[News] All occupiers are equal, but some occupiers are more equal than others
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Nov 7 12:04:03 EST 2011
All occupiers are equal, but some occupiers are more equal than others
Critical reflections on #OccupyCapeTown
2011-11-03, Issue <http://www.pambazuka.org/en/issue/556>556
Approximately 200 Cape Town residents
participated in the call for a World Revolution
Day on 15 October, inspired by the growing
worldwide Occupy Movement. We arrived at Company
Gardens next to parliament in typical Capetonian
fashion: mostly late, disjointed, and with a huge
array of goals and personal agendas to complete on the first day.
In fact, the majority of 'occupiers' arrived so
late for the revolution that the clean-shaven
undercover security operative (sporting an
earpiece and touristy camera) had already deemed
the protest to be non-threatening and was long
gone. The police barely noticed the relaxed
picnic atmosphere that was apparent once the crowd grew to more than 70.
Yet despite the beginnings of #OccupyCapeTown,
the day did have #OccupyWallSt potential. Cape
Town being one of the most unequal, segregated,
and racist cities in the world has hundreds of
thousands of angry (though demoralised) youth
waiting for real change. The townships are a
ticking time bomb anticipating the intersection
between screams of Sekwanele! and sparks of hope
that a mass-based social movement can provide.
Would the 99 per cent actually show up? In the
end, those that arrived, with the exception of an
entourage from Communities for Social Change,
were predominantly in the top 19 percentile of
the 99. And yet, there was still potential in
this space of mostly white privileged activists.
Some were acutely aware how their privilege posed
problems for the bottom 80 per cent. Seeking to
engage directly with issues of white supremacy,
class and patriarchy within the 99 per cent, they
tried to create a space of solidarity with poor
communities without speaking for them or
co-opting their struggles. To these few
activists, Occupy Cape Town was an exciting
experiment in building radical equality that is
actively asserted, not merely assumed.
As the day progressed however, many of us were
disheartened by the most vocal of the 19 per
cent. Our four general assemblies seemed to be
dominated by well-read internet activists who
came with all the answers. Paraphrased crudely:
- The solution is for the poor to buy solar panels for their houses.
- We must all just stop buying things so the system falls apart.
- We should start an internet café for the poor
to participate in our internet revolution.
- We must recycle!
- There's another way to occupy, its by our
actions...eat baked beans on toast and close bank accounts.
- Machines should take the place of human labour to end wage slavery.
Yet when people critically reflected on the
racial make-up of the meeting, there were demands
from a barrage of 'colour-blind' activists to
stop making this about race. When class was
brought up in the assembly, it was countered with
calls not to divide the movement. We are the
99%, they cheered. When women spoke (and few did
speak in this male-dominated space), it seemed
that their points were often ignored. So how did
the ideals of an occupation for the immediate
assertion of equality get perverted so quickly?
The US radical Malcolm X once said: If you stick
a knife nine inches into my back and pull it out
three inches, that is not progress. Many say
that the post-1994 era was just that: the knife
of white supremacy is still present while
oppression is now couched in terms of ideals of a
liberal non-racial democracy. Radical groups like
Blackwash use much more direct language when they
say: Fuck the rainbow nation. Coz 1994 changed
fokol! Groups like Blackwash and Abahlali
baseMjondolo are saying that, while there are no
more pass laws nor legal racism, poor and black
people (especially black women) are still
oppressed by essentially the same system that gave birth to Apartheid.
And if oppression, as John Holloway puts it,
always implies the invisibility of the
oppressed, one can begin to understand that a
huge theoretical gulf exists between the lived
experience of those whose voices are invisible
and the liberal white activists who proclaim that
we are all, in fact, the same.
Yet, the most telling experience of the day was
the debate that took place before Occupy Cape
Town marched up Long Street to the offices of
ETV. During the general assembly that preceded
the march, someone expressed their concern that a
placard proclaiming FUCK the Rich would be used
against us when filmed by ETV. Others agreed
saying that it was a violent statement, released
negative energy, and was not in line of the
peaceful purpose of the occupation. Attempting to
use the democratic procedure of the general
assembly, a number of white liberal activists
agreed, saying that there should be consensus
with regards to the slogans we use on our
placards and banners. Nothing seemingly violent
or racist was acceptable. While the group of poor
black protesters from Mannenberg who had written
the placard reluctantly agreed to leave it
behind, this decision was resisted by an
independently-minded person within the group and
that same placard eventually did find its way onto the news.
If its true as radical feminist bell hooks
explains that patriarchy rewards men for being
out of touch with their feelings, then a
relevant corollary could be that, in a white
supremacist patriarchal capitalist society, white
men are not only out of touch with their own
feelings and that of others, they are also out of
touch with the modes by which they belittle and
oppress others. This is not any less true during
a radically democratic occupation than within the
oppressive institutions of society itself. Thus,
it was only logical that the dominance of liberal
whites who mostly desired the tweaking of
capitalism or the creation of idealistic utopias
by withdrawing from the system (rather than
overthrowing it), would attempt to build some
sort of ideological hegemony based on their own
privileged Western orientation.
If some occupiers are more equal than others, it
is about time that white male activists who
sincerely want to dismantle oppression, begin to
take seriously the voices of the oppressed from
within the 99 per cent. Some places to start
might be the writings of well-known radical
theorists like Franz Fanon, bell hooks and Bantu
Biko. Yet, we may also want to grapple with the
self-written works of shackdwellers like the
Symphony Way Pavement Dwellers and Abahlali baseMjondolo.
BROUGHT TO YOU BY PAMBAZUKA NEWS
* Jared Sacks is a Cape Town-based activist
working with community-based social movements and
the Occupy Cape Town movement.
* Please send comments to
<mailto:editor at pambazuka.org>editor[at]pambazuka[dot]org
or comment online at <http://www.pambazuka.org/>Pambazuka News
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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