Source: Al Jazeera
At a recent panel discussion on the Occupy movement, a left-leaning professor from New York University speculatedthat identity politics – the prioritising of issues of race and gender in movements for justice – could be a plot funded by the CIA to undermine activism. While most commentators do not go this far, the idea that activists who focus on these issues are “undermining the struggle” has a long history within progressive organising. And in Occupy Wall Street encampments around the country these debates have often exploded into public view.
For the past six months, we have been following the Occupy movement for a two-part documentary on Occupy forFault Lines. We have spent weeks in conversation with activists as they have planned actions and struggled to keep their movement relevant through a cold winter. And organisers have told us repeatedly that they feel thesediscussions around race and gender, far from weakening the movement, have lent it strength and made organising more accountable to the communities most affected by the economic crisis.
The process of challenging structural oppression has been difficult. We spoke to many women and people of colour who felt pushed out of Occupy. Some activists, already bruised by dismissive media coverage, tried not to let these conflicts show. When internal conflicts would arise they tried to not let it happen on camera. But what we did observe are many fiercely intelligent activists dedicated to waging these struggles within Occupy and strengthening the movement with their work.
The 99 per cent
When people gathered in Zuccotti Park on September 17, the anger at corporate greed was a unifying call. This was a protest that in large part was about shifting power from the wealthy to the many. It was a mostly white crowd, but it sought to incorporate a wide range of voices.
The economic crisis in the US had made the white middle class question their future. Soaring unemployment rates, suffocating student loan debt, and thousands of foreclosures began to close in. This reality propelled the Occupy movement forward. And many feel that the presence of so many relatively privileged white people brought increased media attention and public sympathy.