Girl Talk

Occupy 2012: Queer origins and impact

By now we’ve all heard of the movement Occupy Wall Street. Many have been skeptical from the beginning, and now with its seeming decay, many are asking, “Is Occupy still relevant?”

We’ll get to that later, but here’s a little-known tidbit about the origin of the Occupy movement starting with Utahn and environmental activist Tim DeChristopher. Another Utahn, Derek Snarr, had this to say about the origins of Occupy:

“Prior to the launch of Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring uprisings were happening, and we saw the ‘occupation’ of the Capitol in Madison. Revolution was in the air.

In March of 2011, during Tim’s trial we had front page news for days at a time, when we occupied the courthouse steps during the entire week of the trial. We used the word ‘occupy’ in headlines that made it to the top spot on Reddit and were read by people around the world. We speculate that prior to this happening, the word ‘occupy’ wasn’t in the public mindset in the context of activists maintaining a space for a sustained period of time.

In April of 2011, at PowerShift in Washington, D.C. — Tim gave this speech, identifying the failures of the climate movement, and calling for a sustained movement, rather than protests that happen for a day or two, and then stop. He talked about the difference between making a statement and taking a stand.

In July of 2011, Tim published a piece in Grist, in which he called on the climate movement to learn from past movements and from Republicans in being more stubborn. He called for people to join an “occupation” of Washington, D.C. starting in October, which several of us (and others) had been a part of planning. At that time, that was being called the October 2011 Movement. It is now considered a part of the larger Occupy movement.

Shortly after Tim was sent to prison, AdBusters put out announcements for “Occupy Wall Street.” Ash Anderson, our co-director, immediately called them and said ‘Hey, we’ve been calling for something just like this for a long time, this is bold and awesome and I wanna help out.’ He then spent an immeasurable amount of time influencing the planning of Occupy Wall Street to incorporate components of our core principles, commit to principles of non-violence, and understand the importance of sustaining the movement after it initially gets shut down.

So, whether or not AdBusters, who gets credit for coining the phrase ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ was influenced by Tim and Peaceful Uprising prior to Ash’s influence is speculative, but it can be confirmed.

Prior to Occupy Wall Street kicking off, however, his influence was definitely felt, and very strongly.”

So those are the origins, now onto the current status and the future of Occupy. I’d like to introduce Chris, who asked me not to use his last name. Chris runs the main Occupy Salt Lake City Twitter feed @OccupySaltLake, and had a few things to say.

One of his main points regarding the queer community’s involvement with Occupy, and activism in general, was simply, “We could always use more involvement across the board. You take a look at the whole 99-percent strategy, that’s everybody. There are these wedge issues that get introduced to elevate or demean other people, and that’s what prevents everybody from being united. And yet the queer community has taken a beating over that. I marched in the Prop 8 [demonstration], hell, I even showed up in the University of Utah’s newspaper. Me, as a white male, I can feel better about myself just for that fact, which is bullshit.”

He went on to address the fact that there are still 53 Occupy camps being maintained across the country, Salt Lake City included. The problem with that is he stated that because of the fact they’re still there, it’s more so a display of power than anything; it’s losing its novelty, losing its significance, and therefore, the Occupy camps, and the Occupy Movement itself, are losing relevance.

However, there are many instances that imply the contrary. May 1 marked May Day, for example, the Occupy Movement’s big push to establish its presence in 2012. Its main intention was a general strike: no work, no school, no purchases for those who wished to participate; the purpose to show the world how it functions without the 99 percent. Rallies were held worldwide with abundant attendees, again with Salt Lake City included.

The May Day events in Salt Lake City started with a gathering at the City and County Building, then we marched in State Street at rush hour, we blocked as much traffic as possible with basically a police escort (four or five squad cars surrounding us that I saw), to finally convene at the Utah State Capitol for a rally with speakers and a musical performance.

