“I am proposing that we create a society where community members care enough to hold an abuser accountable so that a survivor does not have to flee their home”. -Rebecca Farr, CARE member
This paper looks to analyze the success of Occupy Oakland as a grassroots community. While, the Occupy Movement focused on a broad range of social issues, capitalistic oppression and patriarchy were important issues discussed by the Occupy Oakland community. Another important and dominant issue that Occupy raised, confronted the issues associated with capitalism. Capitalism functions to maintain the gender, racial, homophobic, and class based status quo that subordinates the lower classes. According to scholar Paul Kivel, we currently face class warfare, in which, the ruling classes want to “prevent people at the bottom of the pyramid from organizing to maintain the power, the control, and, most important, the wealth that they have accumulated”. Another scholar Ana Clarissa Rojas Durazo, in her research has reflected upon times in which the anti-violence movement was “usurped by capitalism and the state and became complicit with the violence of racism and violence against women”. Furthermore, the heteronormative racist patriarchal capitalist order became a discussion point of the Occupy Oakland community. However, the community still faced inter-community sexual violence.
The research question, How could the Occupy Oakland movement have better dealt with the sexual violence that occurred within the community itself?, will be confronted. Furthermore, this paper will argue that the Occupy Oakland community could have benefitted from the opportunity to create a community accountability plan. Furthermore, this paper applies the general guidelines for creating a community accountability plan from the work of CARA and INCITE!, to outline the potential community altering capacity and potential benefits provided by its application.
Occupy Oakland’s History of Sexual Violence
Occupy Oakland, a branch of the larger Occupy Wall street movement, originated in September of 2011. In an attempt to increase participatory democratic practices within the community, Occupy Oakland was able to create a newly formed physical community in the center of Oakland. The community engaged in many progressive forms of action, including participatory budgeting and promoted a non-hierarchal structure to dissuade gender, homophobic, and race based subordinations.
However, in the face of these attempts to subdue violent behavior within the community itself, instances of sexual violence were reported within the general assembly meetings. On October 19, 2011 during Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly meeting, some community comrades complained of sexual harassment that was occurring within the encampment. Some women and LGBT comrades were being sexually targeted and harassed. Almost immediately, in response to the complaints, a new committee was formed, the Women, Trans, and Queer Committee, to ensure the rights and safety of women, and LGBT within the community.
The committee then tried to pass a friendly neighbor policy, during the next general assembly, that would have instituted a zero tolerance policy for any racism, sexism, harassment or violence, while concurrently promoting respect for everyone within the community and its visitors. However, the proposal was voted down, 40 votes in favor, 13 abstentions, and 23 votes in opposition, which cited vague language as the reason for their decision. Then on October 24th, the committee again tried to clearly define sexual harassment and violence for the community in order to convey they type of behavior that would not be tolerated, “Do not comment, catcall, whistle, touch without permission. Do not expect women to do your work- we are not your servants! Do not go into tents or invite people into your tent in a harassing manner, do not ask wether someone is a man or a woman. No means no. this is important because people are leaving the camp due to this behavior. stop it.” However, complaints of sexual violence continued and many community members left Occupy. Therefore, a proper assessment of the response strategy utilized to address these acts of sexual violence is necessary.
Guidelines for creating a community accountability plan
In the book titled; The Revolution Starts at Home, puts forth ten guidelines for creating a successful accountability strategy; (1) “recognize the accountability of everyone involved”, (2) “prioritize the self-determination of the survivor”, (3), “identify a simultaneous plan for safety and support for the survivor as well as others in the community”, (4) “carefully consider the potential consequences of your strategy”, (5) “organize collectively”, (6) “make sure everyone in the accountability-seeking group is on the same page with their political analysis of sexual violence”, (7) “be clear and specific about what your group wants from the aggressor in terms of accountability”, (8) “let the aggressor know your analysis and your demands”, (9) “consider help from the aggressor’s friends, family, and people close to her”, (10) “prepare to be engaged in the process for the long haul”. These guidelines are put forth to assist in transforming not just the aggressors’ behavior, but the “formation of our culture”. Furthermore, while every act of inter-community sexual violence is different and complex in its own ways, the community must consistently work together as a collective to construct the most appropriate community accountability plan of action and change the violent atmosphere in which they reside. Furthermore, community accountability work is difficult and may take a lot of time and effort, but it provides a “critical opportunity to transform our relationships and communities to reflect these liberatory values”.
