Let’s Keep the Name

Categories: Discussion, Open Mic, Reflections

In my personal life, decolonization has been and is an important part of my political development. The mainstream consumer culture has atomized people and destroyed political life in America, by making people identify first as consumers, and not as members of a body politic. This is problematic because it puts each person in competition with everyone around them to consume the “correct” products, whether it be shampoo or politics. It’s a never ending treadmill of “authenticity.” The identity of member, however is different, because it first and foremost puts one in cooperation with ones fellow humans.

Additionally, decolonization to me is the process of challenging the dominance of the “white makes right” assumptions that so often underpin mainstream American thinking. That kind of thinking is what lead the radical right to systematically dismantle the working institutions of government, because its members feared any benefits flowing to those who were not white. As individuals, we should absolutely be engaged in that process, and lend our support to others around us who are doing the same.

However, I think the name change is a bad idea. This is because it forks what we are doing in Oakland from the rest of the OWS support in the US, and I can’t see how that is a good thing. It’s our numbers that give us power, and cutting us off from the numbers will only make us weaker.

For 30 years the privilege/decolonize discourse has pretty much failed to stop the onslaught of neo-liberal economic destruction. It has been good to the extent that it made overt racism normatively unacceptable among the mainstream. However, as a basis for mass organizing in favor of economic egalitarianism, it has failed– and if it hadn’t failed, we wouldn’t be in this situation right now. It seems to me that changing the name to Decolonize and Liberate Oakland is cutting us off from wider support.  We’re the underdog, and as the underdog we always want to connect to a many other people as we can to mobilize support.

Part of my issue with the privilege/decolonize discourse as a tool of political organizing is that it focuses on non-measurable, personal outcomes. How will we ever measure if a person has _truly_ decolonized their mind? And the answer is, we can’t– which is what leads to the endless rounds of self-purification and the quest for some kind of “authentic” decolonized self. Since this process can never be completed, nor measured, it creates a political black hole. This is because no one can ever truly prove that they’ve decolonized themselves, or that an institution (made up of people) has decolonized itself.

On the other hand, focusing on concrete objectives such as putting people back in their homes, housing the homeless, feeding the hungry and democratizing the creation of economic value are measurable outcomes. It allows us to see if our movement is succeeding or failing, very clearly. If 10 years from now, Oakland is still suffering from homelessness, foreclosures, job loss and economic exploitation then we can say for sure that our movement has failed. To actualize those goals, we have to have numbers. Changing our name to Decolonize and LIberate Oakland cuts us off from those numbers.


3 Responses to “Let’s Keep the Name”

  1. David Heatherly

    I have mixed feelings…. on the one hand, I agree that to change the name would be to cut ourselves off from the larger movement. On the other hand, we are the only Occupy group that refuses to denounce violence. So maybe for the good of the whole Occupy Wall St. movement, we should have a different name. I know that I’ve felt more and more like I have to remind people that for most others, this is a protest against corporate corruption and banking corruption of our government. Not “an umbrella for all social and economic change.” Sounds like a pipe dream to me.

  2. 99percentphotog

    Someone from Southern California just wrote me saying “I heard a rumor that Occupy Oakland is breaking up.” Where could this rumor have started if not the name change proposal? A name change would be so confusing, and ultimately divisive. What is the point of cutting ourselves off from the Occupy movement by starting a new faction? And what’s to stop people from starting their own OO if they don’t go along with this?
    Occupy is an umbrella that embraces all social and economic change. Yes, someone feels passionate against the use of the word “Occupy”. Passion is a great motivator. What about channeling that passion into action, like a Decolonize Committee to be more inclusive of indigenous struggles? This just seems like a symbolic statement that is going to produce more distraction, and less direct action. I can’t support a name change proposal at this time.

  3. east bay green bloc

    Thank you for putting into clear words my own feeling about the suggestion that Occupy Oakland change it’s name. The ONLY strength a people’s movement has EVER had has been it’s mass….it’s numbers. This strength in numbers has been proving itself again in the Arab Spring movement. To change our name would separate us and possibly start a similar pattern throughout the movement and thereby begin the crumbling of our power. We must stay together in name, and know that we are fighting for the same things across the globe. NO to changing our name. Thank you.