Statement from DeColonize LA   29 comments

(en Español)

On October first, hundreds of people from around Los Angeles answered the call from Occupy Wall Street to start claiming public spaces to meet and decide together what to do to build an economy that meets the needs of the people in the place of capitalism. As the day progressed, a group of people with previous working relationships as organizers in various communities in Los Angeles and trusted allies gathered to collectively share thoughts and ideas about what we were witnessing and taking part in. Our first impression was that the “occupation” resembled a carnival and that it was was disorganized. What we eventually realized, however, was that the “occupation” was, in fact, very carefully organized, but for objectives we did not anticipate. Crouched under the banner of “leaderlessness” was a small circle of organizers unaware of and unapologetic for their own privileges, and fiercely intent on maintaining their grasp on power and ownership over Occupy LA.

On the first day, we convened discussion circles which dozens of people gradually joined.  We called for these circles because we felt we needed to hear from each other, as attendees of the Occupation, prior to the General Assembly.  Coming from an anti-authoritarian, horizontal perspective and practice, we understood that building relationships with the other participants and hearing ideas and concerns would be the basic building blocks to form a collective understanding of why we were at the Occupation in the first place and how we could participate. A 300 person General Assembly meeting cannot provide the space or opportunity for all of the participants to develop trusting relationships:  this happens over time by discussing experiences and working on projects together.  While we have shared our experiences from our organizing in direct action movements and our ideas for moving forward, we have also learned a lot from other participants. This is the beauty of occupations and similar actions; it is difficult not to come together as a community. But as we have pointed out, throughout the duration of the occupation, many people have felt excluded, especially those comprising the most disadvantaged segments of the “99%.”

During the General Assemblies on the first and second day of occupation, we witnessed fundamental breakdowns in the consensus process, resulting in undemocratic decision-making. This was complemented by deception, coercion, and fear-mongering by the leadership to get their way.  We were troubled by actions of those in leadership positions and/or facilitators of various committees who sought to control the direction of the occupation through non-democratic decision-making regarding the relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department. Any discussions or proposals at the GA criticizing or objecting to collaboration with the police are immediately shouted down by the leadership. By obstructing any discussion of the relationship between the occupation and the police we have been prevented from making plans for strategic responses to police aggression like arrests or brutality which potentially endangers people who have issues related to criminal records, immigration status, race, or gender identity. OccupyLA has excluded the concerns of people that have long experience with the police in their neighborhoods and also in protests, and by doing this they also exclude people who could participate but feel unsafe and disrespected because of a lack of recognition by OccupyLA of their concerns.

We made several attempts to present proposals, workshops, and discussions at the General Assembly, in small groups, and in one-on-one conversations. Although the overall Occupation movement nationally aspires to use participatory democracy and the consensus process to be inclusive of the people, the efforts by the leadership to maintain informal control have prevented discussion or recognition of patriarchy, white supremacy, classism, heteronormativity, and other layers of oppression that exist in the broader society, which continue to be perpetuated within this “occupation.” Women of color in particular have been silenced.  Many of us are tired of futilely trying to explain to middle class white activists that they really aren’t experiencing the same levels of oppression as people of color or the working class or underclass. The constant rhetoric of the “99%” and calls for blind “unity” have the effect of hiding inequalities and very real systems of oppression that exist beyond the “1%-99%” dichotomy and rendering invisible the struggles of a majority of the people in this city.

But the final straw for us was that a participant in OccupyLA distributed fliers at the October 4 General Assembly with the names and photos of 25 individuals associated with the Committee to End Police Brutality and accusing these participants (some of whom are part of our affinity group) of trying to highjack and destroy the movement and provoking the police. If this individual isn’t actively working for the police, he has definitely helped them through his actions. One of these fliers most likely landed in the hands of a police officer, undercover agent, or informant, and passing them out had the effect of breaking the solidarity among the participants in the occupation and sows fear and distrust in the movement. The leadership does not understand that we are not “offended” by the fliers, but feel threatened and unsafe now that this list has been circulated. We have also been hearing reports from occupations in other cities about issues similar to the ones at OccupyLA:  lying, accusations of being provocateurs or cops, exclusion, and harassment. These dynamics could cause the movement to stray away from social revolution and places the occupations dangerously close to electoral recuperation by one or more political parties.

Most people who remain at the encampment are aware of some of these issues. We have felt an incredible amount of support from them as we have cried and yelled and stormed off in response to some of the incidents that have occurred over the first two weeks of the “occupation.”  The more we have talked with our friends who are occupying other cities, the more we have realized that the problems we are experiencing are common across the movement. Race, class, and gender privilege should be recognized, discussed, and countered through proactive steps to create practices that spread responsibility and power among the participants like rotating facilitation of meetings of committees and General Assemblies. We must foster a culture of taking ownership of privilege by recognizing it and committing to the other participants that we will all accept the concerns of others and allow ourselves to be held accountable by each other to the principles we profess. This is how we can start to take concrete actions to dismantle the formal and informal roles where privilege can accumulate, which allows some participants to avoid accountability.

