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By Zillah Eisenstein and Chandra Talpade Mohanty
“Occupy Wall Street” is an incredible movement even if there is no easily ready-made pre-existing political language to describe it. Its newness—multiple concerns across the wide-swath of “99 percent of us” that may seem unfocused—is really not. Instead we see decades of lead up work done by the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panthers, the 1970’s women’s movement, all forms of anti-racist feminist activism of the `90’s, gay rights activism, AIDS organizing, anti-globalization/anti-militarization mobilization, the labor, immigrant, and peace movements, and so on… OWS is its own new form/less inclusive frame coalescing around the shared—however differently—suffering and vulnerability of a growing number of us. Some say that OWS is a result of the attack on the middle class(es) that has created a huge swath of economic suffering that connects us/them with the poor, and the working classes of all sorts, and students, and Tahrir Square, and….
Millions of people are in need—of food, of medical care, of housing, of education, of…. Such persistent need is frightening and also maddening. There is massive disappointment amidst more and more hard working individuals. It seems as though everyone is asked to work harder and then harder again with not much result or easing of their pain. If someone has been lucky enough to hold on to their job, it is not the job they used to have—there is always more to be done because a co-worker has been fired,or hired more cheaply.
This disheartening condition affects people across the age divides. People in their 50s and 60s are losing their jobs and cannot find other work. Those in their 20s and 30s cannot find their first ones. Then there are citizens who have been disenfranchised all together for decades and now are relegated to the prison and felon system. And then there are those denied an education and health services because they are “undocumented.”
These times are disheartening and heartbreaking in newly excessive ways. The excesses of the rich and corporate/government brokers have become so unconscionable that people from the center and the right and the left—whatever these categories mean today—are coming together to say that this is enough: “Basta!”
Maybe the bankers and their cronies have finally done their own unraveling. They have exposed themselves to the rest of the U.S. public across people’s differing needs and histories. The vulnerability is palpable and cuts through and across class lines. People at Liberty Square in New York City see themselves as autonomous political beings—not necessarily belonging to traditional political organizations. They are there in solidarity with others who feel the same way about corporate greed and the vulnerable disenfranchised.
We are thinking that what is wonderful besides the obvious, is that the so-called 99 percent seem so far able to embrace a shared collectively despite differences of history–in class, sex, gender, race, ability, health, and so on. But as OWS moves forward to include more than 30 states and for almost a month now it might be important to begin to make clear what the many strategies will be for naming the issues. If ever there was a moment to move with these differences together, and not be splintered by them, this is it. This moment reminds us of the huge presence of women in Tahrir square and yet these women’s insistence to stand with a shared collective demand for human rights for all. We are thinking it is important for many, and for more of us to make public statements of support for OWS that recognizes the massive challenges ahead while also embracing the joy of creating a new inclusivity.
OWS has a first `official’ statement that calls attention to the mass injustice of today; of the illegal foreclosures, and perpetual inequality and discrimination of age, color, sex, and gender identity; the poisoning of the food supply; the outsourcing of labor; the destruction of the education system; the huge student loan debt; the torture and murder of innocents; colonialism at home and abroad, a system hell bent on weapons of mass destruction. Finally, millions of people are coming together to say: we need a fair and socially just society; end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; forgive the mortgage debt and student debt; extend unemployment benefits, create jobs by investing in infrastructure such as roads, bridges, and our public schools; create a single payer health care program; send the banking crooks to jail. It is a time for our polyversal embrace and support of each other across all differences. It is time to make them listen to the “99 percent.” It may also be time to begin to mobilize this discontent towards specific ends. What of demanding that Obama and Congress, together, openly commit to curtailing corporate power and its excesses and redirect the agenda to the health and economic rights of the “99 percent”?
OWS reveals that imagination is the most subversive thing a public can have. If we can imagine a more “civil” and compassionate way to live we can act on it. It is this ongoing social experiment of living together in community, sharing resources, honoring differences and interdependencies while building a common vision of justice for all that is most remarkable about the OWS movement. This is the big “we”; the big “we” of us all who are suffering and have the courage to stand up to the one percent.
This movement is a beginning and it has begun. Now OWS needs actions that show collective and shared power across the national landscape. How about this: perhaps one collective action can be a call for a general strike by all people of all sorts and types to not work or consume on a given day. Food should be contributed by all who can do so until this day if action. And on this day food could be distributed through food banks and schools and churches, and mosques and synagogues. Redistribution will begin at this moment by the “99 percent” who can do so.
It is necessary to continue to coalesce and go forward, together. These next steps will allow us to see and find new expressions of collective action against corporate greed. These are unsettled times and the OWS movement is hugely important because it assists and mobilizes our humanity to fight back, and to do this together. The colorful placards in Liberty Square say it all: “Fight Like an Egyptian”; “Don’t Trade Our Futures for Yours”; “Arise and Seize the Day”; AND also, “One Earth, One Humanity, One Love!”
So make your sign and claim the public space: “I am brown and female and part of the 99%”; “I am undocumented and part of the 99%”; “I am indigenous and part of the original 99%”; “I am queer and part of the 99%”; “I am an anti-racist feminist and part of the 99%”; “I am in middle-school and part of the 99%”; “I am in prison and part of the 99%”; “I am a medical student and part of the 99%; “I am homeless and part of the 99%”; “ I am transgender and part of the 99”; “I am a soldier and part of the 99%; “I am a college student in debt and part of the 99%”; “I have no medical insurance and part of the 99%”. Say it; and do it and make this moment happen again and again.
Zillah Eisenstein is Professor of Politics at Ithaca College in New York. Throughout her career her books have tracked the rise of neoliberalism both within the United States and across the globe. She has documented the demise of liberal democracy and scrutinized the growth of imperial and militarist globalization. She has also critically written about the attack on affirmative action in the United States, the masculinist bias of law, the crisis of breast cancer and AIDS, the racism of patriarchy and the patriarchal structuring of race, the new nationalisms, and corporatist multiculturalism. She has a fabulous daughter, sarah eisenstein stumbar, who is a fourth year medical student, suny stonybrook, applying for residencies and has been a leader in “Medical Student for Choice.”
Her most recent books include: The Audacity of Races and Genders: A Personal and Global Story of the Obama Election (Zed Books Ldt., 2009), Sexual Decoys: Gender, Race and War in Imperial Democracy (Zed Books Ltd., 2007), Against Empire, London (Zed Books Ltd., 2004), Hatreds: Racialised and Sexualised Conflicts in the 21st Century (New York, Routledge, 1996), Global Obscenities: Patriarchy, Capitalism and the Lure of Cyberfantasy (New York, NYU Press, 1998), ManMade Breast Cancers (Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 2001).
Chandra Talpade Mohanty is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies and Dean’s Professor of the Humanities at Syracuse University. Her work focuses on transnational feminist theory, anti-capitalist feminist praxis, anti-racist education, and the politics of knowledge. She is author of Feminism Without Borders:Decolonizing Theory, Practicing Solidarity (2003) and co-editor of Third World Women and the Politics of Feminism (Indiana University Press, 1991), Feminist Genealogies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures (Routledge, 1997), Feminism and War: Confronting U.S. Imperialism, (Zed Press, 2008), and The Sage Handbook on Identities (co-edited with Margaret Wetherell (2010). Ms. Mohanty is a steering committee member of the Municipal Services Project (municipalservicesproject.org)