Sometimes, looking at things from a sideways angle is helpful...

Monday, 9 January 2012

Occupy - a critique

I'm going to preface this by saying that I'm massively in favour of direct action, and feel that the current 'occupy' movement is very effective, I have participated in it myself.

I was never quite comfortable with the name 'occupy' because the first thing it made me think of was the 'occupied territories', World War II, and the atrocities committed therein. I was pleased when I saw critiques similar to this emerging in the USA, especially at 'Occupy Oakland', but these critiques never really crossed the pond, and I kept my mouth shut. After all, the UK has a history of not having been 'occupied' in recent history. What I didn't think of is the way in which instead we have been the 'occupier' and the damaging effect that's had on other countries. When we use the word 'occupy' to describe taking back spaces for the average individual, are we laying claim in fact to a history of brutal colonisation? TheNatFantastic on twitter made me think about this, and that was what made me decide that no, I'm not comfortable with a movement using this language, when people are expressing their discomfort with it.

I don't feel it's my place, or the place of most people involved in the 'Occupy' movement in the UK to answer that question - I think it's the place of people coming from countries that have been recently occupied, and the place of people coming from countries that Great Britain colonised, to tell the people with white and / or British privilege running much of the occupy movement, whether they're comfortable with this phrasing.

The problem I'm seeing is that voices are emerging saying they're not comfortable with this. One twitter'er - TheNatFantastic (my aforementioned inspiration for this blog) has talked about the way in which, for her, it reminds her of the Soviet occupations of Latvia, in which many of her family were killed. A blog has emerged from 'Occupy Oakland' talking about Native American 'occupiers', a racial group which is already oppressed hugely in the USA, feeling that the language is completely appropriate when the 'occupation' is taking place on land that was Native American land before it was colonised and occupied.

I'm not saying we should relabel the entire movement just yet, and I'm well aware of the strength that the 'Occupy' brand holds, but I am saying we need to have these conversations and make sure we're not excluding vast groups of people from the movement by using language that was used to justify and / or perpetuate their own oppression.

What other words could we use? What can we do to ensure that we're not excluding people from the movement?

https://twitter.com/#!/thenatfantastic
http://www.truth-out.org/campaign-decolonize-native-americans-say-occupy-terminology-offensive/1325089484

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