lets get messy

last night was pretty fucking hard.  we had a general assembly that was actually trying to be a forum for conflict resolution and we didn’t quite have the tools to deal with anger and interpersonal conflict, or accountability measures for people who might be running over our core values and agreements.  and it sparked all sorts of conversations that are really important.  and i can be grateful.  because one of the powers of the occupy movement, for me, is learning how to break down all the barriers we’ve created between ourselves in order to live with each other in a more powerful and honest way.  we are struggling with the work of living together after coming from a culture that isolates us, separates us and demonizes anything that isn’t bland and pleasant.  it is a sweet struggle.

our first agenda item led us into a discussion of how we communicate with the media and police.  one member of the occupation had been running over our agreements and holding largely private meetings with the police and overstating his opinion as fact to the media.  while we tried to avoid the messy upset that surrounded his oversteps, one woman was unwilling to be quiet and, instead, let her anger bubble to the surface quite loudly.  many of the other people in the circle got agitated then and largely silenced her for being disrespectful and, in my opinion, uncomfortable.  i stopped us then and thanked her for her expression of anger and encouraged us as a group to allow space for anger and conflict, offering that it is in those moments that we can grow the most.  we quickly moved on only to be interrupted moments later by a concern with having a tv camera present as we discussed our communication with the media and police.  again the woman voicing her discomfort was largely silenced by a group think that said we couldn’t kick anyone out of the park.  it was disheartening to hear two people silenced by our fear of conflict and a fetishism of politeness.  but we would be challenged again before the night ended.

the same individual whose behaviors were problematic in the first part of the assembly got on stack and read a statement accusing some part of the occupation of being a group of “troublemakers” identifying an even smaller subgroup as people who wanted to be aggressive towards the police.  he absolutely misrepresented a group of people who met to talk about plans to stay in the park beyond the expiration of our permit.  he all but called us provocateurs.  which is a dirty word used to slur people in the movement who disagree with you.  it’s been used against people i love dearly and i was furious when i heard him hinting that i was a provocateur.  i jumped into stack and the man directly behind my accuser let me step in front of him.  as calmly as i could i reminded us that we were off topic and that we could address what was being presented soon and that at that time i would respond to the bold accusations being made.

fortunately myself and at least half a dozen others responded to the slanderous statement made about us “troublemakers” and once we’d all had our chance to speak, the air felt cleared, the group more united.  what seemed like a pretty clear attempt to divide the group was met by more solidarity and understanding.  and it felt wonderful to turn that negative energy into positive feelings for each other.  the assembly finished on a less challenging topic and though exhausted i felt excited about the possibilities we were creating together.

then i jumped directly into a conversation with a couple of people of color and a group of largely white men.  we continued to

so it's a little tongue and cheek but also refreshingly true

discuss why some people fiercely opposed any communication with the cops as an institution.  siting a history of violence between cops and communities of color and low income communities, siting the current context of how the charlottesville police over patrol these same communities and are already excessively violent with people in them now, we tried hard.  and we weren’t completely missing each other but there was one clear disconnect between hearing and allowing someone else’s reality to trump the more privileged and safer reality of the white, middle class majority of occupiers.  it was really hard for me to try to keep explaining the same thing over and over again.  i wanted to scream, i wanted to yell that it was time for white culture to step back, shut up and defer to different experiences so we can build a truer 99% movement.  time to recognize our privilege and remove that filter.  so that we dont just perpetuate the oppressions we carry with us into our occupations: our racism, sexism, heterosexism, classism, etc.  corrupt capitalism isnt the only ism we need to deconstruct if we want to create a different world for ourselves.  and it’s messy work, it’s ugly stuff full of guilt and pain and rage and conflict.  and again, there was a silver lining.  we started to talk about organizing womens caucuses, people of color caucuses and white ally caucuses.  we started talking about bringing in anti-oppression trainings and analyses.

and the lesson, for me, was that we don’t need to let conflict divide us.  that instead of running away from conflict, we should be welcoming it into our spaces and letting it guide us into deeper revolution.  we are not a group of homogenous, similarly experienced, similarly thinking people and that is exhilarating, but it means we have to make a commitment to lean into our discomfort and challenge each other and ourselves.  i am excited about what we’re building together.


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. paxus
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 13:28:00

    i appreciate that you are seeing the silver lining in these conflicts. And i wonder if the group can hold together with such deep divisions? You can welcome conflict as a teacher and you can recognize it as warning that just because you are all sitting in the same park, does not mean you can all work together.

    And of course giving up on the group (or some part of it) is not what you want the starting position to be. You want to work hard and explore the possibilities and reveal the disagreements. And in the end the disruptive guy who wants everyone to leave the park at the date he negotiated with the police with no permission from the group to do so should leave the day after Thxgvg and take his followers with him. And i will try to be there with you and the others who think that we have not solved the problems then and there is a need to continue this protest and process.

    Thanks for your work and this post.


  2. Sara Tansey
    Nov 11, 2011 @ 17:19:25

    forgive me. the man in question called us a “faction of the group that wanted to cause trouble and get arrested” he is, in fact, wrong. none of us want any of those things.


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