[Note: I started writing this blog post back in October. I worked on it intermittently due to certain obligations. A friend and I were asked to prepare a reader and organize a discussion group for the Zwart van Roet expo, which required a lot of time. Last month the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement decided to discontinue its encampment. I, in turn, decided not to change the first paragraph.]
The “Occupy Amsterdam” movement has called on every citizen to go out, share their opinion and engage in political debates in the public sphere. Well, it appears more and more people are accepting that invitation. The encampment has grown sizeably since its humble beginnings in mid October, and even though Beursplein is almost full to overflowing, it appears, there is still room for more. The twittery spirit of euphoria that seems to be sweeping through the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement is anxious to persuade the politically-benumbed-slash-still-wavering bystanders to join the movement’s ranks. It is a zeal, equal to that of the missionaries of yore, that is bent on lifting the protestors and their message(s) of greater political involvement to great(er) heights. As you may know, I – and several other people – have expressed significant concerns about the intensional definition of the “Occupy” movement, which is a little more than troublesome. Besides the intensional definition, a more pressing concern has come to light in other “Occupations” over the past few weeks: the lack of accountability within the movement. The “Occupy” movement has chosen to define itself as a leaderless kind of free-floating amorphous protest without a centre. While its “everyone is speaking on her/his own behalf, we are a collection of people” ideology carries the spirit of “individual liberty”, and serves the movement’s aspiration to remain faceless it also conjures up the spectre of Randian “individualism”. Facelessness doesn’t foster accountability. And accountability is a requisite for an important sentiment: the willingness to care for and commit to the well-being of the whole. The willingness to care for and commit to the well-being of the whole is crucial for the creation of ‘safe spaces’– and these ‘safe spaces’ are seriously lacking judging from the disturbingly high occurences of sexual assault within the movement. Of course, people have been taking care of each other within the movement. However, I am not talking about being caring, or civil. Both these qualities are a matter of course when dealing with other people. I am talking specifically about checking one’s privilege, which rarely – if ever – happens without a conscious effort. With each individual who joins the movement, the movement changes; it will not stay the same as when you joined. That is because each individual brings a set of privileges to the movement, and all these privileges play into and shape the conversations people are having in the movement.The relationship between protestors and the “Occupy movement” is reciprocal in that protestors create the movement, and once the movement is created, it defines the protestors. As a collection of protestors you can enforce lofty rules in order to weed out discrimination, however, this will only rid the movement of the blatant acts – the surface elements – of discrimination. If people are not actively checking their and each other’s privileges, covert discrimination will continue to prevail.
The problem with the term “Occupy Amsterdam” is that it requires one to be, or rather position one’s privileged ass self as, an “occupier” in order to “reclaim what is yours.” From where I’m standing, the essential features of the movement echo colonialist discourse. And even though I welcome any act of resistance against the hegemonic forces of the corporate world, I am more than reluctant to appropriate the intensional definition of the “Occupy” movement. I am well aware that the “occupation” of public spaces, or “sit-ins” as they were also called, as an act of protest has a long and fruitful history. However, as an Afro-European I find it counter-intuitive to identify, or position, myself as an “occupier” unreflexively – especially since the current protests are directed at the heart of the global financial system: Wall Street.
Having said that, I thoroughly understand why some people have readily jumped on the bandwagon of the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement. For a desillusioned citizenry that is being kept hostage by both its government and banks that are deemed “too big to fail,” any disruptive or defiant gesture – on a global scale – against these hostage-takers can feel extremely empowering. What speaks so powerfully to the imagination is the refusal of ordinary citizens to remain in the economy, i.e. restraint, of private discursive spaces (where they supposedly belong). People of all walks of life banded together to fight rampant corruption and demand a better democratic system. I cannot but celebrate this political awakening. To quote Carl Sagan, “[O]ur species needs, and deserves, a citizenry with minds wide awake and a basic understanding of how the world works.” As Carl Sagan so deftly pointed out, awakened minds are not enough, one also requires a basic understanding of how the world works if one is to effect change. And, there’s the rub, for in order to have a basic understanding of how the world works you need to do something most people are reluctant to do: confront the legacy of the past. ‘Confronting the legacy of the past’ involves more than simply examining history, it is trying to understand how events in the past have shaped the world we live in today. Confronting the legacy of Wall Street is a hybrid undertaking: it is an attempt to gain an understanding of the contemporary financial situation through or by means of an engagement with Wall Street’s past. In order to solve the contemporary financial problems and effect a truly revolutionary change we need to examine the broader historical contexts within which the financial system has been articulated. The roots of the capitalist system, and not just the symptoms, must be eradicated. This requires an all encompassing approach. This revolutionary integrationist approach, which is rich in knowledge of time and place, focuses on how global relationships came to be. I understand that this approach can be quite daunting but it will most likely result in a fuller – and significantly messier – picture of “reality.” The way things are today is a direct result of the outcomes of past struggles, imperial/colonial conquests, occupations, anti-slavery movements, inheritances, (civil) wars, anti-imperial revolts, which have all been formalized through administrative centralization – be it on a global or national scale. Sidestepping the ugly truths of how our financial system came to be will only curtail our understanding and confine us within parochial self-serving conversations, which are likely to stay (artificially) abridged. These heavily edited conversations will offer only shortsighted (rehashed) possibilities for change.
The conceptual categories that originated during colonialism have proven to be extremely portable; these categories have formed the basis of the Eurocentric normative categories (think: developed vs. underdeveloped countries, West vs. East, North vs. South in a political sense) which are used to make sense of the world. In essence, Europeans have founded the very categories that are used as grounds of comparison. That is why the “Occupy” movement needs a transnational analysis that does not divide up the world, the global financial system and the current global political landscape, from a Eurocentric perspective into discrete units that need to be linked together. If the “Occupy” movement is to succeed it has to propose a change which does not rely on the use and perpetuation of these Eurocentric normative categories. This requires a shift in the way we view and think of the world in terms of locations of difference. One way we can achieve this shift is made possible through the examination of what Ann Laura Stoler has detailed in her seminal essay “Tense and Tender Ties.” These “tense and tender ties” yoked together the project of colonial expansion of different European nations. She writes in Haunted by empire: geographies of intimacy in North American history,
“French, British, Belgian, German and Dutch colonial administrations in Southeast Asia, the Pacific, Asia and Africa instituted labor regimes, social policies, urban planning, and medical protocols that produced and marked off social kinds, consolidated racial taxonomies and actively recorded the intimate spaces in which people lived. Understanding why those who governed cared so much about those spaces – what they imagined they could control and what they imagined occured there – has altered our sense of governance and how people defied it. Those tense and tender ties played out in beds, kitchens, nurseries, and schoolrooms were secured and subverted by too much knowledge and not enough, by newly acquired tastes, cadences of speech and movement within and outside what people at particular times considered private or called “home.”
