Beyond “Occupy”: A Reflection on Occupy Wall St. from the Occupied Coast Salish Territories
First of all, I am impressed with the persistence and growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement and the creation of a North American Autumn, perhaps even a Global Autumn beginning with the Arab Spring. Organizers and participants get my admiration for the effective dissent they have accomplished, and the constructive possibilities they have opened up in an age defined by the despair. The despair of a uniform world defined the 9/11 era of home foreclosures, prisons, financial disaster, wars and a dis-empowered public that comes with it all.
That said, to me “Occupy” is a more than an unfortunate banner to run a new social movement through. And too frequently typical of the Euro-American left. The generous reading is that they are inspired by old school 60s style sit-ins and the success of the ‘Arab spring.’ Both iconic examples used civil disobedience in the form of sit-ins in major public spaces. Camp in the square! Occupy the deans office. Sit-in at the legislature, etc.. All worthwhile actions.
But an unfortunate tragedy is that the spirit of radical democracy and civil disobedience is limited by and wrapped-up in a colonial lexicon, “occupy,” in places (Wall St., New York, the U.S., Victoria, B.C. Canada) that are so definitively shaped by the history and ongoing practice of colonialism. In fact settler colonialism seems to be the most profound commonality connecting these diverse and distant locations.
Decolonizing the left, along with decolonizing the present in general, is itself a key social movement. The free enterprise vision of wall street (which is the superficial face of a corporatist reality) and the counter just society/welfare state vision of its critics both fail to take colonialism seriously. Merely redistributing wealth, benefits and security back to a middle class, which I think is where much (but not all!) of the support for Occupy Wall Street lies, is a far too narrow project. To the extent that this characterization is true, this strikes me as meaningless to those subject to severe conditions of poverty. And perhaps lacking in significance to those concerned with and subject to the exploitation and violence of settler-state societies.
I suspect it is the colonially enforced corporate exploitation of the resources on Indigenous peoples’ land around the globe from which a significant portion of the wealth circulated through wall street in question is derived from. It seems to me that any contest of the way that wealth is managed and distributed can only be ethically worked out by bringing the problem of colonialism to the heart of the movement.
I applaud the contesting of the undemocratic, unequal, and socially unjust features of liberal democracies and its system of finance and global governance. And if this movement can take a life of its own and go beyond “occupy” and the concerns of the middle class and take colonialism seriously, it is my hope something interesting could unfold out of the spread of this dissent. But if colonialism is yet again silenced for the sake of a settler Euro-American unity that glosses over the most profound aspects of the undemocratic, unequal and socially unjust features of our present, then a generation may find they have failed themselves and each other by missing an opportunity to challenge the most profound political fact of our age: the fact of colonialism.