By Chris Wilhite
First, let us attempt to have a common definition of oppression. The most widely used definitions of oppression among groups dedicated to ending it are:
- power + prejudice, that is, the power to enforce prejudice and stereotypes, and
- a system of advantage based on some attribute (race, gender, class or economic status, religion, sexual orientation or identity, etc.).
Before the so-called Tea Party was coopted by big business, it consisted of protesters from across the political spectrum. Very quickly, however, the Tea Party experienced a Cultural Revolution that ratted out all the progressive types to create an exclusive, more puritanical right-wing fringe funded by some of the biggest companies on Wall Street. But I think it is fair enough to say that initially, the people who came together under the Tea Party banner were concerned about the oppression of the many by the few, in terms of economic oppression.
Then came the wave of the Occupy Wall Street movement, initiated by students, but inclusive enough to very quickly build a movement of people explicitly concerned about the economic oppression of the many by the few. That group also consists of Americans from across the political spectrum. But the Occupy movement did the opposite of the Tea Party by creating a culture of inclusiveness. Because the movement is not funded by big business, it is able to focus its attention on the true target of economic oppression.
The exclusive nature of the Tea Party has allowed it to very obviously use language and images that are either overtly racist or at least insensitive to the real oppression that people who are not White Anglo-Saxon Protestants have experienced, e.g. comparing President Obama to Adolf Hitler.
But the inclusiveness of the Occupy movement has not fully addressed oppression in its own ranks. There are discussions circulating about the lack of inclusiveness of People of Color in the movement's leadership (http://bit.ly/pXmKNq and http://bit.ly/t41tTo). And there has been a consistent drum beat of complaints about sexism and violence against women (http://bit.ly/uE5a3S and http://bit.ly/sKnIZO). Some white male leaders in the movement deny the connection between sexism, racism and economic oppression.
But here's the thing: All oppression is connected. Racism and classism in America are intricately linked the same way that sexism and homophobia are. Economic oppression is simply a tool of all the other oppressions. So if the Occupy movement is going to deliver in its apparent goal of ending the oppression of the 99% by the 1%, then it will need to recognize that 50% of the 99% are women, and at least 36% are people of color. More importantly, the 99% consists of many, many people are left out of the system of advantage based not only on race and gender, but many other factors.
This weekend, Occupy Providence is beginning to take on gender inequality. The Women/trans/gender-queer caucus and Queer Caucus are organizing Occupy the Night this Saturday evening, December 3rd, to address the gender and sexual discrimination found in the Occupy movement. RICADV's Sara Molinaro will be there to discuss the truth about domestic abuse - its cycle of violence and the web of power and control.
Here is line-up for the evening:
- 6pm - Arrival, organization information booths, art-making, and potluck dinner
- 7pm - Rally!
- 8 pm - March
- 9 pm - Skill-Share: nonviolence workshops, art-making, anti-oppression discussions
- 11pm - Dance Party
- 12 pm onward - Sleep-Out at Occupy Providence!
Do you still have doubts about the connection between sexism and economic oppression? Try these:
- Women constitute 1/2 of the world's population, perform nearly 2/3 of its work hours, receive 1/10 of the world's income and own less than 1/100 of the world's property.
- 42 percent of America's 1.6 million homeless youth identify as lesbian or gay.
- Unemployment rates for transgender individuals are twice as high as the general population
- Women are 35 times more likely to be poor than men.