Just what does it mean to join in solidarity with the 99% whose Occupy movement is upper-middle class and heterosexual white male centered?
A prison guard who makes $50,000/year or more plus health and dental benefits, a pension and paid vacation may not be part of that 1% on Wall Street, but can he really stand in solidarity with poor black males with NO jobs (let alone good-paying union ones) who have a 1 in 4 chance of becoming fodder for the prison-industrial complex that provides middle class jobs for men (not many women) at the expense of poor racial minorities and women?
Being poor and non-white significantly increases your chance for ending up wrongly convicted and slapped with the death penalty. How much solidarity should those most at risk for ending up strapped to an execution gurney feel with those whose middle class paychecks and benefits require participation in the carrying out of capital punishment?
And who else is in this 99% that many might have difficulty feeling solidarity with? Gary Leon Ridgeway (“the Green River Killer”) was not, by any definition, part of the wealthy 1%. Neither was Larry Singleton, Ted Bundy, Jeffrey Dahmer, or Robert “Willie” Pickton. These serial rapists and psycho killers who hailed from the 99% preyed on society’s “throw-away” women — poor, marginalized vulnerable women of all races at the very bottom of the 99% that no one ever really cared about, not even other men in the 99% who now want us to stand with them in “unity.” Asking poor and vulnerable women to feel solidarity with social predators of any stripe is like asking Jewish Holocaust survivors to feel solidarity with the Nazi guards who were “just doing their jobs” at those death camps.
Would any sane person really argue that Nazi bureaucrats and guards were “just as oppressed” as the millions of genocide victims whom they first dehumanized, socially and economically excluded, and then herded into sealed ghettoes from which they were marched at gunpoint onto the death trains bound for the death camps that were the size of small cities?
What about rapists and child molesters that are part of this 99%? Do we really want to sit in solidarity with them and hold hands and sing Koom-Bye-Ya? Their violation of women’s and children’s human rights has nothing to do with the economic abuses committed by the 1%, but everything to do with patriarchy and the culture of rape: Rape of women and children, rape of the earth, rape of everything — all excused and justified by “divine right.”
And what about middle class employees of utility monopolies who previously rationalized the enormous suffering they inflicted on the poorest of the poor at the very bottom of the 99% who weren’t lucky enough to have a good-paying job to afford their rent, food, utilities, clothing, and medical and dental care and access to an advanced education? Where was all this unity when poor women and children and poor seniors and the disabled were either left to freeze to death or die in fires caused by unsafe space heaters because middle class utility company workers — who had their good jobs, their food, their nice homes, and their winter heat — shut off utilities on the poor, leaving them to die because there really wasn’t “all this help out there”?
Sylvia Young, a destitute 29 year-old single mother in Detroit with seven children to support on her own with no opportunity and no middle class job, lost everything except the clothes on her back in March of 2010 when her gas got shut off by DTE Energy during a deadly cold snap. She had to scramble trying to make do with old space heaters — one of which started the fire that ended up claiming the lives of three of her seven children. Less than two hours before the fire started, the utility worker who shut off Young’s gas spoke with her face-to face. He saw the infant she held in her arms. He saw her other children. He saw the squalor and poverty that she and her children were condemned to live in. Poor women across racial lines never got a chance for anything in this “land of opportunity” where the haves and have-nots are divided along the lines of gender and/or race.
And what was this middle class man’s response to the pleas of Sylvia Young and countless other marginalized and poor women like her when she begged him not to shut off the gas and leave her and her children to freeze to death? His answer was, “Sorry, but I have to do my job.”