Colonial administrations feared miscegenation for the same reasons that current administrations fear the dissolution of borders; both could lead to the subversion of the political status quo. A radical act would be the dissolution of the Eurocentric normative categories and the dissolution of national borders – which differentiate movement.
Judging from what I’ve seen of and read on the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement I can safely say that the frame of politics in the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement is too parochial, too narrow, too Eurocentric. The movement desperately lacks intersecting modes of critique and investigation. Now most, if not all, marginalized people agree upon the need for a more intersectional and multi-perspective understanding of how our bodies are constructed and commodified through the discursive entanglements of social constructions like, sexuality, geopolitics, class, gender, race, and so on. Marx’s theory of alienation revealed that behind the seemingly impersonal forces, that dominate society and determine how our bodies are valued, lies human activity. Capitalism, which is dependent on a system of structural inequality, is founded on the notion, as Pierre Bourdieu assessed, of the human body as a form of capital. So, it is essential – if we are to criticize the financial system – to examine how our raced and racialized bodies are made part of a system which facilitates (and often even encourages) the transfer of not only sums of money but embodied capital as well. As history has shown the consumption of the human body and other cultures goes hand in hand. During colonialism the majority culture appropriated not only bodies but also elements of the minority culture for its gain, while it forced its culture on the colonized peoples. Cultural appropriation has been a recurring motif in the colonial system (a system in which capitalism flourished).The appropriative consumption of minority cultures and radical elements therein has been used strategically by the majority culture to render opposing forces powerless (Gramsci’s cultural hegemony).
The uncritically appropriative consumption of other cultures, on which, I stress again, the global financial system is structured, can even be found within the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement – which, to me, is a clear sign that Eurocentricity is not being interrogated. It is impossible for me to view the racist colonial system separately from the capitalist system. Of course, the proponents of the movement will now tell me that I need to “enact the change that you want to see in the world” and that I should join their movement and organize workshops and introduce the concept of intersecting modes of critique and investigation. HOWEVER, I find it is slightly ridiculous that in this day and age people, who proselytize an “anti-racist discourse,” should overlook such a BASIC mode of critical thinking. Imagined communities, like the “ Occupy Amsterdam” movement, revolve around a shared understanding of the (symbolic) meanings upon which the community, or movement, is based – anti-racism is a pretty straightforward concept that doesn’t leave room for much interpretation. Imagined communities require anti-racist policies in order to guarantee that the feeling of communality is a lived reality, instead of an imagined reality to which people only pay lip-service. That means speaking up against racist shit even though it does not affect you directly. Discriminatory shit should not get a hall-pass; it should be checked at all times. That’s the only way “we” people of colour can feel ourselves to be part of this movement and participating in it on equal terms. I need to know people will have my back – even when I am not in the room – which brings me to this:
I have asked several protestors why this man wasn’t told he could not wear a Native American war bonnet facsimile, and I was greeted with reactions ranging from the perfunctory “It’s harmless” to the all-too-common blank stare. Most folks I spoke to didn’t even understand why this man’s appropriation of Native American culture is problematic. In a movement called “Occupy”. It had never dawned on these folks, who looked at it from their position of privilege, how colonial pasts still bear on and shape certain peoples’ present options and future possibilities. For the Native Americans the occupation of their land is not an event in some distant past; it is very much a vivid colonial present. Moreover, George Lipsitz argued, “when the majority culture attempts to strategically anti-essentialize themselves by appropriating a minority culture, they must take great care to recognize the specific socio-historical circumstances and significance of these cultural forms so as not to perpetuate the already existing, majority vs. minority, unequal power relations.” I’m not saying that this man’s wearing of a Native American war bonnet is an act of strategic anti-essentialization on the part of a majority culture. What I am saying is that as a white European male, who is speaking out against the oppression of the so-called 99%, it is imperative to take the histories of any appropriated cultural artefact into account. To me, a white man sporting a Native American war bonnet facsimile – especially within this context – is completely disregarding and trampling over the histories of Native Americans. The confluent and divergent histories of colonial exploitation experienced by people of colour should be taken into account by the “Occupy” movement; these histories should be at the heart of any critique of the global distribution of wealth and power.
Can anyone honestly account for the programmes and policies of Europe and the United States and the distribution of resources in the world today without bearing in mind how racism and state violence have shaped the world as we know it? Racism, capitalism and patriarchy have been woven through the fabric of neoliberal democracy. It is as Honoré de Balzac maintained, behind every great fortune there is a great crime – and the wealth of the West, of which Wall Street is a powerful symbol, was acquired through the exploitation of the Native Americans, and all those other poor unfortunate souls who were deemed inferior.
Whenever a people or, say, a (leaderless) mass movement soft-pedals critical (self-) reflection in favour of engaged passionate uncritical commitment – all in the name of “the greater common good” – they are doomed to recreate existing power-structures. They will pursue a politics that does not contest dominant Eurocentric assumptions and institutions but one that upholds and sustains them. Benjamin William Mkapa remarked about the African countries after colonialism in his lecture The 1st 40 years: A flawed Development Dependence Model:
“Internationally their new leaders appended their signatures to Charters and Institutions in whose founding they had not participated and over the formation of whose normative standards and values in international relations they had had no say – they simply were absent at their conception and inception, and their countries were inducted into deeply entrenched systems.
On the economic front, the new leaders sought to consolidate the base of the “national economies”, broadening the participation of a prospective middle class without fundamentally loosening and questioning the ties to the hitherto colonial metropolitan economies. Thus they tried to promote their economic development through increased embedment to the powerful economies, and what was later to be called the Washington Consensus as the predominant economic philosophy of the post Cold War era.”
The Ghanaian independence leader Kwame Nkrumah argued that after “decolonization” a local élite or comprador class facilitated the influence of European nations in the newly independent African countries. Due to the influence of this comprador class and the alleged prestige of Eurocentric cultural models the newly independent African countries privileged the imported over the indigenous: colonial languages over local languages; writing over orality and European cultures over local cultures. Thus the dominance of European models was established through direct as well as indirect economic control. This technique of global control through economics and linguistics has been called neo-colonialism and it became the next powerful ideology to shape the policies and programmes of European nations. Some recent commentators have even argued “that the colonial powers deliberately avoided granting independence until they had, through internal discriminations and hegemonic educational practices, created an élite (comprador) class to maintain aspects of colonial control on their behalf but without the cost or the opprobrium associated with the classic colonial models.”
