Occupiers or Gentrifyers?
(photo: POOR Magazine family of skolaz with dignidadrebelde artistas Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza and their revolutionary work in the background)
"I used to be able to sleep there," One of my street-residing poverty scholar of color brothers, Larry W. looked up at me with confused eyes pointing across the street to the Decolonize (Occupy) Oakland site. In between talking to me he was talking to and with several hundred voices in his beautiful, traumatized mind. From a western psychiatric diagnostic perspective, he was a paranoid schizophrenic. From many different indigenous deep structure perspectives that i was raised with and actively follow, he was a listener and dreamer living with several forms of post-traumatic slave syndrome, racism and classism in Amerikkka and we had been comrades since when me and mama were living on the calles next to him.
I cried with him, we talked about his mama and mine- and how they were both having some kind of time together and definitely would have some strong opinions about all the Occupations. And then I suggested that we talk with some folks across the street ( at the Occupation site) to get him one of the warm tents so he could sleep elsewhere in it. He vehemently refused, saying, " I don't trust those people, last week their "help" led to me getting arrested,"
After a while Larry thanked me for listening and walked down the street away from Oscar Grant Plaza( formerly Frank Ogawa Plaza) shaking his head from side to side.
I went to the Occupy Oakland/Decolonize Oakland with POOR Magazine family and saw many beautiful and transformative things such as food sharing, libraries and art-making by Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza from Dignidad Rebelde and others. We also had a very strange and disturbing series of encounters, where our family of poverty scholars ended up "protecting/defending/ supporting" the only elder of color who I saw that night from a physical and verbal attack on her person by several 20-something white folx, because she had apparently said something insulting in a verbal altercation earlier that day in the camp. This was just one of many encounters we had that night rife with more isms than i would like to mention.
After still processing the experience with an unhealthy dose of my own Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD), and hearing similar stories from the people of color caucuses that have been meeting at the Decolonization site in Oakland, i was filled with emotion and deep sorrow but i held back from writing anything about the situation because i was trying to honor the movement of peoples against the capitalist machine and i wanted to support the organic-ness of it all and not work to splinter or add stress to the fledgling movement. And then all of a sudden i realized that something else was happening. I was doing what people have historically done with and for people with race, class, gender or ability privilege, make excuses, not hold them accountable for their actions and by default, allow some very abusive actions to go un-checked, un-seen, and un-noticed. And by doing this, enable the abuse to continue, like me and so many of my sisters and brothers who have been abused by these kinds of violence for so long often do.
Sadly , the actions of the majority of the white occupiers are to be expected ( not excused) as they are peoples born and bred on racist, classist US media and values that teach the cult of agism, separation, white supremacy, angst and overall lack of respect for anyone who doesn't look, act, move and talk like you.
My brother Muteado Silencio, PNN reporter, poverty and migrant skolar spoke on a similar encounter the other night in Occupy Sf, where a houseless person who had normally been sleeping where the "occupiers" were now staying, had self-marginalized himself to the actual street where cars were wizzing by. When one of the "well-meaning" occupiers tried to move the guy, he resisted their attempts, which then led to a po'lice encounter and the houseless guy ended up getting arrested and po'lice abused.
I know its all very complicated because there are some houseless folks involved in the occupations, but there are alot of peoples who are not. Who have never experienced any forms of racism, classism or ablism. Whose consciousness' are just being awakened and desperately need scholarship on racism, classism, eldership, care-giving, and humility.
And are we, the ones who can barely keep roofs over our babies heads and suffer serious acts of po'lice brutality, racism,wage theft, border fascism and criminalization every day the ones to bring this to them.
Our family and extended family of poverty and indigenous scholars at POOR held a discussion at our indigenous news-making circle last night. Some folks were very much about the Occupy movements. One of our newest skolars and reporters, Ayat, remains one of the two African-descedent members of Occupy Sf - believing that this is a very important movement and we as poor peoples need to be at the head of it.
Another POOR skolar believes like many of us, that we as poor peoples of color in struggle have been fighting this revolution for a minute and we dont need to get in front of any other peoples movement to become legitimate.
I'm not sure if i believe any other thing or the other. What i know is, this movement is growing, and new in it or not, the folks caught up in the occupations are not getting any more "passes" or unbridled praise from me for continuing to act in racist, classist, ableist, or ageist ways. For continuing to perpetrate an odd form of gentrification, if you will, of activism, of organizing, of resistance.
The "occupiers" default gentrification isn't just of land from us already houseless "occupied" peoples on the streets, it is of media, space and resources. So many struggles continue to rage on around and in the streets and barrios where peoples have suddenly setup camps, acting like their set-ups are somehow different and inherently more important than anything before or after, histories and herstories of struggle and resistance movements seem to melt away like butter in a skillet, barely informing the current "occupations", making them somehow ahistorical
Bob from the Coalition on Homelessness who has worked tirelessly for years trying to fight ongoing criminalization and incarceration of poor peoples in SF was vexed by some of the special privileges given to the SF Occupiers when he noticed special treatment being given to OCcupy SF from Ed Lee's office while Ed Lee's office refuses to budge on the Sit-lie law which incarcerates and criminalizes poor peoples for the sole act of sitting or standing while poor in SF. The long-time organizers at Coalition on Homelessness resolved the odd disconnect by creating a flyer that they will be distributing at the Occupy SF site to members that talks about the "other" fights waging for years in SF against poor peoples movements.
POOR Magazine, which has been creating poor people-led,indigenous people-led media, education and art with a mandate of "no "po'Lice calls ever" is in the progress of creating a hand-book Decolonizers Guide to a Humble Revolution" which we hope folks in "Occupations" can use as guide to learn about working with all peoples, each other and all the other movements in need of their support and resources .
Finally, at least in the case of the Oakland site, the Oscar Grant plaza (formerly Frank Ogawa plaza) is named after a young African descendent father killed by Po'Lice in Amerikkkka at the Fruitvale BART station. And was launched with a prayer from Ohlone 1st nation peoples through powerful wobyn warrior Corina Gould. This is sacred land and it is sacrilege if elders and children and indigenous and disabled and peoples of all colors are not respected, cared for or thought about . And sadly, we as poor peoples and peoples of color must be the ones to check it when it doesn't happen. Or, i fear, it will, like this movement, grow and increase and become solidified as "ok".