Statements From Decolonize Los Angeles and Paracaidistas Collective
We feel that many of the observations and arguments in the “Who Is Oakland” pamphlet are regionally specific to the Bay Area and to what we witnessed as participants in Occupy Oakland. In Occupy Los Angeles, the informal “leadership” of many of the committees and the general assembly have discussions about the role of the police and how the “unity” of the 99% is complicated by racism, sexism, and patriarchy. In Los Angeles, this culminated in an incident where a “participant in OccupyLA distributed fliers at the October 4 General Assembly with the names and photos of 25 individuals associated with the Committee to End Police Brutality and accusing these participants…of trying to highjack and destroy the movement and provoking the police.” Obviously such dynamics were also widespread in Occupy Oakland, but our pamphlet also explores how Occupy Oakland’s relatively greater racial and ethnic diversity, and the city’s peculiar radical history, impacted its immediate, nationally unpopular stance on the police, city government, and Democratic Party pressure groups like MoveOn.
For more context on Occupy LA, please see the following two statements – the first from Decolonize LA and the second from Paracaidistas Collective, reposted below.
October 16, 2011
On October first, hundreds of people from around Los Angeles answered the call from Occupy Wall Street to start claiming public spaces to meet and decide together what to do to build an economy that meets the needs of the people in the place of capitalism. As the day progressed, a group of people with previous working relationships as organizers in various communities in Los Angeles and trusted allies gathered to collectively share thoughts and ideas about what we were witnessing and taking part in. Our first impression was that the “occupation” resembled a carnival and that it was was disorganized. What we eventually realized, however, was that the “occupation” was, in fact, very carefully organized, but for objectives we did not anticipate. Crouched under the banner of “leaderlessness” was a small circle of organizers unaware of and unapologetic for their own privileges, and fiercely intent on maintaining their grasp on power and ownership over Occupy LA.
On the first day, we convened discussion circles which dozens of people gradually joined. We called for these circles because we felt we needed to hear from each other, as attendees of the Occupation, prior to the General Assembly. Coming from an anti-authoritarian, horizontal perspective and practice, we understood that building relationships with the other participants and hearing ideas and concerns would be the basic building blocks to form a collective understanding of why we were at the Occupation in the first place and how we could participate. A 300 person General Assembly meeting cannot provide the space or opportunity for all of the participants to develop trusting relationships: this happens over time by discussing experiences and working on projects together. While we have shared our experiences from our organizing in direct action movements and our ideas for moving forward, we have also learned a lot from other participants. This is the beauty of occupations and similar actions; it is difficult not to come together as a community. But as we have pointed out, throughout the duration of the occupation, many people have felt excluded, especially those comprising the most disadvantaged segments of the “99%.”
During the General Assemblies on the first and second day of occupation, we witnessed fundamental breakdowns in the consensus process, resulting in undemocratic decision-making. This was complemented by deception, coercion, and fear-mongering by the leadership to get their way. We were troubled by actions of those in leadership positions and/or facilitators of various committees who sought to control the direction of the occupation through non-democratic decision-making regarding the relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department. Any discussions or proposals at the GA criticizing or objecting to collaboration with the police are immediately shouted down by the leadership. By obstructing any discussion of the relationship between the occupation and the police we have been prevented from making plans for strategic responses to police aggression like arrests or brutality which potentially endangers people who have issues related to criminal records, immigration status, race, or gender identity. OccupyLA has excluded the concerns of people that have long experience with the police in their neighborhoods and also in protests, and by doing this they also exclude people who could participate but feel unsafe and disrespected because of a lack of recognition by OccupyLA of their concerns.
We made several attempts to present proposals, workshops, and discussions at the General Assembly, in small groups, and in one-on-one conversations. Although the overall Occupation movement nationally aspires to use participatory democracy and the consensus process to be inclusive of the people, the efforts by the leadership to maintain informal control have prevented discussion or recognition of patriarchy, white supremacy, classism, heteronormativity, and other layers of oppression that exist in the broader society, which continue to be perpetuated within this “occupation.” Women of color in particular have been silenced. Many of us are tired of futilely trying to explain to middle class white activists that they really aren’t experiencing the same levels of oppression as people of color or the working class or underclass. The constant rhetoric of the “99%” and calls for blind “unity” have the effect of hiding inequalities and very real systems of oppression that exist beyond the “1%-99%” dichotomy and rendering invisible the struggles of a majority of the people in this city.
But the final straw for us was that a participant in OccupyLA distributed fliers at the October 4 General Assembly with the names and photos of 25 individuals associated with the Committee to End Police Brutality and accusing these participants (some of whom are part of our affinity group) of trying to highjack and destroy the movement and provoking the police. If this individual isn’t actively working for the police, he has definitely helped them through his actions. One of these fliers most likely landed in the hands of a police officer, undercover agent, or informant, and passing them out had the effect of breaking the solidarity among the participants in the occupation and sows fear and distrust in the movement. The leadership does not understand that we are not “offended” by the fliers, but feel threatened and unsafe now that this list has been circulated. We have also been hearing reports from occupations in other cities about issues similar to the ones at OccupyLA: lying, accusations of being provocateurs or cops, exclusion, and harassment. These dynamics could cause the movement to stray away from social revolution and places the occupations dangerously close to electoral recuperation by one or more political parties.