Moreover, the community must create a community accountability response that confronts these violent acts and does not rely upon the criminal justice system. Reliance upon the criminal justice system, increased law enforcement violence toward women and the LGBT community, and maintains the violent atmosphere within the community. According to scholar Andrea Ritchie, cornerstones of institutional violence come from the “enforcement of racialized gender boundaries and regulation of sexual conduct”. Racial and sexual profiling utilized by police would increase the likelihood that women, and specifically minority women, would become victim to law enforcement violence; “Similarly, lesbians are often defeminized and dehumanized by the criminal justice system”. If Occupy Oakland responded to these matters by relying upon the criminal justice system, many victims would face increased violence and possibly be jailed due to the sexist and racist tactics utilized by police. Therefore, if the true objective of the Women, Trans, and Queer Committee was/is to minimize the atmosphere of violence within its community, it would not logically seek outside institutional suppression of inter-community violence; but alternatively utilize a community accountability plan to respond.
Application of community accountability to Occupy Oakland
While Occupy Oakland did not, and was resistant to, relying upon the sexist, racist, classist, homophobic criminal justice system to confront inter-communal sexual violence, they did not initially provide a clear community accountability response. Occupy Oakland failed to failed to “recognize the accountability of everyone involved” when they refused to pass the good neighbor policy. Thirty-six members of the Occupy Oakland community, on October 23, 2011, rejected the notion of communalism and refused to accept that the violence issue was a community issue, and not just an individual or small group issue. This initial rejection, made it difficult for the later committees to hold everyone in the community accountable and promote a social environmental change. In response, some of the aggressors were dehumanize, and identified to the police, who responded with violence and upheld the violent status quo. This dehumanization of the aggressors, contributed to a “larger context of oppression for everyone”. Furthermore, the self determination of the survivor was not prioritized. Within the general assembly meetings, victims of sexual violence and harassment often were verbally attacked and dismissed. Many members of the community choose to rely on their capitalistic, racist, homophobic stereotype perceptions and assume that the survivor was in fact lying. This goes directly against, the community accountability guidelines, which argues, “because of oppression, people of color, women, young people, queer people, and people with disabilities are often not believed when telling their stories of being violated and exploited…for this reason, the wider feminist antiviolence community has a principle of always believing women if they report being sexually violated”.
While, the committees did aim to increase safety, they failed to “identify a simultaneous plan for safety and support for the survivor as well as others in the community”. They were unable to create a plan of action, to confront abusers in a manner that would allow the survivors, the abusers, and the community to heal from the violence inflicted. Their strategy was not assessed and carefully considered as the issue was brought up in a manner that did not heal the community and led to outside media portraying a negative image of the Occupy community that just further solidified the racist, class, sexist and homophobic stereotypes that maintain the status quo. Everyone in the “accountability-seeking group” was not on the same page, many members of the community held different definitions of sexual violence and harassment, which lead to a splintered approach to resolution.
The most critical guideline that was not acknowledged within the Occupy community was a clear and specific set of “wants from the aggressor in terms of accountability”. The “accountability-seeking group” and the community sent no clear message for redemption; it did not specify that aggressors would be asked to leave, not be allowed to participate in the assembly, not be able to camp in specific areas, nothing. There was no community based terms of accountability put forth, so that aggressors could be held accountable. The only community infliction spoken toward aggressors was, “people are leaving the camp due to this behavior. stop it!”. Furthermore, aggressors were never confronted by the community and given a set of demands, and therefore, the aggressors were never compelled to follow through with a set of accountability demands.