So, even after the independence of African nations European countries continued to exert influence through various techniques of global control which operated through ratified charters, institutions, international economic arrangements, capitalism, globalization and through the promotion of European languages. The politics of language is especially salient – as Ngugi wa Thiong’o has pointed out in his book Decolonizing the Mind,
“Economic and political control can never be complete or effective without mental control. To control a people’s culture is to control their tools of self-definition in relationship to others.”
Moreover, because of the globalization of the world economy, political independence did not bring about the kinds of changes in economic and cultural control that the early African nationalists might have expected. The pressures of the global economy has meant that communication is dominated by the use of former colonial languages, most notably the current “international language” English. English became a dominant language because of its historical use. It was deployed across the largest of the colonial empires: the British empire. In addition, its use by the United States – the current military and economic world power – consolidated its status of “international language.”
The “Occupy Amsterdam” movement copied the rhetoric of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, which is articulated in the “international language” English, verbatim and pasted it within a Dutch context without any regard for the social and cultural ties of locality and nation. So when I see people holding up signs saying “we are the 99%” and “Fight the Power!” I ask myself Who is this we? Fight which power? What power? As many political theorists have pointed out it has become significantly more difficult to determine who has power in a globalized world. The world cannot be sectioned off in neat categories such as East, West, North, South in terms of power blocs; there are no clear binaries in a networked, globalized world. Power in a networked world is diffused. Those who control the wealth of society exercise their power impersonally through e.g. educational institutions, philanthropic foundations, think tanks, publications, NGOs, corporations and mass media. These are all institutions of control and occupation. Whether that occupation is ideological or physical, the effect is the same: the occupied are oppressed and repressed.Through these channels those who control the wealth of society influence society’s ideological output and information flow indirectly and to a great extent. Even though this group is a small minority it exerts a tremendous power over a nation’s politics and culture. They shape economic policies through the control of jobs and investments; they shape how we look at our embodied selves through various representations in the media. They influence directly our lived reality. Their mission is to occupy important public offices or to see that persons loyal to them do so in order to safeguard their interests. The ruling groups of society establish and entrench their influence and build consensus among each other through institutional power structures. A first step toward change is the decolonization of these public offices. A second step in our fight against such pervasive power structures is to rid our thinking and our lives of the ideology of – what bell hook has called – imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy.
Capitalism and racism (capitalism and oppression) are inextricable – as many Black intellectuals have pointed out. Capitalism and the mechanisms of oppression have called into being and entrenched the very categories that are fragmenting in this globalized world. Due to one’s membership to one or several of these categories one’s opportunities are systematic limited. Capitalism and racism have both put constraints on self-determination – whether on a national or individual level. A brief look at the history of the heart of the world’s financial system, Wall Street, will reveal that the foundation of U.S. capitalism was built on slave labour and racism, i.e. on systematic oppression, on the limitation of opportunities, and civil liberties. It all started after the Dutch colonizers short-changed the Wappinger tribe (Peter Minuit “bought” Manhattan from them on May 6, 1626, for 60 guilders’ worth of trinkets); the Dutch had enslaved peoples of Africa erect an earthen wall to protect them from the Wappinger tribe. The name Wall Street alludes to said wall. Wall Street and slavery are connected in more ways than one. Wall street served as an important site for slave auctions and “[B]y the mid-1800s, capital investment in slaves was higher than the value of land or any other capital worth. Southern slave labor made New York City the financial capital of the world. Both cotton and enslaved workers treated as “property” were among the first commodities on the stock market.” [read]
Many Dutch companies have profited from the slave trade. Several links have been established between ABN AMRO predecessors and the trade in African slaves to the New World, most notably through the purchase of stakes in slaving voyages, the supply of credit, and maritime insurance. (ABN AMRO incidentally is one of the banks that the Dutch government bailed out) The profits that these companies gained from the slave trade in turn financed the industrial revolution, which powered the colonial/imperial machine. Slavery transformed the United States into an economic power. A critique of Western economic power and domination, of “modernity,” that does not take the history of capitalism, colonialism/imperialism and racism into account is therefore incomplete. Unsurprisingly, imperialism is still squarely on the agenda of the Dutch government. Let’s just say old habits/traditions die hard. Uri Rosenthal, the Dutch minister of Foreign Affairs, has stated that the objective of the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs is to promote Dutch interests through: economic diplomacy. He introduced the catch phrase “Samen Markten Veroveren” (Conquering Markets Together).
“A phenomenon noticeable throughout history regardless of place or period is the pursuit of governments of policies to their own interests. Mankind, it seems, makes a poorer performance of government than of almost any human activity. In this sphere, wisdom, which may be defended as the exercise of judgment acting on experience, common sense and available information, is less operative and more frustrated than it should be. Why does holders of high office so often contrary to the way reason points and enlightened self-interest suggest? Why does intelligent mental process seem so often not to function?” (from The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam, 1984)
Well, Europe has a sordid history of conquering markets. The manner in which Europe opened up and conquered the Chinese market for instance, by forcing opium onto the Chinese peoples, is downright abhorrent. Great Britain, in effect, created a drug cartel when the British East India Company set a monopoly on opium buying in Bengal. The British East India Company’s primary purpose became – to put it plainly – the promotion and control of drug trafficking operations. The Company had set its sights on the Chinese market – even though the trade in opium was banned in China. Britain had a huge trade deficit with Qing Dynasty China and wanted to remedy the trade imbalance by smuggling drugs into China. When the Chinese government tried to curb smuggling Britain invaded China which led to the First Opium War; a Second Opium War was fought over similar issues. For a very Eurocentric account of the Opium Wars I refer you to The Victorian Web. I quote from their website:
“As the habit of smoking opium spread from the idle rich to ninety per cent of all Chinese males under the age of forty in the country’s coastal regions, business activity was much reduced, the civil service ground to a halt, and the standard of living fell.”
