October 11, 2011

Occupiers aren't Decolonizers

Decolonization and Occupy Wall Street

By Robert DesjarlaitAs evidenced by their proposed list of demands, the Occupy Wall Street movement has no intentions of recognizing indigenous concerns or demarginalizing indigenous peoples in the United States. And that’s because the mindset of the majority of occupiers is an intergenerational extension of a colonized mindset. In her Foreword to The New Resource Wars, Winona LaDuke provides insight into the colonized mindset. Regarding “Industrial society, or as some call it, ‘settler society,’” LaDuke writes:In industrial society, ‘man’s dominion over nature,’ has preempted the perception of Natural Law as central. Linear concepts of ‘progress’ dominate this worldview. From this perception of ‘progress’ as an essential component of societal development comes the perception of the natural world as a wilderness. This, of course, is the philosophical underpinning of colonialism and ‘conquest.’”

This way of thinking is also present in scientific systems of thought like ‘Darwinism,’ as well as in social interpretations of human behavior such as ‘Manifest Destiny,’ with its belief in some god-ordained right of some humans to dominate the earth. These concepts are central to the…present state of relations between native and settler in North America and elsewhere.
The “settler society” that LaDuke refers to isn’t from the historical past. It is present in non-indigenous society today. It is the mentality of this “settler society” permeates the mindset of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Their demands aren’t about decolonization. Rather, their demands are about wanting a share of the profits, profits that come from the rape and plunder of the earth and our indigenous homelands.

This isn’t to say that the Occupy Wall Street movement lacks merit. Economic inequities, corporate greed, the mortgage crisis, the unequal distribution of wealth are legitimate concerns. But those concerns have nothing to do with neither decolonization nor environmental justice. As such, the 99% slogan is not inclusive of the myriad of environmental problems that plague both indigenous and non-indigenous peoples in the United States.
On the other hand, a Native activist explains why he's joined the Occupy movement:

Why I Am Occupying Wall Street

By John BirdJust when it seems all is lost, hope revives, and the eternal flame of hope for justice roars back to life from an unexpected direction, unexpected source. For me the Occupy Wall Street movement is that new hope. What I see in the Occupy Wall Street movement with its focus on economic justice which is entwined with social justice, growing and strengthening and merging with the environmental movement is the beginning of new hope. Not just for Native Americans, but for all Americans and all citizens of the world. Our Indigenous philosophies have always told us we are all related, we are all connected, we are all in this together.

This movement, with its growing alliances of economic justice, social justice, and environmental justice activists will be formidable if they hold. Climate change, endless wars, and a yearning for freedom beyond a future of corporate serfdom seems to be driving and strengthening new opportunities and alliances. Sunday, the Occupy Denver assembly unanimously adopted a 10 point platform put forth by the Colorado Chapter of the American Indian Movement.

Correctly, the movement blames both Wall Street and Washington for orchestrating the upward shift of money, assets, resources, and power to the governing elite, the 1%. This collusion perpetuates, expands, and institutionalizes poverty for the masses, where most Indigenous people reside. Poverty and war are social justice issues, deeply entwined with economic justice. Now,with the merging of environmental justice into this movement and the proper identification of the real source of injustice, the collusion between Wall Street and Washington, there is real hope for real change.

I have come to the conclusion that Barack Obama, who sold himself to the hopeful masses as the face of hope and change is severely hindered in that he, like his predecessors and too many members of congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, are beholden to the Wall Street masters and their money. I think this movement has a real chance precisely because it refuses to be co-opted and, like so many of the American people, it no longer trusts Democrats or Republicans. Correctly, it acknowledges that both parties who dominate our political system are similarly corrupted by the same greed and lust for power that rots Wall Street at its very core. People are taking to the streets now because they realize that change will not come solely from the ballot box.

In my community organizing work, I sometimes heard a saying. “It does not matter on which boat your ancestors came here, we are all in the same boat now,” to which I would add: “even if your ancestors did not come here in a boat, we are all in the same boat now.” The window of opportunity to bend the course of history back towards justice is once again opening. It will not stay open long. Let us, Native Americans and all others who have not given up hope for a world based on real economic, social, and environmental justice, not squander this opportunity. It may very well may be our last.
Comment:  I agree with Bird that waiting for Obama to change things is a waste of time. He needs a kick in the butt almost as much as the Republican Tea Party does.

If I were a Native, I'd recognize both these views. On the one hand, it's unlikely that a white, middle-class movement will put indigenous issues at the forefront. On the other hand, this may be the best chance Natives get to push an agenda that helps them.

So I'd say skipping the protests and joining them uncritically are both sub-optimal approaches. If I were a Native, I'd join the protests but try to shape and channel them from within.

For more on the subject, see "Decolonize Wall Street" and Indians Say "Unoccupy America."

1 comment:

dmarks said...

"This isn’t to say that the Occupy Wall Street movement lacks merit. Economic inequities, corporate greed, the mortgage crisis"

If they want to complain about the mortgage crisis, they should occupy the Capitol building. The mortage crisis and the economic meltdown were the direct result of bad regulations put in place and protected by Barney Frank and others in which government agencies (Fannie and Freddie) forced banks to make a LOT of bad loans.