Their eyes are watching from across the pond. Der Spiegel comments on the embarrassing clown car freak show that is the 2012 Tea Party GOP presidential field. Now the Brits are calling out Americans over racism and sexism in the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement.
What ever happened to American exceptionalism? Dang it. At the nadir of empire, life can be so unfair!
We have discussed the role of race in the OWS movement on a few occasions. This latest piece from The Guardian fits neatly with the pattern established to date: like most "movements" OWS is at first greeted with fascination; then it gains momentum; criticism and push-back follow; the group is then revealed to have the same challenges of negotiating identity, race, and gender as society at large; defensiveness and denial by different stakeholders predictably follows; the show continues to a triumph, collapse, or incorporation by the powers that be.
Without using the language of "intersectionality," Karen McVeigh's essay does a good job of incorporating women's voices as being both gendered and racialized by OWS. Black women's experiences are emphasized in this piece of reporting, without being either ham-fisted, caricature-like, or essentialized. And of course, we have the obligatory picture of a nicely dressed, and if I do say so myself, quite attractive sister, being arrested by the NYPD. OWS is political theater after all, so I won't begrudge The Guardian for its obligatory black and brown person doing the perp walk photograph.
While the whole piece in The Guardian is worth reading, there are two passages that merit particular attention:
At a gathering of Occupy Wall Street activists at a public space in New York on Monday, one young woman spoke of a bruising experience she had suffered the previous day. Angry and upset, she said she had been shouted down while attempting to facilitate a general assembly. There were nods of recognition and murmurs of sympathy from those seated in a circle around her.
But her battle was not with police officers or security guards. Instead, those who had treated her with disdain were fellow activists, every one of which was white and male.
"It was a really distressing experience having people policing and patronising me" she told the group.
In the aftermath of the eviction from their camp in lower Manhattan, the organisers of Occupy Wall Street are struggling to maintain order at the general assembly, the backbone of its decision-making.
At its heart was an "ongoing crisis for people of colour, women and the marginalised", according to Kanene Holder, a part-time teaching artist from Brooklyn who is active on several working groups.
"White males are used to speaking and running things," said Holder. "You can't expect them to abdicate the power they have just because they are in this movement."
One of the defining features of the leaderless Occupy movement – aside from the occupation itself – has been its horizontal decision-making in the form of its Arab spring-inspired general assembly. The simple idea behind it: that everyone has a voice.
But a quick glance through the paper, television and web coverage spawned since Occupy's first march on Wall Street in September reveals that some voices are louder than others. While images of women as victims have endured, those who speak about the ideas and actions have been predominantly male.
This week marked an important step. On Monday, after a number of women complained of "overly aggressive" men dominating events, OWS has, for the first time, instigated a series of female-led meetings where only women can speak. It was an opportunity for "males to listen and for female marginalised voices to be heard," Holder said.
The meeting at Wall Street, attended by around 20 women and 15 unusually silent men, was the first such gathering.
"There is a high level of awareness to include female voices" said Holder, who said the women-led meeting was voted on and agreed to by men.
At that point, as if to underline the issue, a commotion broke out as a white man burst into the centre of the female-led circle, demanding to speak, and angrily accusing all around him of sexism and racism.
"I'm allowed to speak," he shouted, as another man tried to usher him out of the circle. "You're allowed to be sexist? To get away with this crap?"
Holder insisted: "There is a learning curve. It exists because privilege is learned over a lifetime and cannot be erased overnight."
Rebecca Traister, author of Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" about the 2008 election, said: "This idea that, by its nature, left-wing activism is inclusive is a myth. The left is continually plagued by gender problems.And class, sexuality, race, and other problems too.
Occupy Wall Street's Women Struggle to Make Their Voices Heard can be read here in its entirety.