Opium (and the two wars to which it lends its name) had a disastrous effect on the Chinese society. The drug trafficking and the ensuing wars challenged, attacked, undermined and overwhelmed China within a social, political, economic, ideological, cultural sphere. The Opium Wars are still remembered as national catastrophes in China. Thomas Arnold has this to say about the Opium War “[This war with China] . . . really seems to me so wicked as to be a national sin of the greatest possible magnitude, and it distresses me very deeply. Cannot any thing be done by petition or otherwise to awaken men’s minds to the dreadful guilt we are incurring? I really do not remember, in any history, of a war undertaken with such combined injustice and baseness. Ordinary wars of conquest are to me far less wicked, than to go to war in order to maintain smuggling, and that smuggling consisting in the introduction of a demoralizing drug, which the government of China wishes to keep out, and which we, for the lucre of gain, want to introduce by force; and in this quarrel are going to burn and slay in the pride of our supposed superiority.” [ read]
Ironically, China is one of the nations the EU has looked towards for a bailout. Wouldn’t you agree that the European bailout by China (in exchange for a less tough stance towards China’s crack down on dissidents) gets an extra dimension in the light of the Opium Wars? Last year David Cameron, who headed a trade delegation in China, and his Cabinet colleagues refused to remove the poppies they wore during the welcoming ceremony despite the fact that “[T]he Chinese told us it would be inappropriate to wear poppies because of the Opium Wars. We informed them they meant a great deal to us and we would be wearing them all the same.” I’d say that the message is clear: capitalism– with an utter disregard and disdain for history – over ethics.
So who are “we”?
We are the 99%.
I don’t mean to be flippant but a slogan should not make you say “Oh yeah??” As a general rule slogans of social movements should gesture towards change, towards a different way of looking at things. THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL. BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. Stokely Carmichael would never have used the slogan “Black is Beautiful” if it simply stated a fact that we could understand without first changing ourselves and the world. Nor would the feminist movement have used the slogan “The Personal is Political” if it gestured towards an accepted truth. Slogans do not describe the world, they call up a new world to take its place.
The statement “we are the 99%” does not gesture towards a different way of looking at things. In fact, this statement is a truism – albeit within an American context. In this light, the uncritical appropriation of the slogan “we are the 99%” by “Occupy Amsterdam” is an unfortunate move; this statement is hardly applicable within a European context – let alone a Dutch context. The swift spread of this slogan (and its uncritical appropriation) is a testament to the fact that in our globalized world new technologies of communication, information, and travel have accelerated not only the movement of people and problems across national borders but also economic, social and cultural processes. These new technologies have made the dissemination of ideas especially easy. As a result of these developments space and time have collapsed. Anyone with an Internet connection can construct another reality by collecting information from various parts of the world and circulate this different reality. Hip-hop culture is the quintessential example of the globalization of an idea. Hip-hop culture meandered from the ghettos of New York to the world stage and has become a global language for youth resistance. As a “counter-culture” hip-hop thrives here in the Netherlands, in Palestine, in China and in all these varying places its language is used to address local problems. Quite often, however, as the appropriation of “we are the 99%” shows, the flow of capital and people, commodities, ideas traverse these boundaries and get incorporated with scant regard for local and global politics of places.
It is crucial for social movements like “Occupy Amsterdam” to consider local social epistemologies that steer perceptions and practices. In its critique of Dutch policies and the Dutch government the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement needs to take into account several defining historical developments, e.g. the constitutional creation of the Dutch state, industrialization, the emergence of mass politics, pillarization, Dutch colonialism and Dutch feminism – if it intends to effect change and greater democratic participation. “Occupy Amsterdam” needs to ask the tough questions. How has the Netherlands dealt with its histories of slavery and indentured labour? How are the material aspects of migrant labour and livelihood framed within the Netherlands? What are the narratives surrounding people’s experiences of displacement and homelessness within a Dutch context? What are the prevalent ideologies of “home” and “nation”? How are the various diasporic cultures represented? Is there a space for these diasporic cultures? What are the politics of multiculturalism? How is the predicament of minorities framed? Is there space for the perspective of the Other? How are questions of identity, belonging, “national origins”, assimilation/integration, acculturation framed? Are issues relating to “race” (racism), sexuality (homophobia) and gender (sexism, transphobia) addressed? An examination of social epistemologies in a Dutch context will expose the problematic ontologies of specifically Dutch social constructions that confuse our epistemic space. Meanings and meaning-making are organized differently in different cultures and even within “Dutch culture” itself these processes vary and lead to mixed results according to how subcultures and social constructions intersect. Even though there’s no such thing as the Dutch culture there is a dominant meta-narrative that details what constitutes “Dutch culture.” The dominant “Dutch culture”– through its internal process of meaning-making (meta-narrative) – creates a normative order, which structures politics and social life. This meta-narrative tells us what it means to be “Dutch.” It shapes and frames the political and social forces to which it gives rise. As a result our social and political identities are defined in a wholly Dutch manner (e.g. “Allochtoon” and “Autochtoon” are specifically Dutch political constructions), so collective actions should be arranged in a manner that takes the Dutch way of meaning-making into account. We need to stop thinking along the lines of the continuum of (established) practices that is being promoted through the meta-narrative. As Gramsci pointed out in his theory of cultural hegemony, changes in the dominant articulations of the meaning brought about by radical elements end up staying in line with the meta-narrative of a society. This is especially true as regards Dutch cultural identity norms. We are all too aware of the rigid and seemingly unbridgeable binary of Allochtoon and Autochtoon. This fairly recent binary reflects the bifurcate conceptualization of racial/ethnic difference that the old colonial order of Centre and Periphery communicates. It bespeaks how the heterogeneous subjects of Dutch society are differentially included in, or excluded from, the conceptions of “Dutchness,” i.e. Autochtoon-ness. If the aim of the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement is inclusion and across-the-board participation its strategy should be the disruption and/or subversion of the current norms and practices, such as the typical Dutch forms of political cooperation, rather than demanding inclusion according to the rules of given values, assumptions and institutions.
The socio-political spaces constructed by Dutch culture make those (quite often ethnic minorities) who fail to function and fit into Dutch society unseen by placing them outside what it considered “Dutch.” That is not to say that Dutch popular culture does not acknowledge ethnic minorities. Dutch popular culture recognizes the various ethnicities that are grouped under “Allochtoon” as being part of the Dutch meta-narrative, however it recognizes its members as “one of our own” and extols these groups only insofar as they embrace certain specific ways of expressing “Dutchness,” and belonging, or when its members achieve something noteworthy. The typical forms of Dutch political cooperation have not led to a greater political participation of ethnic minorities. Neither has it led to a greater acceptance of ethnic minorities; ethnic minorities are not perceived as having equal say. An assessment that is underlined by the fact that even second generation ethnic minorities are politicially and socially still recognized and acknowledged as “Allochtoon.” This assessment is also illustrated by the fact that the spirit of accommodation (the poldermodel consensus) does not extend to ethnic minorities. Politicians have proven unwilling to bridge the gaps between “diametrically opposed” groups in order to tackle racist ideology, or to sort out serious dissension, in a largely non-consensual context (see the debates on Zwarte Piet, ritual slaughter, the wearing of the hijab and colonial imagery on the Golden Coach).
