If you aren’t fit to change your attitudes, you aren’t fit to change the world.

 
 
This is a repost of a blog I published last year: I recently connected with the woman who inspired it, and felt it was still important and relevant. You can read more of her writing here : http://www.stillnotshuttingup.blogspot.co.uk/

September 18th, 2012
Trigger Warning, obvs.

 
 
A story came to my attention via The Venus Envy facebook page. A woman had written an open letter to her rapist, and posted it on the wall of Occupy Wall Street’s facebook page,in the hope he would see it (she identifies the man as an organiser in some capacity at OWS).

 
Frustrated at his rebuttals when she had tried to confront him in person at the OWS organising spaces, this was her attempt to have a voice, to have him hear her.

The admins of the page saw fit to delete her letter, and again, when others posted on her behalf.

A fellow traveller who came across the letter decided to make the page Tell OWS To STOP Harboring A Rapist” to publish the letter & draw attention to this obvious silencing of a survivors voice.

There were cries from the OWS fb camp of a “set up” and that this woman was clearly trying to derail the movement, on the anniversary of OWS. Much victim blaming and misogyny followed.The General Assembly team at OWS clearly have no idea of what an opportunity this is for them, especially on the anniversary, to show that this is an opportunity to be a voice for those marginalised both in and out of the OWS movement.

Greenham Common Occupation, 1982.

Thoughout history protest encampments have had these problems, they are not inherent to OWS, nor to our current time every as the women of Greenham Common confirm.The Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp began in 1981 in the UK, when a group of women, and four men set off from Cardiff on a peace protest walk to Greenham Common, which was at the time a US Airforce base.
When they first arrived a few of the women chained themselves to the railings. The military told them to move on, explaining that it was hospitality night at the base when the men would get drunk and possibly rape the women. There were several ways the women of Greenham dealt with the threat of male violence, not only from the base, but from males onsite. One was to make the “Yellow Gate” encampment women-only, and make the entire protest women only at night. It is also worth mentioning that “Yellow Gate” was the last camp to be maintained at Greenham Common and had become a political organisation in its own right. The women of OWS, whatever country they are in could learn a lot from these strategies.
Last years occupations were marred by many things, police brutality, unlawful arrests, infighting, co-opting, and violence. The one thing I noticed, in the first month, before the second wave began in Europe was the amount of sexual assaults and rape being discussed. Now given that the majority of sexual assaults and rapes go unreported, we can assume that there were more, also given the context of the camps, and the fact that the camps by their very nature were open to the most vulnerable & the most predatory, we can assume there were more again, and also given many participants devotion to the cause, and that many were unreported because the survivors worried it may damage the movement, we can assume there were more again. And this was in the first month. And lets not forget in the NYCGA’s Safer Spaces Document‘s ‘suggested reading’ section is a piece called “Feeling for the Edge of Your Imagination: Finding Ways Not to Call the Police”.
I wondered how many occupiers took this suggestion literally, and applied it to serious situations, and not just confrontations and minor non-violent incidents.
When the second wave began it took only 2 weeks for the most high profile European incidence to happen, a gang rape in the Occupy Glasgow camp, in Scotland the misogyny began to raise it’s head, and a movement to ‘De-Occupy Glasgow‘ was born by concerned activists locally, out of concern for the sheer lack of safety, victim blaming & silencing of concerned parties within the camp- this didn’t only happen in Scotland, but internationally, people who were supportive of the movement as a whole could not sit back and watch as these anti-progressive, and dangerous sentiments were displayed for all to see. 
Six weeks in the tweets and blogs were overwhelming gutwrenching, so many tales of women & men violated and SILENCED when they tried to raise their experiences of being harrassed, raped, assaulted, or when others raised concern about the possibility and definite occurrence of these dangers.
Experiences and reports to GA’s all over were often rubbished, deemed out-with the movements control, and in sadly the worst cases, dubbed lies to bring down or discredit the movement. Women, feminists, true egalitarians, and allys dropped the movement like a hot potato. The last GA I attended in my city went a bit like this …. except instead of a drum circle, they just ignored an incidence of real life violence that had actually just happened in the doorway of the GA. Progressive eh?
 

 
 
 

Firstly, there are better and more efficient ways to bring down an encampment, flood it with drugs, raid it, and your problem is solved- a tactic law enforcement have used for years on static protest and squats- why would any agency attempt to discredit a movement by planting false stories of a crime that is one of the hardest to prove?

Secondly, the way these reports were handled, almost universally from New York to New Zealand were with patriarchal fervour. I read so many of these… from the “Men can’t be raped” fallacy to “He couldn’t have done it, he’s popular” to the sickening “She asked for it”. Here is a small list of some of them, in the first month or so:

I’d like to think that most of this came from sheer disbelief that this could happen in a progressive movement. But as any boots on the ground leftie activist can tell you, this isn’t the case. Progressive circles often carry a strong feminist element, and as we saw in many occupations, this was absent, or marginalised to the point of absenteeism from any and all true feminists & their ally’s, meaning solidarity was thin on the ground. In some occupations strong women’s caucus presence and equalities/safer spaces groups forced the issue of safety, and managed to keep a safe space, as much as is possible in public and open encampments. There wasn’t an infestation of rape by any means, but there was an infestation of misogyny within the movement, which showed itself whenever these tragedies occurred.
And it has begun already this year,with the NYPD taking action by releasing the picture of the rapist to the press. Can we expect the same from OWS? We were reminded of these attitudes recently, with Todd Akin’s batshit ‘legitimate rape’ theories and George Galloway’s redefining of rape as ‘bad manners’. It wasn’t really these two silly old men’s attitudes that irked me, it was the thousands of men and boys in real life and online agreeing with them, from the left and the right accordingly. All of a sudden the penny dropped. Loads of men don’t actually know what rape is- this is another blog however….

The best thing that OWS can do with this woman’s letter is to publish it. If you can’t see that accepting rape culture is wrong- you’ve got a long way to go baby. We need a western revolution, but it’s never gonna happen with these attitudes prevalent, and this breaks my heart. We need this so much, but if you aren’t fit to change your old fashioned attitudes about rape and sexual assault, you aren’t fit to change the world. 

Further reading :http://globalcomment.com/2011/how-occupys-non-power-structure-enables-sexism/ 
http://www.nycga.net/groups/safer-spaces-committee/docs/occupy-wall-street-community-agreement-proposed-by-safer-spaces 
http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2012/08/men-defining-rape-history 
http://www.occupypatriarchy.org/
http://www.womenoccupy.org/ 
http://www.penny-red.com/post/29989130545/its-trigger-warning-week
http://www.shakesville.com/2011/10/occupy-wall-street-news-round-up_21.html
http://occupydixie.blogspot.co.uk/
http://www.opendemocracy.net/5050/rebecca-johnson/occupy-movement-and-women-of-greenham-common 

Advertisements

One thought on “If you aren’t fit to change your attitudes, you aren’t fit to change the world.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s