I was recently interviewed by a professor of U of P who is in the process of writing and publishing a book that will give an academic analysis of why those who chose to participate in the Occupy Portland movement chose to Occupy. Through her research into the people who had helped to construct and maintain the Occupy Portland Village (which symbolically represented our constitutional rights of free speech) in Lownsdale Park and Chapman Square, she found me. One of her last questions for me was what my highest point has been since participating in the Occupy Portland movement.
I told her about the night I stood belly to belly with riot cops fully costumed in riot gear from head to toe and equipped with both chemical and mêlée weapons. I told her how we had gathered in the thousands that night to defend our village from eviction and how the dark force of the police state attempted to control and descend upon the festival of dancing, laughing, feasting, and story sharing that had filled the parks and overflowed into the streets while recorded messages of “This is the Portland Police, you are hereby ordered to vacate and disperse….if you do not, you are subject to physical and chemical force” looped endlessly from the ice cream truck paddy wagon.
I told her of how when attempts were made to disperse, kettle, and divide the crowd, how the people stood together against that attempt. I retold the story of how when physically confronted by lines upon lines of riot and mounted officers seeking to eliminate the human barrier we had created between the parks and them, the people pushed back and forced the every single officer to retreat. All together, as a school of fish would, we surged forward and the Portland Police slowly walked backwards to the sound of thousands of voices raised in a victorious roar until they were safely around the corner. In a remarkable turn of events that the neither the PPB nor even we were expecting, it was the people who pushed the police out, not the other way around. There we stood and defended our village until the sun rose.
That night I saw a shift in power that I had never expected to see within my lifetime. Though it did prove to be a momentary shift in power, eviction night showed us what is possible with empowered collective action, even in the most oppressive of circumstances where the threat of bodily harm and/or detainment is used. I saw the beginning of what has become a confidence in people that the authority that is held by the police state over social justice movements and uprisings are not a fact of life, but rather a fact of the people’s acceptance of it. I saw the split second of disbelief revealed in the eyes of the officers as they retreated, everything they knew about their absolute authority and power challenged, their world view shaken. I saw agency and empowerment imprinted upon the hearts, minds, and memories of all who witnessed the retreat. Personally, I found and experienced what I could never could in all of my feminist studies and acquisition of feminist theory; a personal sense of agency in the face of my oppressors, what I feel to be the central pursuit of feminism. This experience and perspective was validated for me in the article Horizontalism and the Occupy Movements which describes how “Many within the Occupy movement believe that they have succeeded in important ways; in changing national and global political discourses;in making concrete changes in individual lives; in restoring power to social movements from below; and perhaps most important, in allowing people from the ground up to feel that society and the world can be different and that their agency can make that happen.”
I know and experience feminism as an effort to confront and eradicate oppression, as it exists, wherever it exists, whatever form it takes. To further define that broad statement, I know and experience feminism to be a movement that seeks to break down hierarchical power structures of oppression (the basic doctrine of patriarchy). To break down and define that statement even further; I know and experience feminism as a movement that seeks to rectify the disparity between those that hold human capitol, privilege, power, and wealth, in contrast to those that do not, so as to end the exploitation and subjugation of certain groups of people by others and in some cases other life forms and natural resources of our planet.
From my involvement in the Occupy movement, I know and experience Occupy to be a movement that has become a platform to rectify the disparity between those that hold human capitol, privilege, power, and wealth, in contrast to those that do not, so as to end the exploitation and subjugation of certain groups of people by others and in some cases other life forms and the natural resources of our planet.
I have come to understand that both the Occupy and Feminist movements’ central pursuits are the same. Both movements seek to address a multitude of injustices ranging in degrees of economical and social disparity which are rooted in and are direct effects of patriarchy. How can Occupy not matter to Feminist sensibility and politics of the 21st century? In the article Wall Street Wage Gaps Give Women Yet Another Reason to Occupy, Sarah Seltzer presses upon us that “The chance to draw connections between Wall Street and other social justice issues like gender oppression is one that feminist Occupiers want to seize.” In the same article, Aliya Rahman of Occupy Cincinnati critiques “…we talk about things in silos, as though economic justice and gender justices aren’t connected. But there are all these reasons why they really are.” Sarah Seltzer continues that “If you are going to Occupy Wall Street, [you must] address the underlying patriarchy that it represents. Obviously that is a system that depends a large part on….exploitation, subjugation, and control…”, so how can Feminism not matter to Occupy?
Horizontalism as defined by Webster’s reads “positioned from side to side rather than up and down: parallel to the ground.” To me this gets interpreted as being of equal level and is the antithesis of the vertical nature of hierarchy. In “Horizontalim and the Occupy Movements” Marina Sitrin explains how the Occupy movement has cultivated Horizontalidad, or horizontalism “…to open spaces for people to voice their concerns and desires - and do so in a directly democratic way. These movements emerged in response to a growing crisis, the heart of which is a lack of democracy.” Some synonyms for democracy include equality and classlessness, both of which are feminist concerns. So we have a lack of democracy, we have a feminist movement that advocates for equality and classlessness, and an Occupy movement that cultivates horizontalism.
As a self identified feminist in a supposedly post-feminist world, I resonate with Shereen Essofs’ point in the article, Are Women Occupying New Movements? Essof suggests “…it is important that as feminist activists we re-evaluate our strategy in order to be clear about which platforms allow us to engage in activism that contributes to building a free world for all people by dismantling patriarchy and it’s brother ideologies.”
In my post Occupy world I have experienced how the horizontal culture cultivated within the Occupy Movement can give feminist Occupiers a strategical advantage in that dismantlement. I would even argue that the horizontal culture cultivated within the Occupy Movement is precisely what’s needed for the dismantlement of patriarchy.