Furthermore, the ambivalent socio-political position of peoples from the former Dutch Antilles especially illustrates the marginal placement of ethnic minorities; our position is the result of the unvoiced legacies of slavery with regard to the “Dutch identity” – we are Dutch citizens, however, we are not seen as Dutch. The formation of “Dutchness” relies on connotations of “native origin, of birthplace and birthright,” as the word Autochtoon, from this soil, signifies. This word appeals to notions of “common bloodlines” and “ancient ancestry.” It also conjures up notions of “racial and ethnic homogeneity.” Peoples from the former Dutch Antilles, but also all the so-called “Allochtoon” children born here, blur the boundaries between history, politics, ethnicity and the concept of “Dutchness” due to our ambivalent socio-political position. However, it is abundantly clear that these positions are not used as points of entry to redefine what it means to be Dutch. Rather, ethnic minorities, the “Allochtonen,” are confined to a demarcated space (outside “Dutchness”) within the Netherlands. In an interview with Dutchnews.nl Simon Schama notes,
“[Schama] thinks it is the fact that Dutch society was divided up into different religious affiliations (‘verzuiling’) with people more or less happy to cooperate with each other that made the absorption of immigrants more difficult. ‘It came as a shock to the Dutch that a group of relative newcomers refused to conform to the rules of ‘verzuiling’. It is what distinguishes the Netherlands from other European countries.”
The institutionalization of pillarization had a significant impact on Dutch society as well as “the Dutch identity.” The divisions, on which pillarization was structured, were based on religious and class cleavages. The internal hierarchies of Dutch society due to pillarization had repercussions not only on external relations with the peoples the Dutch colonized, but also on the multicultural policies implemented by the Dutch government. In the Netherlands multiculturalism as a policy delineated a continuation of underlying ideas in the tradition of pillarization. Multiculturalism in a sense promoted social segmentation and created extensive social cleavages. Despite the extensive social cleavages, and contrary to expectations, the Netherlands, a nation made up of so many dissimilar religious, political and ethnic groups, is both a stable and democratic nation and it has remained so for a remarkably long time. There hasn’t been a revolution, nor outbreaks of violence (like in Paris), or other major signs of serious disaffection (like the often violent mass protests in Portugal, Spain, Greece). The presence of governmental stability and constitutional continuity are also a testament to the country’s stability.
The outward harmony generated by the internalized “live and let live” ideology of pillarization along with the avoidance of “race issues” and the famed “Dutch freedom” fed into the myth of the Netherlands being the most liberal country in Europe, if not the world. The Dutch identity has been framed, since the Middle Ages, in terms of the (in)famous “Dutch tolerance” and freedom. Simon Schama says in the interview with Dutchnews.nl about “Dutch tolerance,”
“Although tolerance was considered a good thing, it was mostly thanks to the decentralised way the Republic was governed and the limited powers of the Reformed Church that Jewish and Catholic communities could flourish in the 17th century, [Schama says.] ‘Pragmatism preceded the ideal of tolerance. It was the result of a considerable dose of economic opportunism, especially where the Jewish minority was concerned.’”
This geographically placed myth flourished unchallenged because, like many European countries, the Netherlands remained for the longest time untroubled by the presence of racialized “Others” within its borders. I write “geographically placed” because “Dutch tolerance” as it is understood was restricted to Europe. The famed “Dutch tolerance” myth did not encompass the Dutch colonies and was certainly not believed by the Dutch colonial subjects. In light of Dutch colonial history, the idea of “Dutch tolerance” seems absurd. It is an idea that has to be redefined. Hannah Zeavin writes in the article A Tolerant Amsterdam? about “Dutch tolerance” in the context of colonialism,
“[I believed] that the Dutch ideal of tolerance has very much to do with the Dutch being exemplary capitalists. In order to extend their empire so far away from their homeland, the Dutch worked with, lived with, and exploited diverse peoples. Therefore, the Dutch were able to diversify their goods and their holdings around the world. The mechanisms by which control was enforced in different empires vary: the Dutch were not obsessed, as the English were, with converting “the natives” to their “lifestyle” and religion. Where the English impose their cultural norms, and The United States furthers global capitalism, the Dutch portended to be solely interested in a one-way exchange of extraction and goods.”
The analyses of Simon Schama and Hannah Zeavin invite a critical examination of “Dutch tolerance.” These critiques require us to study the intimate connections between the different “pillars,” i.e. religion, class, and how these relate(d) to ethnicities, “belonging,” and the formation of “Dutchness.” A redefinition of “Dutch tolerance” and Dutch permissiveness, two key traits of Dutch culture that are both integral parts of the Dutch identity, means a radical redefinition of “Dutchness.” And as I have hinted at earlier, an extensive critique of the processes of meaning-making (e.g. what is meant by “tolerance”?) will tell us what matters, who matters, and to what extent these things and persons matter. A detailed examination of the principles of organization (social categories), systems of storage and retrieval (collective memory), forms of reproduction (traditions) will also throw light on which (veiled) hard-wearing colonial ideas still matter today and continue to define “Dutch culture.” If our goal is a comprehensive social change we need to explore what we imagined we could know, what epistemic habits we have developed to know the world and make sense of it based on those assumptions, and what we can do as a community when what the majority of us thought we knew, we did not. “Dutch culture” structures the space of public discourse by framing the stories that count in terms of national identity, of Autochtoon-ness, of “Dutchness.” People of colour in the Netherlands are living in an often restrictive political space. The cultural mind-set regarding “race” dictates that “race” is irrelevant in the Netherlands. As a result the existence of the social construction “race” is ignored and its effects, i.e. “race issues,” are minimized. Racism, race, and race issues, all of which affect people of colour socially, politically and economically, are thus framed as being unworthy of public discourse. Even though patterns in how certain socio-cultural, socio-political, and socio-economic narratives are constructed, patterns of settlement and in the social structure, betray a subtle underlying racist ideology. This attitude makes it damn near impossible to tackle institutionalized racism. The most insidious aspects of a meta-narrative that constructs “Dutchness” (defining “Dutchness” through the idea of belonging to the soil of a country) are not addressed, and thus not contested. One effect of this willfully uncritical approach is that certain identities, and the cultural formations associated with them, continue to be overvalued as more real and important than others. The terms of recognition and legitimization as a Dutch person are structured so that only “White” Dutch people can ever qualify as legitimately Dutch.
