I am Occupied/Yo Soy Occupado
Poverty, Race and the "Occupation" movements
I am occupied- I am occupied with bills I cant pay, rent I cant afford, jobs I cant get, children I cant feed, with po’lice officers who kill my young sons of color, with false borders I have no papers to cross over with, with landlords who are evicting me. I am occupied with ancestors who have been poisoned by corporate landfills and destroyed by corporate removal, with resting places that have been desecrated.
I am occupied with brothers and sisters killing themselves, with guns, drugs and poisons to forget their pain. I am occupied with elders in struggle who I can’t seem to console no matter how hard I try
I am occupied with fear and worry and sorrow and despair and I am occupied with how much I and my indigenous brothers and sisters and poor mamaz and daddys are occupied everyday just to stay alive in Amerikkka.. tiny 2011
Four sets of human arms shot out of the revolving doors of Wells Fargo Bank in downtown San Francisco, while 6 bodies hugged the sides of the building. Po’Lice officers stood at confused attention while customers and downtown workers skirted the perimeter of the Foreclose on Wall Street Rally which included over 2000 people in attendence. Wells Fargo employees stood on the other side of the glass in a collective freeze frame. Every chant by the people sitting at the mouth of the bank was matched with hundreds of echoes repeated by the huge crowd in front of them.
Co-editor of POOR Magazine, Tony Robles and me, both the children of poor workers of color, who never even had enough money to apply, qualify or think of getting a mortgage, much-less any kind of a bank loan, stood there in witness, mouths agape. My mother always joked that our indigenous family was lucky to stay in the cardboard hotels when we traveled and were so poor and herstorically landless that we would have to squat our burial place just to have somewhere to die.
And yet, the power of that moment, even if it wasn’t us or other always landless peoples they were speaking for, I know they were speaking truth to domination. Corporate, Racist, Exclusionary domination that is and has always oppressed so many poor peoples, indigenous peoples and communities of color since the beginning of the Other Occupation of all of the indigenous lands on Turtle Island that continues today.
“After today, I am taking all of my money out of Wells Fargo,” said Jessie, 81 an elder who stood quietly on the perimeter of the huge crowd with a sign that said simply I am the 99%.
POOR Magazine was in the march on this day, sadly with only three members, we did have four family members but several of our poor parents are houseless and jobless and so our fourth member had his phone cut off the night before and so we couldn’t find each other in the masses of people, and all of our other family members were working one of several jobs and hustles and so they didn’t even have the privilege to be there at all.
At first I was taken by the almost flawless organizing by Bay Area non-profit organizations. From the emcee to the turn-out from group after group, the whole event was wound tightly as a rope on a drum. Each act of civil disobedience, set-off at the mouths of Wells Fargo bank branches, were beautifully orchestrated stages of theatre and action. It was obvious that funded organizations with time and paid staff had organized this event down to the last balloon, slightly like a party we at POOR Magazine had never received an invitation to.
As we left the protest to get our young kids to school on time, Tony and I spoke about the power of the resistance that we had just been part of. I brought up how although I am excited and about all of the issues peoples were speaking and acting on I remain vexed by the fact that as poor peoples of color and indigenous peoples we are constantly in battle, in protest about the genocide and violence perpetrated on us and yet it is a struggle for us to get 50 people to show up for protests, so what is the difference? and what really is our role in all of these resistance “occupations” as poor peoples of color in struggle who are also in struggle with the occupation of our time due to no-wage and low-wage work, system abuse and ongoing criminalization and why do our resistance movements stay at the margins of what is important to show up for?
POOR Magazine had just helped postal workers organize a protest for the closure of three post offices that serve thousands of poor, disabled and houseless elders of color in the Bayview and the Tenderloin and four people showed up. Last month we and other groups organized a protest for a young woman in Oakland who was evicted out of public housing because of government corruption and 10 people came and two nights ago, Homes Not Jails organized an event called World Homeless Day which included the squatting of 4000 vacant units kept vacant by landlords and devil-opers and if you didn’t look too closely there might have been 50 people with us on the march. Homes Not Jails, an organization who has done this kind of work for years with similar turnouts even tried to include wording about “occupying” just to tag on some of the trendy “occupy” wording.
