Progressive and feminist activists were in the national spotlight this week as they took to the streets of cities and towns across the country in protest of corporate greed and rape culture. The Occupy Wall Street movement continued to gain momentum, spreading from New York City’s Liberty Square to 18 other cities in the U.S. and Canada, just as SlutWalk finally hit the streets of New York City (one of six such anti-rape demonstrations that have happened since October 1). With all this organizing going on, the time is right to evaluate the state of these progressive movements. And this week, opportunities abounded to analyze and confront issues of race, gender, privilege, oppression and inclusion in the context of a modern progressive movement.
On Monday, a skeptical Kai Wright questioned whether or not the folks behind Occupy Wall Street were actually representative of the people most impacted by corporate greed, and if they were accomplishing much more than instigating conflict with the NYPD.
At Feministing, Allison Burtch shared her hope for Occupy Wall Street–radical inclusivity. After covering the movement from day one nearly 3 weeks ago, Burtch concluded, “If this is a revolution of white men, it will not succeed.”
Colorlines’ publisher Rinku Sen wrote about the importance of consciously building an inclusive movement and “making room for racial justice in the people power exploding around us.”
Kevin Alvarez explained with urgency why people of color and all disenfranchised people should care about Occupy Wall Street, and make their voices heard:
There is a difference between revolutionary change and just being allowed access to the power, status, and wealth of the dominant culture. And Occupy Wall Street should not be co-opted by those seeking a watered down version of this systematically murderous economic and political system.
Manissa McCleave Maharawal wrote a powerful account of her experience as a woman of color at Occupy Wall Street, including how she and her “amazing, impromptu, radical South Asian contingency” managed to get the language in the official “Declaration of the Occupation of New York” changed. They blocked its passage in the general assembly until their demand that the language be changed was honored, and then they conducted a street-corner crash course on racism, white privilege, structural racism and oppression with the authors of the document, explaining what needed to be changed in the problematic language and why. It’s definitely worth a read.
An open letter from two white men to Occupy Wall Street brought hope that the efforts of folks like Manissa McCleave Maharawal were not in vain and that the messages about inclusivity were being heard:
We would like to add our voices to the chorus of constructive critiques coming from communities of color. We believe the white people of #OccupyWallStreet need to understand something: The feelings of economic insecurity, political powerlessness, and lack of support that have brought so many of us to the protests at Liberty Park have been lived by many of the people of color in this country for centuries.
A few miles away from the occupation, another major protest got underway last Saturday. It’s estimated that somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000 people turned out for SlutWalk NYC, which, like Occupy Wall Street, had plenty of critics, especially in communities of color. What happened at SlutWalk NYC certainly didn’t help the movement shake unfavorable perceptions but did instigate some difficult but crucial conversations.
The most troubling and arguably most memorable photo from SlutWalk NYC is this one:
Needless to say, the image sparked outrage.
At Racialicious, Latoya Peterson had this to say:
Can you appropriate a term like nigger if your body is not defined/terrorized/policed/brutalized/diminished by the word? Can we use it in a context that is supposed to belie gender solidarity, without explicitly being in racial solidarity?
I think not. And I am not alone.
Crunk Feminist Collective’s Brittney Cooper wrote:
I do not dig debating with young white feminists late into the night about white privilege and having other Black women in the thread have to call out the supposed anti-racist feminists for not speaking up, for yet again forcing Black women to do the exhausting work of teaching.
Akiba Solomon noted that while this SlutWalker seems to be an anomaly, she’s gotten the most attention–and that’s not necessarily unwarranted:
For me, a dark brown woman who some might call a n#@ger, this picture crystalizes what activists have been saying over and over and over about SlutWalk’s racial, cultural and historical blind-spots; its homogeneity and perceived tokenism; and its racial micro-aggressions. In August when I first wrote about SlutWalk, I was ambivalent. This sign has pushed me that much closer to “hell no” territory.
And at Racialicious, a Facebook comment thread about the sign illustrated why, in case there was any doubt, feminism still has race issues.
The fact that a white person thought it was OK to use the N-word on a sign for any purpose is disturbing. That it happened at a feminist event is a stark reminder that we have a lot of work to do to get our movement in shape. Not to do damage control, not to explain it away, but to actually listen to the people who have been saying they feel excluded and to figure out how to fix that together. And that task is everyone’s responsibility. If feminists can’t find a way to give all women a seat at the table, then “the man” certainly isn’t going to.
This conversation is far from over, so let’s all commit to participating in it as fully as we can and, most importantly, to listening.
TOP LEFT: Day 20 of Occupy Wall Street, preparing for march at Foley Square. Photo courtesy of Flickr user david_shankbone under Creative Commons 2.0; TOP RIGHT: Wall Street Protest March, September 26. Photo courtesy of Flickr user PaulS under Creative Commons 2.0; BOTTOM LEFT: Naomi Klein-led open forum on October 6 in Liberty Plaza Park. Photo courtesy of Flickr user david_shankbone under Creative Commons 2.0; BOTTOM: Photo of SlutWalk NYC participants from Facebook.