The issue of privilege has been talked about–talked about–in the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is an important discussion to have, one that raises awareness. It isn’t a light topic and definitely not one to be had over a cup of tea (also a privilege). There are many who are privileged through race, wealth, access and sex.
But here’s the thing. I don’t want the discussion of privilege to drive a wedge between comrades. I don’t want it to be the issue that makes an active organizer tremble in a meeting over fear that they may not be "stepping back" enough. And I certainly don’t want this divisive topic to stop the movement in its tracks.
Though a good number of occupy activists were upper middle class, college educated, privileged white male-presenting folks, the movement never came across to me as one that was closed to individuals not from that demographic. After all, I was able to contribute to my complete ability without hindrance. So if others felt differently, maybe their experiences were different than my own in this movement-of-all.
I was appalled when a general assembly sometime in early 2012 down-twinkled the formation of an Anarchism Caucus. Many fingers were pointed in all directions. There was resistance to recognizing anarchists as a marginalized group, and an absence of recognition of their contribution to this and other political movements. When the caucus did not meet consensus, comrades who presented the proposal left the NYC General Assembly in tears. The end result was that many anarchists bid farewell to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
I stayed. And I am glad I did. Though it made me self-conscious to identify as an anarchist in a movement where activists come from different schools of thought, I never let that sinking feeling hold me back from organizing.
Though the above may not be a good example of somebody who felt marginalized but continued on, it does speak volumes about the movement. You can be different, not one of the many, but you can speak up, step up and organize.
When the web accounts of one active member of this family was hacked, many folks were quick to draw attention to the privilege of this allegedly upper middle class, privileged, white male. While many found humor in the situation, I was troubled that we, as a community, chose to bring the age-old issue of privilege to light without acknowledging the contribution of this person.
As a family, we need to be open to all. That means both those who are privileged and those who are not so. I haven’t seen any meetings that kept people out or didn’t let them step up for being a certain race or sex or from a certain tax bracket. Many who felt they couldn’t step up voiced their concerns, but didn’t offer any binding solutions. Every meeting I attended started with the following verse from an almost secular prayer, “step up, step back”. What that meant to me was that I was welcome. I had the right to step up and organize and I wouldn’t be judged for it. In other words, if I didn’t make myself a contributing member of this community, I had no place to question those children-of-privilege stepping up to fill the void and actively organize.
We can’t always get along. That’s OK. Many of us come from diverse backgrounds, political ideologies and even traumas. But as long as I am willing to put in the work, I know that I will always be a welcome comrade. I know that as long as I can use my lack of privilege to make me stronger and learn from others so that I may prosper, I will be successful.
So thank you, all you privileged, upper middle class, college educated, pasty, pale faced white males "of the book". Thank you for not making me feel marginalized and for accepting me as your brother in this struggle. And thank you for being my mentor and inspiring me to stop complaining and to start organizing.
Your brown, lower middle class (shit! more like poor), foreign born, immigrant, atheist, anarchist with agnostic/muslim parents comrade.