Some Problems With The Occupy Movement

We cannot support Occupy Glasgow while sexual assault is referred to as ‘alleged’ [link] and vulnerable people’s concerns are dismissed as ‘disruptive’ [link]. We cannot support Occupy Dallas when a fourteen-year-old runaway gets raped and protesters respond by talking about how she looked old for her age [link]. We cannot support Occupy Wall Street when no mention is made of the fact Wall Street has been occupied for centuries [link]; nor can we support the dozens of other American and Canadian Occupy sites [link] that have failed to mention their Occupation is taking place on Indigenous or Native American or First Nations land. We cannot support Occupy London when people who object to Julian Assange addressing the crowd are ignored at the supposedly consensus-driven and non-kyriarchal general assembly [link] and antisemitism is ignored or brushed under the carpet [link]. We cannot support Occupy Cleveland when they claim a nineteen-year-old woman with learning disabilities is lying about getting raped to discredit the movement [link].

We cannot support any space, no matter how much we might agree with its aims, that consistently tells marginalised people they don’t have the right to feel safe.

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Antisemitism At Occupy LSX, Part II

by Will Bennett

Although I’ve been back to the camp a few times since my last post, I haven’t been able to find the same members of the tranquility team and am therefore unable to update on what happened with regards to that situation.

In the time since there’s been a Jewish Statement of Support for Occupy London [link] signed by nine different rabbis. Unfortunately, the first comment on it makes many of the same points I discussed in the previous post here. (Don’t click the link if you’re likely to get upset by conspiracy theory and poor historical knowledge masquerading as ‘common sense’.) This time I was cheered to see several people arguing against the first commenter and his subsequent posts – obviously there are people out there who aren’t afraid to speak up, at least on the internet.

Antisemitism At Occupy LSX

by Will Bennett

Over the past couple of days members of the Feel Safe collective have been disappointed by the number of David Icke posters going up around Occupy St Paul’s. David Icke is an author who believes that the royal family are all secretly lizard-people and that the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, an antisemitic canard published in the early part of the 20th century, is prophetic of the future. The posters put up are adverts for David Icke’s books. Other, unrelated posters have been defaced with the letters NWO and a triangle with an eye in the middle. These letters and this symbol stand for “New World Order”, a conspiracy theory that holds that Jewish people are in cahoots to take over the political and financial systems.

Since some people obviously need reminding of the fact that antisemitism isn’t OK no matter where and how it’s phrased, I took the opportunity to go down to St Paul’s after work tonight and with some of our Safer Spaces fliers. Although the guidelines on them are probably not in exact accordance with Occupy LSX’s own safe space policy (which I have yet to find either off- or online) none of them are controversial suggestions and I made sure that everyone I handed a flier to knew its providence.

After St Paul’s, I made my way over to Finsbury Square, where most of my friends are camping. I stopped at the First Aid tent to greet some of them. One of the First Aiders, a woman I hadn’t met before, told me that they were sleeping. I thanked her and joined the conversation she was having with a middle-aged man. They were discussing the recent security issues at St Paul’s. They went on to discuss the fact that many of the homeless people sleeping there have mental health issues, and how or whether they could be included in the general protest. It was at this point that I brought up the David Icke posters and other examples of antisemitism I had seen at the camp as in my experience poor mental health, conspiracy theories and racism tend to feed off each other in a very damaging manner.

“David Icke’s said some funny things about reptilians, but he’s right about the other stuff,” said the man, and it was at this point I knew we were going to have a problem. I challenged him on the assertion. In the conversation that followed, he aired the following viewpoints:

1. “The Jews” control the banking system; Occupy LSX is a protest against the banking system; Occupy LSX is therefore a protest against “the Jews”.
2. “The Jews” also control the entertainment and music industries, as well as the political system in America and the worldwide arms trade.
3. By acknowledging Jewish people as an ethnic group rather than, or in addition to, being members of a religion, I was admitting that they were “y’know, other [emphasis mine], separate to us, not part of all this [protest]”.
4. You can only be antisemitic if you’re Muslim. “The Jews” have co-opted it to use as a term against “normal” people.
5. Jewish people regularly murder children. This is why they’ve been persecuted and should continue to be so.
6. “The Jews” have no loyalty to “us”. This stems from their persecution complex.
7. By challenging him on all this, I was wasting his time and “should just take it all” (his time, I’m assuming). I should never have raised his antisemitism as a point because doing so was distracting from Occupy’s message, and he had more important things to be discussing and spending his time on.

After he became very angry about how I was stealing his time, he told me I might as well talk to him forever… and then wandered off, sending a slightly mixed message. The woman in the First Aid visibility jacket, who had stayed silent throughout this exchange, said she was going for a cup of tea. I left as I did not feel safe alone with the man in a dark and fairly isolated part of the camp.

I reported the incident to a member of the tranquility team who said that the man who had shouted at me had broken Occupy LSX’s safe space policy. He reassured me that the team would challenge him on this and if necessary ask him to leave the camp. At that point I had to go home for dinner and so couldn’t stay for any potential mediation or confrontation efforts, but the tranquility team were very reassuring, responding immediately and emphasising the importance of maintaining a safe space policy. I would like to commend them for their reaction. I will be returning either tomorrow or in a couple of days, and will be able to update on any further action taken.

In the mean time I would urge Occupy LSX to make their safe space policy more prominent and more widely spread, and for anyone witnessing racism or xenophobia to both immediately aid the person being attacked and to report the incident to a member of the tranquility team.

Iconography

For anyone wondering, here are some of the commonly accepted readings for the symbols in our banner. Rows from top to bottom and reading from left to right:

Two hands forming circles with their fingers out, framed by a circle: Deaf culture, Deaf pride, sign language and accessibility. Accessibility for people with disabilities is an important part of safe space creation.
Left-pointing arrow with a line through it perpendicularly, connected to a circle with a heart in it: Trans people, partners and allies.
Circle with a horizontal lightning bolt leading to an arrow: Squatting and squatter activism.
Stylised capital A surrounded by a circle: One of the symbols used for Anarchism, most often associated with anarcho-punk.
A raised fist framed by a semicircle: A sign of solidarity. This variation is usually used to symbolise feminisms and women’s rights solidarity.
A circle bisected by a vertical line, with two other lines leading down from the center to the circumference: Originally the symbol for the CND (Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament) this has since been adopted by the peace movement as a whole.