Confessions of an Occupier: Racial tensions fractured 'Occupy Wall Street'

OPINION - No sooner had I approached theGrio about writing a weekly column based on my experiences at Occupy Wall Street, than the movement started coming apart at the seams...

Luther Vandross was outed as gay after his death.

No sooner had I approached TheGrio about writing a weekly column based on my experiences at Occupy Wall Street, than the movement and its institutions started coming apart at the seams. I found myself in a position of having to choose between being published, and writing about the very serious issues that the Occupy movement was having; not least of which were serious issues of racial tensions.

It was at around that time that an Occupier had showed up with an “Aryan Brotherhood” sign to “spokescouncil,” which was one of our most controversial decision-making bodies. It was started with promises of greater inclusion, but was in fact attacked for being exclusive, opaque, repressive and oppressive.

The individual had been asked to leave spokescouncil, but many members of the body had continued the meeting and suggested that the sign was just a bad joke, and we needed to move on. Needless to say, this was terribly traumatic for many people of color within the movement.

The resulting attempt to resolve the sign controversy demonstrated the deep seated and seemingly irreconcilable differences between people of color within the movement and their white counterparts. There was also the constant debate around a desire by many to kick some people out of the movement. Incidentally, the subjects of this heated debate were three black women, complaining that they were particularly disruptive in meetings; some even accused them of being undercover government agents of some sort.  The vitriol that these women attracted was as surprising as it was shocking to me, not to mention deeply distressing.

I personally, sincerely believe that the moment when the movement finally succeeded in  kicking one of these women out was also the end of spokescouncil; the very body which she had so railed against because of the aforementioned charges. My understanding is that the charge had been that she may have either pushed or somehow been physical with one man in particular, with whom she had a long history of conflict, specifically over accusations that he often made sexist and racist comments.  Interestingly enough, the more popular General Assembly died an unceremonious death soon afterward. I cannot help but be convinced that the seeming hypocrisy of these racial tensions were too much for the conscience of a movement that touted itself as the very epitome of fighting for equality and justice.

This resulted in what I personally consider to have been the end of the movement as it had previously been known –- a very public, open and accessible movement that allowed for the involvement of anyone who wanted to take part, providing opportunities for all to become engaged using the best of their most valuable God given skills.

This was definitely sad for me, because I truly believe that the openness and accessibility and public nature of the movement were the original sources of its strength.

At around the same time, other divisions were emerging, particularly around political ideology. There were divisions between the anarchists and the reformists; diversity of tactics vs. total and absolute non-violence.

That said, the movement has continued to re-imagine itself and indeed regroup, re-emerging as a movement that is far more streamlined. The operations now take place out of a number of smaller hubs made up of small groups of people working toward very specific goals, actions, events or campaigns. Examples include Stop Stop & Frisk for example, or F the Banks, or the recent Mitt Romney campaign fundraiser action in the Hampton’s by members of the End Corporatism affinity group.

I have joined several of those groups, including DecoloNYC, a group of former members of the People of Color Working group.

My inner conflict has continued as so many events occur, raising yet new observations and questions for me, particularly around issues of race. My political ideology has also taken some battering as a result of my involvement.

I happily used to describe myself as a liberal before I joined the movement. I would soon learn that “liberal” was in fact a dirty word. After many months exploring I find that I am indeed far more comfortable with my original political ideology — with some modifications. There is much about Anarchism, with its direct democracy and non-violent civil disobedience, that I like and admire. I find that I am far more energetic however, about approaching issues and policies that I can realistically see a resolution for, and that are measurable and achievable, even if only incrementally.

Karanja Gaçuça formerly worked on Wall Street before joining the Occupy movement.