The mythic “Dutch tolerance,” in combination with the reluctance to discuss “race issues,” classism, prevailing sexism and misogyny, has insulated various narratives from their racial, sexual, and economic contexts. The “live and let live” principle predisposes people and groups toward specific actions and away from others.
“Tolerance of this sort can easily coexist with ignorance and can certainly coexist with contempt. Those who have agreed to tolerate may feel themselves absolved from any further moves towards better understanding; and since majority groups rarely conceive of themselves as requiring equal doses of tolerance from the minority they may come to wear their toleration as an additional badge of superiority.” – Anne Phillips, Which Equalities Matters?
This kind of tolerance facilitates the avoidance of the dominant group to confront its own privileges and values and/or prevents them to gain an understanding for other positions. As a result, there is a lack of an intersubjective understanding of culture and community. Identities are not linked to political action.The personal is not seen as political. Citizens are not concerned with locating the self and Others in the meta-narrative, in a community, nor are they encouraged to make sense of the actions and motives of Others from a perspective other than the dominant one. Instead, community is framed as a collective subjectivity, or identity. Halleh Ghorashi writes in Ways to survive, battles to win: Iranian women exiles in the Netherlands and United States about the sense of community prior to depillarization,
“In the period of pillarization, children were raised exclusively within the boundaries of their religious communities. Religious belief determined the choice for school, playground and social contacts.”
Prior to depillarization political communities were concerned first and foremost with the maintenance of a collective subjectivity. By drawing and enforcing boundaries that separated them from other political communities they could encourage in-group sentiment. What came second was the boundaries fabricated by the common subjection to the Dutch state – these boundaries defined them as Dutch citizens. The Dutch state observed the boundaries of the pillars by sponsoring their specific educational institutions. The effectiveness of the pillars, i.e. political communities, reinforced the assumption that the maintenance of a collective subjectivity is a necessary objective of political communities. After pillarization the main unifying social system became the boundaries set by the Dutch state. This unifying social system demanded a reduction of differences (which has facilitated the belief that the Netherlands is a colour-blind society) and disagreements. Halleh Ghorashi writes about depillarization,
“The contemporary spirit of depillarization strongly dislikes religious-based group formations of the pillarization period. This could also be one the reasons for the dislike of thick particularities in present debates.”
However, despite depillarization and the ensuing “dislike for thick particularities,” the Netherlands remains an intensely stratified society. The ideology of pillarization conditioned the public space and imagination for the emergence of new cleavages. The types of divide during pillarization left a ductile space for the manifestation of new structural divisions. Essentially, the new structural divisions built on the ideology of homogeneity, which had formed the structural basis of historical cleavages. In addition, the perceived difference and competition between social groups reproduced, reinforced and stabilized “collective identities” and cleavages in the public imagination. It is therefore unsurprising that newly found structural conflicts correlate to certain historical cleavages. Ruud Koopmans writes in Challenging Immigration and Ethnic Relations Politics: Comparative European Perspectives
“The Dutch system of pillarization was developed in the early twentieth century as a means to pacify conflicts between native religious and political groups, and has been quite successful at that. However, it was never meant to serve as an instrument for the integration of immigrants, and has proven to be very inadequate for that purpose. (..) Neither immigrants nor native Dutch people are helped by applying principles that were originally meant for a native population with a largely similar socioeconomic status, and common history and political culture, to the integration of newcomers with a different cultural background. This only offers new ethnic and religious groups a formal and symbolic form of equality, which in practice reinforces ethnic cleavages and reproduces segregation on a distinctly unequal basis.”
In segregated societies, groups, whether social or political, that are dissimilarly empowered tend to develop cultural forms that are unequally valued. Despite the fact that there is a marked difference between “Autochtoon” and “Allochtoon,” between men and women, between able bodied people and differently abled bodied people, power inequities between these various social groups – within the Netherlands – are not part of the narrative of “Occupy Amsterdam.” The movement neatly overlooks the disparities in power and privilege of particular citizens. A public debate wherein rational-critical financial arguments rather than the statuses and the subject positions of the participants are decisive erases power differences and privileges of race, class, abledbodiedness, sexuality, gender, etc. As a political performative claiming your right as an individual, a citizen, is an empowering activity of politics that has the potential to change your lived reality. However, as Mary Ann Glendon points out in Rights talk: the impoverishment of political discourse, “rights talk encourages our all-too-human tendency to place the self at the center of our moral universe.”
An examination of the self, how the “I” is created, and subjectivity, how the self relates to Others, are therefore important marks in any social movement that is campaigning for a change in our lived reality. One needs to bear in mind that the terms “self” and “subjectivity” cannot be substituted, as Ian Burkitt has argued in the article Subjectivity, Self and Everyday Life in Contemporary Capitalism, even though there is a great deal of overlap. Subjectivity – how the self is experienced and formed through time and in power relations – is pivotal in a movement like “Occupy Amsterdam,” because it has apart from political also ethical consequences that shape our communal life. The ethical aspect, however, is largely overlooked. We can hardly separate politics and ethics when it comes to subjectivity because the concept subjectivity is already entwined with how we act politically and respond ethically to the Other. The personal is political is ethical is communal. You cannot have “individuals” without a community; you cannot have ethical behaviour without accountability. We need to ask ourselves how viable the modern-day Western belief is (“individual” freedom of choice, self-expression, and an unrestrained pursuit of happiness are what matter the most), when modern-day constructions of the self are relational. It is as Gayatri Spivak writes in Death of a Discipline,
“To be human is to be intended toward the other…If we imagine ourselves as planetary subjects rather than global agents, planetary creatures rather than global entities, alterity remains underived from us; it is not our dialectical negation, it contains us as much as it flings us away.”