We all want to be participants in this movement.  We want to share our knowledge and experience with other participants who may have never been to a protest before so that we can help them feel empowered and safe.  We want to be in the streets challenging Capitalism and the government that supports it, rebuilding our communities through struggle.  We don’t want to be excluded for being who we are.  We don’t want to be attacked or endangered for raising concerns about transparency and strategy.  We don’t want to have to be responsible for checking privileged activists on their racism, sexism, classism, and heteronormativity.  This is why we, as a collective, have opted to shift our energy from Occupy LA and focus on building popular assemblies throughout the City, in order to acknowledge the organizing and community initiatives by the most marginalized communities to survive and confront this economic crisis and those who continue to demand justice but are not heard at City Hall.

We don’t want our presence to detract from the still unclear goals and strategy of the occupation. We don’t intend for this to be divisive, rather we believe that the movement needs to spread and reach more people across LA in innovative and effective ways.  We are not asking anyone to pack up their tent and join us, but we believe in the autonomy of individuals to act in the ways they believe to be most strategic and effective in our communities.

In solidarity,

DeColonize LA!

Posted October 16, 2011 by unpermittedla in Uncategorized

29 responses to “Statement from DeColonize LA

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  1. Pingback: Statement from DeColonize LA, By DeColoniza LA | DisOccupy

  2. Feel free to repost, just link back to us!

    • Just one short point. Obviously it’s completely unacceptable for somebody to pass around that leaflet with the “names and photos of 25 individuals”.

      But… you do realise that the state already had that information, right? Because it came from Facebook.

      It’s been said before, but it obviously needs to be said again: organising on Facebook is like holding your meetings in MacDonalds and inviting the local cops to come and film them.

      If you want to be secure, don’t organise on Facebook.

      If you want to support non-corporate alternatives, don’t organise on Facebook.

      It might be worth *announcing* events there, using false details etc, but giving them your real details, or discussing anything of importance there, is just stupid.

      That minor point aside, good work for challenging those unacknowledged privileges and informal hierarchies.

  3. Hi Decolonize LA, here in Victoria, BC we managed to agree to a name change away from occupation to peoples’ assembly and placed colonialism front and centre. Granted it wasn’t all perfect, but we tried and generally there was a strong audience for this critique. Here is a statement some of us brought to the assembly:

    Click to access On-Occupation-Decolonization-Suggestations-for-a-Victoria-Statement-1.pdf

    All the best, Marc

  4. This post has been disheartening. Divided we are conquered. Those who pull all the strings have been using this method since the dawn of time. Anyway that we are divided weakens us, and there are SO MANY ways. I truly wish you all in LA the best of luck and success HOWEVER your voices are heard, but I feel that the division is a win for our common enemy… the “system” that has been quietly holding us ALL down in hundreds of different ways. I think the Occupations serve a specific purpose: To unify everyone long enough that we cannot be ignored, and to thence validate our complaints about all that is wrong. Falling away now begins the process of disintegration for which the big wigs are waiting… not even hoping yet, but waiting. They expect this to fail and I think if other groups have the same readiness to break away it will.

    Some of a friend’s thoughts on a tool to divide with the intention of conquering: He said it far better than I’ve ever managed to.

    • Yes, though when there are problems they need to be raised and addressed.

    • Awwwww . . . . Thanks… True stuff. There’s so much information to being ANYONE up to speed in that post on who the real enemy is it’s not even funny. Wondering how I wandered by and saw this comment. . . 😉

    • Sorry, but I’m on the side of the members who distributed the leaflets. This is a movement for economic reform and financial responsibility, it’s not a “fuck the pigs” kind of protest. If you’re serious about changing the way banks and financial institutions operate in the U.S., you should save the anti-cops sentiment for a different protest. This is why umbrella protests with no clear goal end up setting back movements instead of accomplishing goals. Using the Occupy members to inflate the numbers for your own personal movement is bullshit, the people gathering have a right to decide not to be exploited as tools for a small minority’s anti-police agenda.

      Stop letting splinter groups within the Occupy movement distract outsiders with messages that shouldn’t be part of the protest. Your voices are being hijacked by the conservative and liberal press outside the movement, and it’s easy for them to do when the movement is being hijacked from within by small groups who see it fit to use the Occupy movement to protest things outside its intended scope.