How nice for him that he had his good-paying job enabling him to afford plenty of good food to eat, medical and dental care, and a nice warm home! Two hours after he “did his job” of shutting off Sylvia Young’s gas, a raging fire broke out. She lost what little bit of nothing that she had. Three of her children burned to death. The worst was yet to come when Michigan’s Democrat judges and middle class social workers from the child welfare authorities took Sylvia Young’s remaining children away from her and criminalized her for being a poor woman. Where was all this middle and working class “solidarity” with the poor then? I don’t recall seeing much middle class support and sympathy for the poorest of the poor in my lifetime as a marginal woman who struggled all of my life to climb up from total destitution up to poverty, never having access to health and dental care outside of the emergency room, and never getting a chance to make it to even the lowest rung of the lower-middle class.
As of December 2010, there were approximately 10 million US households from the bottom of the 99% that were without at least one life-sustaining utility; poor households whose utilities were shut off due to extreme poverty. Long before now, 80% of those below poverty either couldn’t get enough help to make it or they got turned away and sent home empty-handed altogether. But no one ever talked about those of us at the very bottom of the 99% who were turned away from all those charities and social service agencies; denied adequate help, denied hope, and denied a fair fighting chance of ever being able to escape dire poverty in America (which had been denied by everybody else for a long, long time until Hurricane Katrina opened the world’s eyes).
The truth is that nobody ever cared about us. The middle classes dismissed us and claimed we had it made compared to the poor in the slums of Mumbai; that we should “shut up and stop whining.” Now they want to talk about “unity” and how we’re all part of this 99% and trot us out as the mascot for their movement — which is really only about getting a better deal for their middle class selves within the capitalist paradigm while nothing gets better for those of us at the very bottom.
My personal past experiences with cross-class social justice coalitions is that the poor always lose out every time. The only outcome that those of us in extreme poverty can count on is being thrown under the bus for the sake of “political compromise” while we’re chastised by our middle class “saviors” for not being “pragmatic” enough. I’m not interested in more of the same, thank you.
Approximately half a million dollars was donated to Occupy Wall Street protesters alone. It went to pay for supporting a movement that is dominated by middle class white males under age 40. How many truly poor and destitute Americans could that support have helped instead of going for the publicized building of a middle class ‘Skid Row’ just to make a political statement by pretending to be destitute and homeless after the real poor and homeless have been shoved out of mind and out of sight for as long as I can remember? The middle class was all too happy these past 30 years to push for laws that criminalized the truly homeless and destitute by voting for lawmakers and leaders who slashed what little miserly help there was for America’s poor prior to the Welfare Reform Act of 1996.
As a deeply impoverished woman over age 40 who has been unemployed since 2004 with no real hope of ever getting re-employed due to age and gender discrimination that has always been pervasive even in better job markets, I’m not getting the help I need to be able to make it — I suffer from long-term deprivation of basic human needs that are not being met: medical and dental care, nutritious food, adequate clothing, basic utilities, and adequate housing that isn’t substandard. I can’t afford reliable transportation (a necessity when one lives in a semi-rural area). I have no income other than a meager food stamp benefit. I can’t get Medicaid because I’m not a parent or a low-income senior citizen. And until the middle class found itself under the barrel of capitalism’s Hotchkiss guns, they were very eager and willing footsoldiers who lubed the gears in the bureaucratic machine that runs the world on behalf of the super rich by sacrificing the poor.
Funny how middle class people can always find tons of money to push their class interests to the front of the line, using those of us at the very bottom as their disposable poster child to further their own agenda at our expense while they never have any money and support to give directly to someone in poverty and really lift someone up out of utter destitution and despair. And this is what they call “unity” and “solidarity” with those of us who can’t afford the luxury of being able to travel to a protest, camp out, and get our voices heard because we can’t even afford to live?
I don’t find much solidarity with upper-middle class college kids, well-heeled union leaders and professional “activists” living large off of honorariums and donations who talk about the unearned wealth of those with trillions of dollars while they exert their own privileges to step on those of us who suffer the oppression of sexism and legitimized misogyny and/or racism and/or colonialism for whom the issues transcend the economic injustices of capitalism. Yet, when marginalized people suffering from the redistributive injustices of more than one oppressor try to speak out, we get accused of being divisive. We get silenced. Our concerns are excluded from the social justice agenda, and we get accused of engaging in “oppression Olympics.”
