the deep concern of the majority in the room that certain individuals have made others feel unsafe by committing physically aggressive or violent acts towards others. Many at the meeting were getting understandably worked up about it and insisted on a zero-tolerance type policy when it comes to violence and thus banning so-called violent people for life from OWS.
When it was finally our turn to speak on stack, I raised a question about the meaning of the word violent and how we wanted to make sure people are specific about the actions of a person being deemed “violent.” Violence means different things to different people. Violence can be verbal, physical, sexual, institutional, or state-sanctioned. Pushing someone could be seen as violent. Yelling could be seen as violent. Damaging property could be seen as violent. Raising your voice and calling out racism or sexism in a meeting could be seen as violent (no, this is not a hypothetical scenario).
So, we were concerned about three “violent” people (all who happened to be people of color themselves) being permanently banned from OWS and kicked out of the church they were living in without being clear and on the same page about what constitutes violence. We have not had this conversation at Occupy. Many assumptions are made when people talk about someone being violent, and to raise the question is apparently taboo.