      • Who gets to decide which “messages shouldn’t be part of the protest”? You? No thanks. If you’ve read anything posted here, you’d know that the idea of the “99%” is problematic, but there are a lot of “splinter” issues subsumed the rhetoric of the “99%” and Wall Street. People keep asking why there’s not more people of color at OLosA, why it’s mostly middle class people from West LA, and the fact is that most people from Boyle Heights or South Central don’t feel safe in that space, they don’t feel included, and upon entering the space most have had serious concerns about the open and obvious collaboration between key organizer and the police, a relationship that far exceeds that of any other Occupy city. The committee was calling for more accountability from the people bargaining with the police, to know what the conversations were that were happening–you know, basic transparency and accountability–and suggesting that supporting other struggles against police brutality would make others in LA, the people who make up the lower ranks of the 99%, feel comfortable participating. In the face of police brutality at OWS and raids in other cities, the committee also questioned why there were no contingency plans, why key organizers disrupted attempts to organize legal trainings and other basic workshops to inform participants of their legal rights and how to protect themselves against tear gas. These have been daily workshops at OWS and elsewhere, but it took 3 weeks for a legal training to happen at OLosA. This is unacceptable. The committee also raised the point that the role of police in society is to protect those same banks and financial institutions, and encouraged holistic analysis on what exactly is happening economically.

        On your other point, fuck you for supporting repression against participants in this movement. I’d expect nothing less from liberals, but it’s not OK to distribute names and photos of people you disagree with in an open forum, where police are likely to receive a copy. It’s nothing short of a blacklist, a list of people the police can arrest without any complaint by the official organizers, a list of people the other participants shouldn’t defend. And it sets the tone at OLosA that if you disagree with the key leadership, that you will also be ostracized and subjected to police repression.

  5. Thanks from a white activist. – Occupy will stand or fall on this

  6. Yes, thank you! I’m sorry you face this problem: OccupyLA has clearly been one of the most controlled and troubled occupations. I think this is the exact right solution. We face similar problems in NYC, although they sound much less dramatic then the ones you describe here. Still, ‘diversity of tactics’ is given lip service then people who practice it are accused of being provocateurs, while protesters refuse to see how Zuccotti park, by being surrounded by police, and having police come in and out, is threatening to minorities, the poor, and many women. The best solution is more camps, elsewhere! Down with the centralized camp. Occupy everything!

  7. Anyone who supports “cooperation” with the police is to be distrusted. Now, that is a different matter than working with individual cops and commanders in order to minimize police brutality. The policeman is not your friend, and never has been. He is there to protect the property interests of the 1%. Everything else is icing, covering the fact that police are not our friends.

  8. Very very disturbing indeed to see OWSLosAngeles thanking OccupyLAPD. Like really?!

  9. Although this has not been my experience at the Occupy LA, as a person of color, former member of UMAS (precurser to MECHA) and MECHA, lifetime activist, it is my opinion, that this plays right into what the Rightwing loves to see and what they have used to keep our focus away from them and fighting among ourselves. Racial divisions, has been their greatest tool, but as of late anything that causes division among the working class, ( which we all are first and foremost) makes them happy, so for people to fall in line, and go off on their own, thus splitting any attempt to working class unity, is putting a smile on those Rightwingers faces and makes me very sad. What happens when you occupy your own site and people there don’t like the color of your hair, or the non-college educated don’t feel they are represented by the now “privilege”, those who went to college? It is not easy to shed what capitalism breeds in each of us, individualism, egos, fear, hatred, racism, sexism, etc, but we can’t shed it apart, we have to deal with it, in a calm and understanding manner, its the only way we can build the kind of unity that can throw these crooks out and bring about the change we all seek, walking away mad like a spoiled child will not change things, we must rise above it, be a true revolutionary lets forge ahead united not divided. El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido, includes everyone, not just our race.

    • Could you maybe clarify what you’re arguing? I’m not sure if you’re saying that we shouldn’t bring up criticisms, or that these divisions need to be addressed.

    • We should bring up criticisms but they should not be brought up with the assumption that people should have known better. None of us walk in each others shoes. We should work to not assume that a person knows our reality, because more than likely they don’t. We should not automatically label them either, unless we know they have had a privilege background we cannot label them as such. Privilege can be defined in so many ways depending on who you are with. If you are walking with a person and you have a green card and they do not, to them you are privileged. The people that gather at the OLA, are people who have the best of intentions to making this a better world, it does not mean they know how to do that or that they understand what people of color feel. Issues should be brought up in a constructive manner, that will build unity and understanding. If we want to build a better society we need to be constantly aware of what our contribution to that effort is and if it is not in the direction of uniting with all our sisters and brothers, then we need to step back, be honest and redirect our efforts. Capitalist’s number one tool is finding ways that divide us, through race, ethnicity, gender, jealousy, envy, fear etc., my guess is also this term “White Privilege” is included. (You may not agree but think about it non the less, is it unifying or does it divide us?) The only way we as the 99% will win, is to avoid all those pitfalls, find grounds of commonality and slowly begin to educate ourselves about each other. Lastly, with regards to the police, no one is negating the police brutality that has and continues to exist especially among people of color, the favorable comments that have been made about the police is in reference to their behavior with regards to the OLA, only. There have been several people of color, and backgrounds etc, who have been beaten by the cops and who have spoken at the GA and refer to their behavior with the OLA, as a welcomed relief. For some reason those who get upset about this, refuse to separate the two, and it has resulted in unnecessary divisions. Again, no one is negating the police brutality that has been waged against people of color or anyone else, in the past present or future, their only reference is to their conduct with OLA.