Oppression Olympics is a term used to describe the dynamics of two or more groups competing to prove themselves more oppressed than the other. It’s a silencing tactic. It’s a way of invalidating others’ viewpoints by trying to place them lower down on a scale of significance. But the reality is that many people experience oppression daily in their lives from multiple fronts, and they’re not always comparable. To dismiss that by saying “we’re all in the same boat” ignores that oppression and even legitimizes it as part of the “sacrifice” some of us are expected to make for the benefit of those who ignore their own privileges and begin to exert them against us — in the name of “unity.”
When comfortably off union workers and wealthy union bosses in Ohio recently launched a political campaign by preaching unity among the middle class, the working class, and the poor, they were eager to get voter support for their Democrat candidates enabled through unity. But once their boys got in, that unity with the poorest of the poor went up in smoke — they protected their middle class wages and health benefits through Obamacare at the expense of eliminating access to medical care for the poorest of the poor — 84% whom are women, according to US Census data, human rights reports, and US Department of Health & Human Services records. The middle classes once again protected their own economic turf at the expense of the poor whom they threw under the bus — after benefiting from our solidarity with them.
We’re told that all of the 99% is equally oppressed by the 1%. Sorry, but no. No, we are not “all oppressed equally.” We are not “all in the same boat.” And openly acknowledging that is not being “divisive” or promoting “identity politics” — it’s simply telling the truth.
And it is not only many of us from poverty that are mistrustful of this Occupy movement, the Haudenosaunee also don’t seem to be supportive of it either. And mostly for very similar reasons: they were ill-used for others’ gain at their expense one time too many. As Jessica Yee pointed out,
“Colonialism also leads to capitalism, globalization, and industrialization. How can we truly end capitalism without ending colonialism? How does doing things in the name of “America” which was created by the imposition of hierarchies of class, race, ability, gender, and sexuality help that?”
[Read the rest of her article here: http://www.racialicious.com/2011/09/30/occupy-wall-street-the-game-of-colonialism-and-further-nationalism-to-be-decolonized-from-the-left/ ]
In every war since Britain and France colonized North America — the French and Indian War, the American Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War, etc. — the Haudenosaunee fought to help the British and later, both the Americans (the Iroquois helped the North win the Civil War) and the Canadians in two devastating world wars resulting from imperialism. All they ever got for it was short-shifted. They got kicked out of the newly independent colonies after the end of the American Revolution (even though much of that land was their home) and offered a tiny tract as payment by the British Crown for their service in the American Revolution. But that land was already part of their traditional hunting territories anyway, and that land was held in trust, thus reducing the Iroquois (and other Aboriginals) to the status of diminished sovereigns. The Haudenosaunee lost lots of people in battle, fighting other people’s wars — rich, inbred foreign crowned heads’ wars — none of which were to their benefit.
As Rastia‘ta‘non:ha, a Seneca historian for the Iroquois Confederacy, says:
“Have we not been drawn into enough of their battles in the past, and look where it got us? This movement is bad for all Indigenous people, and none of us should be involved with it on any level.”
I have to agree with both Rastia‘ta‘non:ha and Jessica Yee. The original North Americans did not invite this trouble into their lives, just like they did not cause the “War on Terror” that they bear the consequence for with enormous border-crossing difficulties that neutered the Jay Treaty and put a “Berlin Wall” through the middle of their traditional territories.
I think this movement is also bad for the poorest non-Natives at the bottom of the 99% who are being used as pawns and tools for the preservation of unearned middle class white male privilege. Social justice solutions won’t be found within the non-reformable capitalist paradigm. The system of unearned privileges is the sine qua non of capitalism and its handmaiden, colonialism. If women and the poorest of the poor non-Indigenous are to be anyone’s ally, we should be allies with the original North Americans whose country this really is — not with a middle class white male centered 99% Occupy movement.