Hope, Power, and How Occupy Invigorated Our Generation’s Fight for Survival
Last month I was published in In These Times's cover feature, “Generation Hopeless?”, a discussion of the legacy and unfulfilled promises of Occupy. Due to space, my article had to be cut down. I now present you with the full text:
When I think of Occupy, I think of college and camping. I think of free schools. I think of reimagining spaces and systems. I think of the rapid radicalization of my peers – which was really just us coming into our full selves.
When I think of hope I think of children. I think of naivety. I think of innocence. I think of the fact that children are taught bigotry and hatred. Children are taught the lines we live in and the rules we live by instead of the histories we come from.
Occupy Wall Street was a magical unicorn that happened on Twitter. It let those of us living in the quiet desperation of the suburbs and middle America feel like political power was finally accessible. It reminded us that the holes we were filling with consumption were actually our souls screaming for recognition. It made us realize that we are connected to a history and a greater struggle. It reminded us that our liberation is in fact collectively bound and that it takes a village.
I came of age politically in Ohio in a post 9/11 world as an ambiguous brown woman. Ohio is the center of the universe every 4 years – political campaign TV ads start in June and we relentlessly reminded to vote, until we’re not. Until we sink quietly back into the quirky, ambiguous landscape of the Midwest.
I started organizing, like every other good 20-something Ohioan, in the 2008 elections, to the tune of “Signed, Sealed, Delivered”. I voted for Obama in 2008 and again in 2012, even though he had let me down. The first time I voted for him was pre-Trayvon. It was before I had a community of black and brown radicals demanding that I celebrate my melanin. In 2008, I was whitewashed and starting to feel uncomfortable. I saw Obama as the reflection of all the hope I was too scared to have for myself. In 2012, I voted for him because the alternative was voting for a man who did not see me as a human being.
I feel like my entire life, my people, my generation have been told to wait their turn. We have been told how great we are, how diverse, how accepting, how educated, how we are going to change the world.
I am so tired of hearing about how the revolution will come some day, we just have to wait our turn. As a queer first-generation woman of color, every day that I walk outside with my head held high, everyday that I speak my truth, everyday that I exist unapologetically as my authentic self, there is a revolution. Although I have never participated in civil disobedience that had a risk of arrest, I live in a constant state of direct action. I intimately understand the gravity of using my body and my voice as tool to exact social change.
The weight of this crown is real and it takes a strong back and a straight spine to hold it up. I live in world where I was taught to slouch, taught to look at my feet when I walk, to always remember to accessorize cute outfits with soundproof headphones, to start questions with “I’m sorry.”
I have “this too will pass” tattooed on my hip. The words are to remind me that when the world is too big and awful to get out of bed, it will pass. It is also to remind me that my time in the sun is sacred. The placement is to remind me that I spent the better part of 20-something years trying not to have hips. My body is a vessel of power, it is not to be tokenized or colonized, anymore.
It is not about when the revolution will come, it is about when we intend on winning this.
Before 9/11, I was exotic; in the years immediately following, I was threatening. Now, I’m too light skinned to be racially sensitive or threatening but still brown enough to be exotic.
The post 9/11 war-state doesn’t only extend to the incredible amount of exotic people who die in the name of democracy abroad. This war in our streets, in our medical bills, in our right to work, in our right to marry who we want. It is in the hands of our youth holding guns instead of pencils. This war is in the eyes of women who can’t look back to see queens and can’t see far enough to see liberation. Our war is for access to education and health care.
I came to occupy Ohio University as an environmentalist. I played my part, I answered questions about fracking and mountain-top removal. I even spoke on greening urban space. I came angry and hungry.
We took turns explaining that our occupation was about drawing a connection between what was happening on Wall Street to what was happening on campus. We didn’t have the vocabulary of the corporatization of our education system.
We also wanted to make sure that folks understood that Occupy was about taking back space that belonged to us and that our encampment was more about representing that lack of “space” for students in our university. We got our favorite professors to come give lectures and donate their class time. Slowly but surely, we each started to re-think public education.
Occupy was about rethinking the spaces we inhabit. These spaces are beyond parks and lawns and state capitols. These spaces are in leadership and history books, they are in racial profiles, in standardized tests, in pre-existing conditions, in credit scores and loan distributions. Occupy was about shifting the conversation to making people understand that we are many and they are few. They have leveraged the resources they had at hand to gain control. It is up to us to do the same.
Occupy was conceived and sustained by organizers, who by trade work with people power. Occupy shifted the narrative to allow us to understand what that can feel like to scale.
It is not about hope. It is about power. It is about slow, relentless, authentic power.
Hope is the belief that destiny will not be written for us, but by us, by the men and women who are not content to settle for the world as it is, who have the courage to remake the world as it should be.
~ President Barack Obama
Elie Weisel talks at length about hope. He often points to hope as the thing that allowed him to physically and mentally survive the Holocaust. I heard him speak in the past year and he described hope as a thing we need to think responsibly about. He described it as our greatest weapon.
The argument is that we are the screwed generation and therefore we are the hopeless generation. I would like to flip that on its head. There is a general unrest in my generation. We are the most diverse and the most underrepresented; we are the most educated and the most unemployed. Our values are not reflected in the systems that govern our lives. Our generation is facing advisory, the likes of which the world has never seen. We are facing it head first. We may not always get it right, but we get it. We get that we are fighting for our lives, because we know there are a thousand ways to die.
We are brave enough to dream, we are brave enough to stumble and build. We are brave enough to stand on the shoulders of giants and fight for those that come after us. We are brave enough to occupy spaces where we were told we don’t belong, because we are brave enough to hope.