  10. Pingback: » Occupations

  11. i wrote about this in my blog Nothing To Be Gained Here… i was more hopefully that whiteness would be abandoned… and i had heard that OccupyLA was working with the police from more than one source… That’s disturbing as stated above… If bullshit like this continues then the Occupation movement should just go back home…

    Here’s my take on the whole Occupation movement and how it has the potential to succeed if it faces up to racism and colonialism…

  12. I would like to ask who ever removed my post if you could put it back, I would hope that just because you did not agreed with it, it was thus removed. Just to clarify I know it posted because I saw it post. So is someone controlling these comments? Just to be clear there were no cuss words, name calling or any such comments to warrant removal, unless you consider disagreement, to be just cause, which I hope is not the case.


  13. we dont need to worry listen to martin luther king and listen to what he faced within his own struggle stand your ground and they will follow we are leaders we have our own struggle for over 500 years the facts and history must be put out for all to unite peace and non violence will win always lets fund ouselves one dollar from the millions will fund many jobs build many affordable homes repair many others my name is nicolas espinal i have no enemy but myself there is nothing to stop our destiny when after thousands of years we have already passed all these obstacles in different times same outcomes

  14. the movement is world wide and no matter who infiltrates who or does whatever they do .we now have reaped what we sowed the hundreds of marches and protests are being reapeated around the world

  15. I read the entire post…and think I understand what minorities within the movement may be dealing with. Privilege is often invisible to those who have always had it…………and if you are white….educated……..middleclass, you have always had it. If you are male its even harder to become conscious of your status quo as being that of status…..

    Ani de Franco said it years ago in a song; They all want to lead the fight/and they know what they know, alright.

    Look at Derrick Jensen’s work….he is the one activist i find fully conscious of the privilege being a white male affords………and he speaks eloquently about the need to eliminate all isms from the movement. But we must all be patient and persistent also…….we won’t take back our countries in a few weeks of OCCUPATION….and whatever the occupation demands or decides…… is going to take years of collective work on a wide variety of frontiers to bring our societies back from the brink that free market capitalism has brought us to.

    One last thought…….don’t OD on the unity idea…………..its diversity we need on the planet….lots of ideas, a multitude of strategies, and projects. We have to take back our communities….rebuild our economies, learn sustainable ways of life. There’s lots to do for everyone, and we can’t have enough leaders.

    Maybe our biggest challenge is to get over ourselves………….and try to learn all over again how to be human….and humane, together.

  16. Funk is normal in any gathering of people, especially after the polite phase passes. These toe-steppings, ego-actings, and privilege immaturities are real learning opportunities for the movement. With a fierce and tender care of great facilitators, we will be stronger than if these kinds of things didn’t happen. Keep your head up, LA!

  17. Hi Mary,
    I’m not quite sure what you mean by “get over ourselves?” and “try to learn all over again how to be human…” I find that statements like these have a way of flattening the experiences of the most exploited in our world, the system was built primarily on the backs of people of color, in particular the U.S empire, moreover, many of the privileges whites experience today speak to the pain and suffering of many of our POC brothers and sisters (I don’t know why this point is always so conveniently left out when speaking of capitalism). Secondly, I am happy that the Occupy movements have risen up, yet, we should also know that people in our communities, have been organizing for much longer in the trenches, so therefore the Occupy movement does NOT have to be the only place for unity, there are many sites of struggle and possibility. Before “diversity” can be talked about, we have to have an honest talk about our history and realities, I can say from firsthand experience that looking at things for what they are is not easy. In the United States, people of color have had the brunt of this economy that many people are experiencing for the first time. We ALSO experience this brutality with the police and it really should be of no surprise to people by now. I just wonder if the Occupy movements are truly ready for a vision and solidarity that is honest, humble and allows POC to be the leaders they have always been in white progressive movements. If not, I think this will be a telling that we have yet to “get over ourselves”

  18. Pingback: Social Democratic Anarchists and Communist Anarchists and the Occupy Movement | Left Eye On Books

  19. Pingback: Comunicado de Descolonizar LA! « UnpermittedLA

  20. Pingback: What does healing look like?: To all the white people talking about unity in the Occupy movement | bodies of story

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