I’d like to throw in a plug for the Salt Lake City Police Department, which has been bounds more tolerant and accommodating to our local Occupiers than many cities across the country. Many Occupiers thank Chief Chris Burbank for that. I spoke to one such police officer after the rally; we discussed just that, and decided people need to stop yelling “Fuck the police” because these guys are on our side for the most part. We’re all fighting the same fight here.

Members of the DREAM Team happened to attend the local rally and march, their cross-county tour arrived in Salt Lake City for the May Day events. Their tour and eventual documentary hopes to raise awareness of immigrant issues in order to help the DREAM Act pass.

Other speakers at the rally included Greg Lucero with The Revolutionary Students Union, Occupiers Justin Kramer and Victor Puertas, and other speakers representing Industrial Workers of the World, and United For Social Justice. The rally was a part of a three-day event that included various workshops and teach-ins.

This year’s local rally proved an excellent turnout of a couple hundred people if I had to guess, though it’s a relative drop from last year’s reported turnout of roughly 1,000 people. Still, not bad for Salt Lake City. It’s nice to see a thriving activist community here.

Jesse Fruhwirth is often featured on KRCL’s RadioActive, and acted as somewhat of a spokesperson for Occupy Salt Lake City while they had their camp in Pioneer Park. He, Chris, and I all participated in the May Day rally this year, and Fruhwirth had some insight:

“What the Occupy Movement is bringing back to the left is an identification with class struggle, for very good reasons, don’t get me wrong.

We’ve been very compartmentalized into a pro-women’s movement, pro-queer movement, pro-workers movement, pro-immigrants movement, pro-African-American movement and while all those things are important, we shouldn’t only have those.

We also need to have a recognition of class struggle, why, and where this scarcity that creates oppression stems from. And that’s from capitalism, that’s from wealth consolidation, that’s from the 1 percent!

So, I think it’s really important, and I think it’s really cool to see a lot of people say that over the last several months, that, you know, ‘We came to Occupy because we thought veganism was the answer,’ or ‘We came to Occupy because we thought that when queers are equal it would be the answer.’ But people are beginning to realize the commonalities in everybody’s struggle.”

My response was, “There’s a bigger issue than all of these, it’s systemic. We need to change the whole system itself.”

“Right, and the solution can only be found in solidarity. If all those groups focus on their issues, but also keep an eye open to act in solidarity whenever possible, a lot more will be accomplished than if everybody just focuses on their micro-managed issue.”

I asked him what his thoughts were on the future relevancy of Occupy, to which he responded, “It depends on what ‘Occupy’ we’re talking about. If we’re talking about the word, or the way things are analyzed in the mainstream media as a brand, Occupy has definitely suffered.

But in terms of what the Occupy movement has already done, in terms of inspiring people, in terms of having people awakened to new ways of expressing their politics, in terms of people coming to a whole new power analysis of our system, and an openness to revolution, that is a seed that is planted. And whether you call it Occupy or not, it doesn’t matter, it’s had a huge impact.

I’ll admit, I think it’s slowed down in recent months, but I have a lot of hope for the future that more and more people are becoming open to systemic change.”

There is a fair amount of speculation regarding Occupy, but one thing can be mostly agreed upon by everyone, and that is that it has certainly spawned a discussion among the nation and the world concerning the socioeconomic class divide, and it has been the catalyst for many to question the whole system.

How to go about getting involved? I’m not sure if I can answer that, but if you observe or experience injustice, absolutely say something about it, but discussion is not enough. Most are used to politicking via social media, but guess what — talk is lazy, online petitions are lazy, there must be a transition from talk into action. There must be less talking and more doing for any progress to be made.

As Chris, Jesse and I covered, there are many issues that various groups are addressing — class issues, education variance, women’s issues, queer and equality issues, racial and immigrant issues, and so forth. But what it comes down to is that we’re all fighting the same battle, The 99 percent concept represents that, and all of these are wedge issues that stem from the broken system itself.

If nothing else, the Occupy movement has pointed out that there is a problem with the system, and that it needs to be fixed. If you agree, let’s do something about it.

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