Most people who remain at the encampment are aware of some of these issues. We have felt an incredible amount of support from them as we have cried and yelled and stormed off in response to some of the incidents that have occurred over the first two weeks of the “occupation.” The more we have talked with our friends who are occupying other cities, the more we have realized that the problems we are experiencing are common across the movement. Race, class, and gender privilege should be recognized, discussed, and countered through proactive steps to create practices that spread responsibility and power among the participants like rotating facilitation of meetings of committees and General Assemblies. We must foster a culture of taking ownership of privilege by recognizing it and committing to the other participants that we will all accept the concerns of others and allow ourselves to be held accountable by each other to the principles we profess. This is how we can start to take concrete actions to dismantle the formal and informal roles where privilege can accumulate, which allows some participants to avoid accountability.
We all want to be participants in this movement. We want to share our knowledge and experience with other participants who may have never been to a protest before so that we can help them feel empowered and safe. We want to be in the streets challenging Capitalism and the government that supports it, rebuilding our communities through struggle. We don’t want to be excluded for being who we are. We don’t want to be attacked or endangered for raising concerns about transparency and strategy. We don’t want to have to be responsible for checking privileged activists on their racism, sexism, classism, and heteronormativity. This is why we, as a collective, have opted to shift our energy from Occupy LA and focus on building popular assemblies throughout the City, in order to acknowledge the organizing and community initiatives by the most marginalized communities to survive and confront this economic crisis and those who continue to demand justice but are not heard at City Hall.
We don’t want our presence to detract from the still unclear goals and strategy of the occupation. We don’t intend for this to be divisive, rather we believe that the movement needs to spread and reach more people across LA in innovative and effective ways. We are not asking anyone to pack up their tent and join us, but we believe in the autonomy of individuals to act in the ways they believe to be most strategic and effective in our communities.
October 12, 2011
Re: OccupyLA—Solidarity, Critiques, Reinventions
Strong people don’t need strong leaders.
as many scars
as this after theft the ‘unknown’
becomes ‘the once was’ to form separate dreams after salvage net weights sink
pretend it’s all make-believe i need to say pretend that for every name they’ve given us there’s a counter gesture for us to cling to [we] walk leaving traces after light to see
Craig Santos Perez
We write to you from the Occupation of City Hall in Los Angeles. First and foremost, in a torrential and tempestuous sea of struggle, we are excited and inspired that people all over the country (and all over the world) are gathering in loose-knit ways to occupy public spaces, to re-think what is possible. It is profoundly significant that this open-ended process has initiated a radically diverse group of participants—including artists like ourselves, who have spent the past week participating in the occupation from the streets around City Hall, from our homes, in our studios and in our classrooms. This is particularly important in Los Angeles—a city that is nothing if not diverse—where public space is under constant threat of erasure and commodification.
We write out of an awareness of the multiple histories and present experiences at play in any “public” space. We are encouraged by occupations of spaces the State would seek to control—and while we use the terms “occupation” and “occupy,” we are also critical of those terms, as deployed, for instance, in the Occupied Territories or in the occupation of Afghanistan (on this tenth anniversary of that particular act of imperialist terror) or as signaling the occupation of indigenous lands that our cities and their infrastructures represent. The reclaiming of words is complicated, messy, and problematic—which is precisely why it is important to speak across languages and to underline the many meanings present in any term or phrase.
We are especially aware of the significance of people coming together to enact alternative forms of organization. People are learning to take care of each other and to construct an infrastructure to maintain and grow the unwieldy space of the occupation—that is, the unwieldy space of the world. We share the concerns of many, however, that strict top-down and hierarchical models of organization are attempting to impose limits and controls on the spirit and the potential of the occupation. We recognize that such hierarchies can be invisible and subtextual; we are aware of the challenges of constructing new modes of relation and self-organization, and of how deeply ingrained structures of power and inequality are—in the marrow of the culture. We share the frustration and resentments expressed by many people of color, women, and queer-identified or genderqueer folks that the space of the occupation sometimes reproduces systems of power that are entrenched in our society, and hence entrenched in our thinking. This is not a peripheral issue. Rather it represents both what is fundamentally problematic within the occupation and a potent potential space for radical transformation.
