When Occupy Wall Street hit Oakland, one of the first alternate phrasing presented was Decolonize Oakland. I thought this odd, at first.
I thought it was just about Native American rights. Occupy Oakland was building around Columbus Day, so that made sense. But it’s really about more than that.
But the movement continues, in cities around the country – despite coordinated government crackdowns, despite television media putting more effort into ignoring the events and written media focusing on those who are claiming injury from the unrest – and in Oakland itself, Angela Davis came to the general assembly to present a proposal (and she, unlike self-important Mayor Jean Quan, played by the rules and waited in line).
I started thinking about Decolonize and what that really meant. I’ve decided I like it better than Occupy.
The original idea of Occupy was to show up in force on Wall Street – not Washington – as a statement, “We know who holds the reigns.” But if you take the “occupation” statement, symbolically, what does it mean? Do we move into their offices? By occupying Wall Street, we perpetuate it.
I prefer decolonization. When Columbus arrived, the Arawaks were (by all Spanish accounts) leading peaceful and idyllic lives. Columbus, however, needed to fulfill the promises of wealth he made to his investors, and began the first of many campaigns of genocide and enslavement in the name of progress, prosperity, and the great white civilization of Europe.
The Dutch settlements in New York/Amsterdam were nothing short of feudal land baronies, with a handful of families lording over poor tenant farmers who had no rights (and, like many early colonists, more than a few fled to “savage Indians” seeking their only chance at freedom). This system lasted two centuries, well past the Revolution, until the Anti-Rent riots of the 1840′s. It starts to sound a little familiar.
New York in the late 19th century was a hell hole for the average person. Only the rich (1% you might say) had running water. The majority of the city relied on sewage filled rivers, with garbage piled high in the streets and alleys, constant victims of disease, illness, and vermin. They had no voice, no representation, no power. Riots and strikes rocked the nation for decades, with the most common response: police, national guard, martial law. It sounds a little familiar.
So, what’s the symbolic conclusion of a decolonization? It’s unrealistic to expect many of us to go “home” to the Old World.
Decolonizing is about the culture we’ve allowed to calcify around us. A culture that holds private property as sacrosanct above public welfare. Where an individual’s greatness is put above the community, no matter how much wealth that individual amasses, no matter how much the community suffers. It’s the culture that Christopher Columbus brought with him, and every great man who came after him supported, built up, and used to increase their personal gain at the expense of the meek, the poor, the brown, black, and every female regardless of color or creed.
The only thing that still bothers me about “decolonize” is the implication that it’s about winding back the clock. But this is not about going back to old ways. It’s about moving forward and finding something new. We won’t get everything we dream. The powers we’re up against have been writing laws for the better part of 300 years, and they hold all the resources. We’ll only get a small piece.
So, dream as big as you can.