One aspect of CARA’s guidelines that Occupy has followed through with successfully was “engaging in the process for the long haul”. While, the response at the onset of the movement was very fractured and inefficient, the committees dedicated to promoting a safe community have continued their work today. On January 9, 2012, the Women, Trans, and Queer Committee hosted an “Occupy Patriarchy” event that aimed to educate the community about the “politics of sexual and intimate violence, empower women and ensuring political and social equality”. Over 200 people attended the event that promoted a violence accountable community. Another volunteer-run committee called Safer Spaces formed during Occupy Oakland to “provide anti-oppression advocacy and mental and emotional wellness support to participants of the movement”. For the Safer Spaces committee, as queer and queer allied peoples, “a sense of safety required that the movement take a clear anti-oppression stance, and be committed, in action, to the empowerment of all people”. Furthermore, Erica Newman, argues that in order for “collective liberation to occur, the emotional, mental, and somatic consequences of oppressive actions, such as harassment, exclusion, threats of physical violence, or other attacks on an individual’s or group’s integrity, must be recognized. held, and addressed”. While, the committee is mainly focused on law enforcement violence and state sponsored institutional violence inflicted upon Occupiers, it also recognizes the importance of addressing “expressions of oppression within the movement itself”.
Occupy Oakland and its community could benefit from the continued work of the Women, Trans, and Queer Committee and the Safer Spaces Committee if they aimed to follow CARA’s guidelines in creating a community accountability response plan. By taking into consideration the CARA guidelines that Occupy Oakland followed and how they benefitted their goal, and the guidelines that they did not follow and how they hindered the achievement of their goal, Occupy can improve its community accountability plan to better acknowledge the demands of the community. As they learn to adapt to their ever changing population, the community accountability plan provides the opportunity for Occupy Oakland to transform its relationships and community to “build the systems and practices that affirm our liberation-based values of connection, agency, respect, self-determination, and justice”.
There are many aspect of the Occupy Oakland community that need improvement, but changed does not happen overnight. Revolutionary movement building is a large project that takes a lot of time and effort. However, in order to be empowered and carryout serious political work, social movement communities must assess their own hierarchal structures, and inter-community violence. Before we can attempt to apply a larger community environmental shift from racial, sexist, homophobic and class stereotypes and subordination, toward a free and equal just collective community, we must embody the change we wish to see within our own community. If we as a social movement community, fail to protect those most susceptible to violence and subordination within our own community, then there is no hope for substantive social liberation in the larger community of peoples. Adopting a community accountability plan and utilizing CARA’s guidelines could be an important step in the right direction.
Bierria, Alisa. Onion Carrillo, et. al. “Taking Risks: implementing grassroots community accountability strategies”, The Revolution Starts at Home, 64-79.
Durazo, Ana. 2007. “We were never meant to survive”. in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. South End Press: Cambridge, Ma. 113-127.
INCITE!, “Critical Resistance Statement”. 2001; http://www.incite-national.org/index.php?s=92. Accessed November 17, 2012.
Kivel, Paul. 2007. “Social Service or Social Change”. in The Revolution Will Not Be Funded. South End Press: Cambridge, Ma.129-149.
Newman, Erica. 2011. “Safer Spaces of Decolonize/Occupy Oakland: Some Reflections on Mental Health and Anti-Oppression Work in Revolutionary Times”, Journal for Social Action in Counseling Psychology. 3:2. 137-140.
Occupy Oakland General Assembly Minutes for October 23, 2011;
http://occupyoakland.org/2011/10/ga-minutes-10-23-11-3/. Accessed November 17, 2012.
Occupy Oakland General Assembly Minutes for October 24, 2011;
http://occupyoakland.org/2011/10/ga-minutes-10-24-11-3/. Accessed November 17, 2012.
Osborn, John. C. January 9, 2012. “Event raises awareness about sexism, homophobia within Occupy protest”. in Oakland North.
http://oaklandnorth.net/2012/01/09/event-raises-awareness-about-sexism-homophobia-within-occupy-protests/. Accessed November 17, 2012.
Ritchie, Andrea. 2006. “Law Enforcement Violence Against Women of Color” in Color of Violence The INCITE! Anthology. South End Press: Cambridge, Ma. 138-156.