Our capacity to re-negotiate systems of exclusion and to create working practices and structures that re-envision the terms of power, leadership, and agency is part of the substance of our revolution. The fact that an anti-police brutality committee was pushed out of the formal organization of OccupyLA points to especially loaded power dynamics at play in the structure of the occupation. Regardless of how it was intended, it’s too easy to read this exclusion as a reproduction of the ignorance inherent to social systems that disregard the core concerns of the people most affected by a top-down system based in prejudice, fear or outright hatred of difference. When we think about our relationship (or lack thereof) with the police, we cannot help but think about how the police routinely treat the houseless, whose occupation of public space is not read as resistance but might be understood as symptomatic of why it is so crucial to resist. The LAPD has historically been among the most corrupt and militarized police departments in the United States. To those seeking economic and social justice: the police are not your friends! (If you doubt this, please google “José Bernal,” “Kelly Thomas,” “Settlement Mayday Macarthur Park,” or “Copwatch Los Angeles” to encounter just a few recent examples.) How can we organize in sympathy, empathy and solidarity with one another and not reproduce alienating systems of administration?
“Occupation” might also be more than a 24/7 inhabiting of public space by those who recognize our disenfranchisement by an economic and governmental system based in utter disregard of our personhood. Yes, the sites of permanent occupation around the country (over 800 and counting as of today) need your presence, your energy, your creative mind—stand up and be counted among the 99%! And yes, at at the same time, our vision of occupation can encompass multiple sites of resistance and a re-invention of practices of relationship and exchange. You can occupy from your home or from your office or from a public bus or from the seat of your bicycle or from the corner store or from the street corner or from your school or from your community garden. We are curious about and interested in all manifestations of revolutionary re-imagining of our modes and our moment, wherever those might occur. And we recognize our kinship with other struggles that manifest elsewhere. We stand with the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay prison (round two). We stand with those resisting the school-to-prison pipeline and its most homicidal manifestations in the aftermath of the state-sponsored lynching of Troy Davis. We stand with domestic workers fighting for recognition of their basic rights and with all workers struggling for a living wage and decent treatment. We stand with those who are undocumented and unafraid and everyone supporting the rights of immigrants to live and work in peace (i.e. anyone not indigenous to this scrap of the Americas). We stand with the many communities struggling for economic and environmental justice in the context of policies and politicians that put profit over people time and again. We are here to stand up. We stand up for our capacity to imagine and manifest a different way of being and our commitment to make a world based on justice, mutual respect, the dignity of all life, and wild joy.
We understand the relevance of media narratives. And yet we refuse to cater to the demands of a reformist agenda. To those who seek a kinder, gentler form of capitalism, as though a slight increase in corporate taxes and financial reform might alter the structure of a system corrupted by power, we must be clear about our differences. We can agree that corporate money has corrupted our political system. We are equally critical of the fact that the top 1% of income earners control over 1/3 of the country’s net worth. Many of us are not shy about expressing our hatred for capitalism itself, and the entrenched institionalized inequalities that stem from it. We do not believe that a legislative solution will lead us out of this crisis; the entire legislative system exists in the service of structures of power designed to privilege the few at the expense of the many, and based on profound disrespect for the needs and perspectives of the majority of the humans on this planet (not to mention the planet itself). We are not excited about a resolution passed by the City Council; the very structures of government must be entirely re-imagined if government is to be actually relevant to the needs of people it seeks to support (not to mention a vision of autonomous self-government). We do not appeal to existing power structures to somehow resurrect something that has been broken; existing power structures are entirely inadequate to the world we inhabit (not to mention entirely unfun to experience!). We are not protesting in the hope that an imaginary lifestyle can be restored in the future; we are imagining and enacting a new way of living here and now.
We are equally aware of the formidable nature and complexity of what this acknowledgement represents. And that is why we are still here… In this space of possibility, with humility and rage and love for each other, we hope to begin to construct a world we where we might actually want to live. We need more people here—in the vibrant space of the occupation. We need to multiply the forms of participation in the occupation so that together we can look at the ways that the occupation itself can work to subvert our own potential to reproduce oppressive systems of administration and control. This is already starting to happen—this letter is just one instance of a number of affectionate, generative critiques and instigations. We must be ruthlessly and irreverently self-critical. Already we risk the appropriation of the occupation by political and economic forces that wish to restore rather than transform the economy and our ways of being together.
Life in its entirety,
life with its shortcomings,
hosts neighboring stars
that are timeless …
and immigrant clouds
that are placeless.
And life here wonders:
How do we bring it back to life!
Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah
We hope others will write open letters. The aim of our writing is to participate in critical dialogue involving a multiplicity of voices—that is, to engage and expand the cacophony that already exists. This letter is gratefully informed by many textual and visual documents, including disoccupy, Racialicious, POOR Magazine and the Occupy Wall Street Journal. We are ready to listen, curious to learn, and eager to continue finding creative ways to articulate our thinking.
We are not joining any movement; we are a movement and everything we do—whether we’re at Los Angeles City Hall, in Freedom Plaza, at the grocery store or taking our children to the park— constitutes a collective effort to re-claim the commons through a radical re-thinking and re-imagination of relations between humans and the world.
Love and solidarity,
P.S. If you would like to respond or to write a letter under the name paracaidistas collective or if you would like a PDF version of this letter for any purpose, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.