In addition, Alvaro Garcia Linera, Vice-President of Boliva, has posited that our own stability relies on that of our fellow human-beings. In this light, it is important to ask how the rhetoric of the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement (everyone is speaking for her/himself) relates to ideas of social responsibility, duty to society and community, all of which put the community before the individual, and are requisites for imagined communties. How does the “I” relate to the “we” in “Occupy Amsterdam.” Which behaviours are considered desirable, morally correct? Almost every society, and imagined community, has a detailed catalogue of what it considers morally correct behaviour. Not only do societies, or communities, regulate the behaviour of their members, they also define societal, or communal, core values. To behave ethically is to behave in a way that is consistent with what is thought to be right or moral. The shared histories of social groups and collective memory have led societies to develop beliefs about what is of value for the common good. These values all contain implied “rules of conduct” about how people should interact and behave toward one another in society. These “shoulds” define collective effort because they are fundamental to trust and to intersubjective relationships that harbour risks. The greater the potential risk, the more important ethical practices become. The potential risk for marginalized groups, especially women, is extremely big in an amorphous leaderless movement like “Occupy Amsterdam.” A participant in the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement has been promoting this Tumblr (Hot Chicks of Occupy Wall Street) on Twitter under the hash tag #occupyamsterdam. It is a blog that features images of “hot chicks” – these images have probably been posted without the consent of the women who have been photographed, or filmed. You can read some of the feminist critiques here, here and here. This is why accountability is essential.
Normative behaviours have been used as tools to maintain the societal, or communal, norms. So, contemporary patterns of behaviour are pretty good indicators of future behaviours. Nonstandard behaviours and appearances have been systematically stigmatized, and this is displayed through the policing of public behaviour patterns. The (Dutch) propaganda of normality and normativeness (doe maar gewoon dan doe je al gek genoeg), and the concomitant acts of stigmatization, have firmly anchored the desirability of normality in the public consciousness. In order for “Occupy Amsterdam” to be successful it needs to abandon the propaganda of normality and the normative ideations of citizenship, Dutchness, nationhood and civic belonging, which can serve and encourage exclusionist debates, or policies. T.H. Marshall remarked that,
“Citizenship is a status bestowed on those who are full members of a community. All who possess the status are equal with respect to the rights and duties with which the status is endowed. There is no universal principle that determines what those rights and duties shall be, but societies in which citizenship is a developing institution create an image of an ideal citizenship against which achievement can be measured towards which aspiration can be directed.”
The challenge for the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement and its politics consists in reconciling the logical disjunction of difference: that is, fighting differences that have materialized as a result of relations of power, and the notions of difference that have emerged through the propaganda of normality, while simultaneously embracing and celebrating differences and have them recognized socially. A new way of meaning-making, a new definition of tolerance, will develop from the tension between these strategies, which are at times contradictory, yet nevertheless contemporaneous. This tension is at the heart of any imagined community. An imagined community, like the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement, is not simply a mixed bag of rational individuals; it is a collective that transcends the individual and gives birth to a “new individual” defined within the movement. Ultimately, it is the aim of “Occupy Amsterdam” to loyally engage individuals and stand behind this “new individual” who has embraced their politics – which brings me back to the critical question, who are the individuals in the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement that make up the representative “we” in the We Are the 99%?
Feminist political theorists like Jane Mansbridge have argued that “the transformation of the “I” into “We” brought about through political deliberation can easily mask subtle forms of control. Even the language people use as they reason together usually favors one way of seeing things and discourages others. Subordinate groups sometimes cannot find the right voice or words to express their thoughts, and when they do, they discover they are not heard.” Jane Mansbridge’s insightful analysis draws attention to the subtle ways in which public deliberation can serve as a mask for domination that extends beyond gender to other kinds of unequal relations. At this moment the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement consists of predominantly middle-class, “White” Autochtoon, heterosexual, able-bodied females and males so there is a real risk that issues that affect them will remain central in debates/conversations, while the socio-political realities of women and men of colour, migrant workers, asylum seekers, differently abled people (of colour), queers, for example, are either ignored, or devalued as being somehow peripheral, unimportant, irrelevant, or less real. As “legitimately Dutch people” Autochtoon citizens have a sense of entitlement that dictates that they, as “the lawful owners of Dutchness” have the “right” to modify and change society as to better suit their values. When a collective identity/subjectivity assumes the “right” to formulate hegemonic cultural claims that omit or marginalize other identities it becomes a dangerous construct. Moreover, because collective identities appeal to a sense of communality they can be easily manipulated for oppressive ends. This is a real possibility especially when, as Xenia Chryssochoou states in Cultural Diversity: its social psychology, “the social context makes particular self-categorizations salient and people see themselves as interchangeable members of a particular group, [it is likely that] they will enact this identity.” Quite often they will enact this collective identity at the expense of marginalized identities. (self-categorization theory)
This likelihood is further increased by the fact that the social context, within which the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement is taking place, does not encourage questions of social epistemology. Questions of social epistemology– as I have pointed out earlier – do not occupy a space within the movement. The dominant rhetoric is that “we” are all in the same boat, that the “I’s” participating in the protest are somehow standing up for the “rights” of the “we” as well. This inflated claim made for the advancement of “inclusivity” (within a movement that started as a protest against the financial system) obscures issues of inequity within the Netherlands that go beyond the financial. Nevertheless, this claim is being espoused uncritically by a movement in search for greater equality. It is the same claim that has been at the centre of political policies (for the common greater good) since time immemorial. This claim has led to a myriad of exclusionist policies. Several feminist political theorists have argued that, “despite the rhetoric of publicity and accessibility, that official public sphere rested on, indeed was importantly constituted by, a number of significant exclusions.” Nancy Fraser writes in Rethinking the Public Sphere that the “network of clubs and associations – philantropic, civic, professional, and cultural – was anything but accessible to everyone. On the contrary, it was the arena, the training ground, and eventually the powerbase of a stratum of bourgeois men, who were coming to see themselves as a “universal class” and preparing to assert their fitness to govern.” In comparison, it can convincingly be argued that “Occupy Amsterdam” is not accessible to everyone. Because of its structure and fixed nature “Occupy Amsterdam” unintentionally offers no space for those who are unable to attend, participate in, or contribute to general assemblies,or to the debates due to social commitments. Though steps have been taken to offer a space for families with children, I do not know whether similar steps have been taken to create a space for marginalized groups. The inclusion of marginalized groups is essential to the survival of “Occupy Amsterdam.”
