what “occupy” is to me: a narrative on relations among people
by Molly C
I found #occupywallst on the Adbusters website in July, reading Micah White’s critique of MoveOn-style ‘clicktivism.’ #occupywallst, it claimed, could be our “Tahrir” moment. Maybe, I thought then following the Tar Sands Actions; also, right on. My uncle brought it up on 9/9/11, the 40th anniversary of the Attica Rebellion. My family was at an event held under the Freedom Archives on Valencia St, a screening of the 1974 documentary. Afterwards, there was a Q&A with my uncle and two young organizers speaking on Pelican Bay. A hunger strike — a movement growing from within the prison system.
The night before, I’d seen Bill McKibben speak at Berkeley, telling serious jokes about going to jail in DC and rallying the Berkeley community to roll up its sleeves and get political. He said something like: “Now, law-abiding citizens like us should never see the inside of a DC jail. Unless it’s to stop climate change.” My little brother shook his head, I sighed, we passed notes. What is this movement? Where is ours?
After a moving end to the Q&A on the night of 9/9, we lingered with my uncle. The audience seemed a little stunned, facing how much harder and meaner the situation has gotten in the 40 years after Attica. At the end of the session, a middle-aged Black woman in the crowd had pleaded with us to pay attention to what is happening in neighborhoods where police are plucking young men off the streets and out of their homes. A whole generation of our leaders, she said. An older woman in a wheelchair had called for a revolutionary movement — a real revolutionary movement. My little brother was helping putting away chairs while we stood; he knocked a bunch over. My uncle said, “Did you hear? Anonymous is saying they’re gonna occupy Wall Street.” We laughed with their defiance. I expressed my worry that it might just be a bunch of young white men having their coming-of-age political awakening. We laughed a little more.. “But still.” “You never know.”
On 9/16, my little brother spent the night on my couch in SF. We woke up on Saturday, 9/17, and hung out in my Valencia sublet all morning. We ate burritos and talked Bill McKibben and Attica. He told me about his experiences at Evergreen State college (with drugged out anarchists; with talented young artists at Gateways for Incarcerated Youth). He played Kendrick Lamar for me.
I had RSVP’ed on Facebook for the SF #occupysffd solidarity protest that day. There weren’t many RSVP’ed. The creators were all young white men who worked at Whole Foods. I was discouraged, but I had intentions to check it out. I was reluctantly convincing my little brother to go. As the day dragged on (it was such a good day, sunny and beautiful in the little studio, talking and bullshitting, hanging out with my little brother who is suddenly a grown man, my best friend), we couldn’t convince ourselves to go. I only had research guilt holding me to it; my little brother sighed, remembering white dreadlocks at Olympia, and shrugged. It was too good, hanging out. It was just as important. It was replenishing and creative. We were collaborating.
I have an email from my cousin on 9/29 to all of us, a forwarded communique from “Wall Street Occupation.” Since then, I have over 60 email threads (many several messages long) between my brothers, many with my cousins, also with my parents and my uncle, some to both sides of the family. My older brother sent pictures from a DC vigil for Scott Olsen he organized on 10/27. My little brother texted me from the Port of Oakland on 9/2, where he was with my uncle, my cousin, and her partner. My parents donated a tent to the DC occupation. My mom, 10/22, with a photo: “At occupy wall street in NYC. With colleagues from Sri Lanka, Colombia and Uganda.” My cousin describes her stunned students dealing with historic climate extremes in Massachusetts. My uncle sends a draft platform of demands. My little brother writes on solar sovereignty. Another cousin gets married on the 10/15 Day of Global Solidarity. I make her an #occupylove sign as a memento.
I don’t go to the General Assembly in Chicago anymore (to be fair, I’ve been three or four times only). My roommate got arrested while I was at the wedding. I’m meeting a lot of amazing people in this city. I’m listening to Kendrick Lamar. I’m planning actions on campus, creating projects with new friends, and having conversations with strangers about my most intimate aspirations. I’m teaching Marx to freshmen, thinking about commodity fetishism and about how my whole life has been upside down.
I’d believed we’d fail; I’d believed we wouldn’t try — for years. I’d denied myself hope for years. I’ve self-medicated my own cynicism. I’ve been right about a lot of things, hiding inside of critique and living schizophrenically between high on life or terrified and angry the rest of the time. I’ve had my critiques and my radical education, but it’s all been upside down. It’s all been relations among things instead of relations among people. I’m a person. All the critiques, all my work and cynicism, beers and cigarettes: it’s all only relations among people. I want to be a better person, attentive with my relation to my body, my boyfriend, my family, my neighbors, my environment, all the ecologies (social, material, green, brown, black, white) that sustain me, and I must sustain.
I don’t know what “the occupation” even is. This is how I’ve occupied myself. I don’t know where “the occupation” will go, or what it will become. But I won’t give this up, ever. The relations among people — this liveliness, this energy, this power — is all I got. I’m proud of my family and all we survived to stand here, now together, and rejoice in community we thought we’d never find. No matter how provisional it is (the Inbox, a rally, on the sidewalk and grocery store); no matter how hard we have to fight for it (when we think we are losing it); now matter how many times we fail, we will still try. I’m proud of my family and the faith we struggled to find to stand here, now together. We struggle now, and always.