“Its centered on money, and the middle-class white people who launched theses occupations have lost access to money and so that’s why they care, that why they are showing up- and that’s why corporate media is following them so closely, “ Tony weighed in.
So is that it? Are the issues of houselessness/eviction, po’lice murder and profiling, migration/immigration, General assistance/welfare cuts, disability, gender and criminalization of poverty too messy, confusing and not “grant-sexy”? Are the street newspaper vendors and peoples already on the street sleeping on the next corner from the “occupations” too overwhelming to deal with and considered not central to “the movement”? Or is it just that similar to what revolutionary wobyn artista Melanie Cervantes pointed out two weeks ago as she was helping to formulate the recent Oakland “decolonization” action (that launched beautifully with a prayer and recognition of Ohlone first nation peoples) “Racial justice needs to be at the center of this decolonization movement.”
So perhaps that’s it, as the movement continues to grow and formulate its crucial to make poverty and class, disability, eldership and language justice central to the movement. Even if its not so easy and clean and simple to do. With a true recognition that some people can be there and some people can’t. That just because poor peoples are constantly occupied with child care, SSI checks, ebt cards, CPS requirements, ICE enforcement and substance abuse, it doesn’t mean we don’t have solutions and a voice and a dream
Later, on in this same morning, Several members of POOR Magazine family walked with the indigenous peoples day march sponsored by AIM-West – where I met elder indigenous fighter Antonio Gonzalez, “Everyone is an Indian, that’s how I am framing the “occupations” we are all occupied, so we went down to the Foreclose Wall Street action and spoke and invited people to join us today in this march.” He concluded with a smile on his face. I listened hopefully but noticed that once again, our marches, the marches in honor of indigenous peoples, migrant peoples, houseless peoples, po’liced harassed peoples remain only barely attended, barely seen, rarely heard about. And albeit beautiful, like this one with so many prayerful dances and drums and rythems and words for Pachamama organized by Tony and Aim-West, today was no different
Meanwhile in Egypt which went through the power of Tahir Square only a few months ago launched as a resistance to corrupt government, just openly killed and attacked hundreds of Coptic protestors trying to resist religious persecution and harassment. Perhaps this genocide happened again and with so much velocity because the Tahir Square resistance movements didn’t work long and hard enough to include, listen, involve and integrate everyone. Perhaps because it was easier to keep it a “clean” movement, with simple demands, it began to be another example of exclusionary organizing which has now resulted in the continued persecution of Coptic Christians which was happening for hundreds of years before Tahir Square even popped off.
So maybe what we can learn is that to make a movement for change truly powerful and deep and loving it must work to constantly open itself up, re-make its issues, slow itself down and think itself through, it, like all of us, must walk softly on Pachamama and always with humility, which i have heard peoples in the Oakland decolonization action are trying to do.
As well, to keep poverty and poor peoples voices central in any movement, it has to happen in creative ways. So many of us are caught up in two to three low and no wage jobs and/or street hustles just to keep our babies alive, we can’t be in “occupation” every day or sometimes even once a week, because our minds and bodies are occupied all the time, and we aren’t off the chase of these blood-stained Amerikkkan dollaz yet. So maybe making space for monthly or bi-monthly or 1 hour weekly involvement and maybe some of the current “occupiers” could make a commitment to show up at actions and events that all of us po' and po'liced harrased folks have been organizing around for ever, such as the upcoming Oct 22nd protest and march against po’lice brutality that will be in the Bayview district of San Francisco on Oct 22nd - - another march that up to now has been lucky to garner 100 people. And while you are at it- say hi to POOR/PNN who will be there- We always have been and we always will.