by: Kara Crawford
Confession time: I am completely and unashamedly jealous of my friends who are currently in the U.S. and going to the Occupy protests in their respective cities. I have friends who have been at Occupy Chicago, Philly, D.C., Wall Street and a number of others. I have had a number of endlessly fascinating discussions with friends about their involvements and about the movement at large. (Okay, another confession: I’m a nerd.)
Being a nerd, I do not grow tired of talking to people about the Occupy movement. Looking at it from my background in social movement theory, Occupy appears to be defying many norms and expectations of the sort of social movements that we often see. And yet, the movement continues, even after almost a month and a half. The most common critiques I have heard of the Occupy movement are that it is disorganized, or lacks leadership; it lacks focus, or a common issue; and that it lacks concrete goals.
Each of these three critiques may have legitimate bearing, but I feel like they are rather shallow assessments of the movement. The impression that it lacks organization, which people believe is evidenced by its lack of leadership, seems to lack understanding of what I understand to be one of the greatest strengths of the movement. That the movement has gained so much force and strength without any centralized or official leadership demonstrates to me that it is a popular movement. Not unlike the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring, I understand the Occupy movement to be a true people’s movement, fueled largely by the ability of social media to spread the messages and announcements of the movement and widespread discontent.
Also, what critics deem to be a lack of focus I feel is likewise an asset to the growing movement. As I pointed out in my post last week, a friend who went to the Occupy Chicago protests said that participants were there for any variety of reasons, including financial reform, universal health care, gay marriage and so forth. However, rather than a lack of focus, I think this is part of what represents the beauty of the Occupy movement. Occupy is a movement of solidarity and intersectionality; it demonstrates a widespread discontent with the various forms of marginalization that “the 99%” face. So what if it represents the interests of various groups of people? Isn’t a broad base supposed to be a good thing? Such widespread appeal shows that the different groups represented are willing to stand, sit and occupy in solidarity with one another. Queers, students, labor unions, unemployed folks, celebrities, religious folk, and many, many others are working together for the common cause of justice. To me, that sounds a lot like how I think heaven should be. And it is certainly what democracy should be.
Finally, critics argue that the Occupy movement lacks common goals, a sense of common purpose. On this point, I agree. However, I believe it is far too early in the life of this movement to make an assessment that it is inherently a failure, as we must keep in mind that it is a new movement. And since it is challenging mainstream understandings of social movements by not having official leadership, it will likely take some time for the common goals and purpose of the movement to surface. Because Occupy means to represent “the 99%,” far more is affecting that enormous group than just one issue.
However, I do not believe that the Occupy movement can become a mainstream political movement without losing the characteristics that give the movement its power – particularly its structure as a popular movement, without centralized leadership. For that reason,I believe it should not model itself after a mainstream social movement. Its subversion of the expectations and norms of what a social movement “should be” do not inherently take away from its ability to affect change. Instead, I believe a lot of possibility lies in this defiance of the norms. The possibilities of this movement’s goals and potential results are nearly endless.
So why should we in the LGBTQA community care about the Occupy movement? After all, Occupy began on Wall Street and has a largely economic focus Does it explicitly speak out for queer causes all the time? No, but by offering solidarity to many groups of people, that does not mean it cannot sometimes speak out for queer causes. In fact, ensuring that the queer voice is present in the movement will be an important act of coalition building with others working for justice and is critical in our work of finding and securing allies and advocates for the queer movement. We, as “queers and company,” should seize this opportunity to stand, sit, and occupy in solidarity with the millions of others who represent “the 99%” in the US, and the billions who represent “the 99%” around the world. We must stand with those who are standing up to fight.
Kara Johansen Crawford is a graduate of DePaul University, with a BA in International Studies and Peace, Justice and Conflict Studies. Kara has been actively involved in activism and community service for much of her life and is particularly passionate about labor justice, LGBTQ issues and engaging faith communities on social issues. Kara is currently serving as a Mission Intern with the United Methodist Church at the Centro Popular para América Latina de Comunicación, based in Bogotá, Colombia. Follow Kara on Twitter @revolUMCionaria and on her blog.