As Jane Mansbridge et al. have noted, despite the good intentions and precautions of the participants in the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement (i.e. continously revealing their process of production; the results of decision-making processes through general assemblies) there exists a real possibility that subtle forms of control direct and shape decisions. They have informed us about the ways in which social inequalities can infect deliberation, even in the absence of any formal exclusions. Privilege, which is a serious inhibitor of equality, tends to go unnoticed in public deliberation. Privilege is more likely to remain unaddressed when marginalized groups are underrepresented, or not represented at all. And as it stands no attention is being paid to social inequalities that have a basis in racism, sexism, transphobia, ableism, ageism, homophobia, classism, as though inequity does not exist outside of the financial system. Overlooking social inequalities does not foster participatory parity. To quote Barbara Smith,
“The only way we are going to alter the present situation is by broad-based grassroots organizing with as many people as we can connect to, that is, by movement building. Of course we need to work with heterosexual people of color who have gotten over the notion that heterosexuality is the only normal and acceptable expression of desire. But we also need to work with people and in contexts where we many have not ventured before – with those who are not fully convinced that we, like them, deserve and are committed to struggling for our freedom. Most importantly, we need to define our priorities so that our political work connects with the most vulnerable in the society, who are not necessarily higher educated professional Black lesbians and gays. If our work and strategies do not confront the vicious attacks against poor women and their children, immigrants who in this era just happen to be almost entirely people of color, our incarcerated sisters and brothers, those who are homeless, hungry and in despair, especially our youth and our elders, then we are not doing the work. Commitment to the eradication of oppression across the board, not just to issues that affect us directly, is an ethical as well as a political commitment.”– Black Nations/Queer Nations Conference, March 1995
“Occupy Amsterdam” should bear in mind that campaigning for diversity without seeking to index relations of power and address the power imbalance that have resulted from racism, sexism, ableism, classism, transphobia, homophobia, ageism, will only perpetuate systemic inequities in education, social services, health care, legal institutions and all other systems. The movement should focus on the larger societal issues (social epistemologies) that affect perceptions and understandings about education, schooling, social services, health care, legal institutions and all other systems in a democratic society. Issues of race, social class, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and issues of power and privilege should be at the centre of the movement’s critique. It should aim to create a space in which participants can talk openly about these issues – some of which may be difficult to discuss. “Occupy Amsterdam” should also focus on the more difficult question of how to articulate differences – as valued and solicited or disliked but unavoidable – without referring to Eurocentric concepts, or building on established categories. Since the self and subjectivity lie at the centre of the narrative of differentiation and rights claiming, the deconstruction of subjectivity (how the self is experienced and formed through time and in power relations) could point to new ways of living well together with difference and Otherness.
Consciousness-raising is a constant process of analysis, reflection, rationalization, association. “Occupy Amsterdam” has to decolonize the movement. The “Occupy” movement represents an alive politics.And as such the participants have to be twice political, in what they say and also in what they do. The protestors have to perform a slogan that gestures toward change, one that is part of the movement’s politics of embodied politics. The change that the movement is campaigning for is a performative act. The movement’s slogan therefore should not exist on its own; the protestors have to be part of it, have to embody it, have to perform it. If the personal had already been secured as political then the feminist movement would not have chosen the powerful slogan THE PERSONAL IS POLITICAL. As a slogan it would only make sense once feminism had transformed our understanding of each of its keywords. If Black had already been universally understood as beautiful then the Black Panther Party would not have needed the slogan BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL. Counter-hegemonic movements require acts and gestures that cross boundaries and capture the complexity of privilege, oppression, inequity, and identity.
DECOLONIZE AMSTERDAM. DECOLONIZE OUR MINDS. We must not seek to reproduce hierarchical structures.
“Untimely utopias are inhabited by those who interrupt the here and now, who occupy positions which are yet to be articulated, who have learned to hope for times that will open up new spaces and who never cease to re-invent themselves.” – María do Mar Castro Varela
The politics of the “Occupy Amsterdam” movement is a performance that is unfolding in (public) space as well as in time; it is constantly evolving and therefore non-delimitable and non-locatable in terms of space and time. It is more than the encampments. Part of the attraction of the “Occupy” movement is that it is undefinable; it resists definition. It is provisional. It is open to all, and represents a not-yet-here-ness. Its main thrust is the opposition of the current order. The non-normative “Occupy” movement, like Queer, occupies a strange temporality; it stands for a change that is simultaneously here and yet not-here. It is a change-to-come. A change in our present we can effect through changing our relationship with the past or through imagining a future not structured on current norms. The movement seeks a radical democracy that is about equity, justice and futurity: a democracy to-come and the justice to-come. However, the movement wants to bring about this change NOW. In order for the movement to devise a workable strategy it needs to question and alter its and our understanding of time. We – as a community – need to fashion a different relationship between the past, the present and the future. We must, as José Esteban Muñoz states, “vacate the here and now for a then and there.” We must leave behind the contested embodied NOW and its mess, for a re-imagined embodied futurity. That being said, we can only understand political agency if the relationship between the past and the future is mediated by the embodied present. A Queer temporality suggests a conception of time as moving sideways and backwards, rather than progressing towards a future. This Queer understanding of time offers different ways of bringing about utopian futures from within a negating and seemingly hopeless present. This idea of time is radically anticipatory; as it drags the then and there into the NOW it radically changes the NOW.
“Queer persons bear an acutely salient relation to happiness as that from which they’ve been excluded, but furthermore, that they bear an exemplary relation to a happiness always requiring sacrifice and compromise, a shady bittersweetness from which no persons are exempt” – Feeling Well, Michael D. Snediker
Though the “Occupy” movement embodies the spirit of change, it does not offer a suggestion for change since its language is steeped in the discursive language of colonialism. What any movement toward change owes to the people who are and have been oppressed is a discussion about the past which is actually focused on their present and future needs and those of the wider community. In other words, the analysis of our contemporary society must not lead us to our replacing one dichotomy with another. On the contrary, our analysis should lead to new ways of conceptualizing, visualizing and understanding the world. This means that we should reconsider the world from other vantage points, i.e. the vantage points of the people who are marginalized. Marginalized people, those of us who are sidelined because of our so-called difference, who because of said difference are able to conceptualize and visualize a world that accommodates our “difference.” Our voices are incredibly valuable for they reveal the bias of the imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchy ideology. An imperialist white-supremacist capitalist patriarchal society, in which capital, gender, race and ablebodiedness are valued more than our humanity, prevents Othered bodies from developing a healthy self image; it warps our embodied experiences. We must DECOLONIZE OUR MINDS. Julia Kristeva considers thinking as, “a revelation, an exploration, an opening, a place of freedom.”
If we do not decolonize our minds, i.e. bring about a revolution within ourselves, the “we” in “we are the 99%” will remain penciled in. If we do not decolonize our minds we can never envision and build a better world. It is as Kristeva states, “I revolt, therefore we are still to come.”