Strong people don’t need strong leaders.
as many scars
as this after theft the ‘unknown’
becomes ‘the once was’ to form separate dreams after salvage net weights sink pretend it’s all make-believe i need to say pretend that for every name they’ve given us there’s a counter gesture for us to cling to [we] walk leaving traces after light to see
Craig Santos Perez
We write to you from the Occupation of City Hall in Los Angeles. First and foremost, in a torrential and tempestuous sea of struggle, we are excited and inspired that people all over the country (and all over the world) are gathering in loose-knit ways to occupy public spaces, to re-think what is possible. It is profoundly significant that this open-ended process has initiated a radically diverse group of participants—including artists like ourselves, who have spent the past week participating in the occupation from the streets around City Hall, from our homes, in our studios and in our classrooms. This is particularly important in Los Angeles—a city that is nothing if not diverse—where public space is under constant threat of erasure and commodification.
We write out of an awareness of the multiple histories and present experiences at play in any “public” space. We are encouraged by occupations of spaces the State would seek to control—and while we use the terms “occupation” and “occupy,” we are also critical of those terms, as deployed, for instance, in the Occupied Territories or in the occupation of Afghanistan (on this tenth anniversary of that particular act of imperialist terror) or as signaling the occupation of indigenous lands that our cities and their infrastructures represent. The reclaiming of words is complicated, messy, and problematic—which is precisely why it is important to speak across languages and to underline the many meanings present in any term or phrase.
We are especially aware of the significance of people coming together to enact alternative forms of organization. People are learning to take care of each other and to construct an infrastructure to maintain and grow the unwieldy space of the occupation—that is, the unwieldy space of the world. We share the concerns of many, however, that strict top-down and hierarchical models of organization are attempting to impose limits and controls on the spirit and the potential of the occupation. We recognize that such hierarchies can be invisible and subtextual; we are aware of the challenges of constructing new modes of relation and self-organization, and of how deeply ingrained structures of power and inequality are—in the marrow of the culture. We share the frustration and resentments expressed by many people of color, women, and queer-identified or genderqueer folks that the space of the occupation sometimes reproduces systems of power that are entrenched in our society, and hence entrenched in our thinking. This is not a peripheral issue. Rather it represents both what is fundamentally problematic within the occupation and a potent potential space for radical transformation.
Our capacity to re-negotiate systems of exclusion and to create working practices and structures that re-envision the terms of power, leadership, and agency is part of the substance of our revolution. The fact that an anti-police brutality committee was pushed out of the formal organization of OccupyLA points to especially loaded power dynamics at play in the structure of the occupation. Regardless of how it was intended, it’s too easy to read this exclusion as a reproduction of the ignorance inherent to social systems that disregard the core concerns of the people most affected by a top-down system based in prejudice, fear or outright hatred of difference. When we think about our relationship (or lack thereof) with the police, we cannot help but think about how the police routinely treat the houseless, whose occupation of public space is not read as resistance but might be understood as symptomatic of why it is so crucial to resist. The LAPD has historically been among the most corrupt and militarized police departments in the United States. To those seeking economic and social justice: the police are not your friends! (If you doubt this, please google “José Bernal,” “Kelly Thomas,” “Settlement Mayday Macarthur Park,” or “Copwatch Los Angeles” to encounter just a few recent examples.) How can we organize in sympathy, empathy and solidarity with one another and not reproduce alienating systems of administration?
“Occupation” might also be more than a 24/7 inhabiting of public space by those who recognize our disenfranchisement by an economic and governmental system based in utter disregard of our personhood. Yes, the sites of permanent occupation around the country (over 800 and counting as of today) need your presence, your energy, your creative mind—stand up and be counted among the 99%! And yes, at at the same time, our vision of occupation can encompass multiple sites of resistance and a re-invention of practices of relationship and exchange. You can occupy from your home or from your office or from a public bus or from the seat of your bicycle or from the corner store or from the street corner or from your school or from your community garden. We are curious about and interested in all manifestations of revolutionary re-imagining of our modes and our moment, wherever those might occur. And we recognize our kinship with other struggles that manifest elsewhere. We stand with the hunger strikers at Pelican Bay prison (round two). We stand with those resisting the school-to-prison pipeline and its most homicidal manifestations in the aftermath of the state-sponsored lynching of Troy Davis. We stand with domestic workers fighting for recognition of their basic rights and with all workers struggling for a living wage and decent treatment. We stand with those who are undocumented and unafraid and everyone supporting the rights of immigrants to live and work in peace (i.e. anyone not indigenous to this scrap of the Americas). We stand with the many communities struggling for economic and environmental justice in the context of policies and politicians that put profit over people time and again. We are here to stand up. We stand up for our capacity to imagine and manifest a different way of being and our commitment to make a world based on justice, mutual respect, the dignity of all life, and wild joy.
We understand the relevance of media narratives. And yet we refuse to cater to the demands of a reformist agenda. To those who seek a kinder, gentler form of capitalism, as though a slight increase in corporate taxes and financial reform might alter the structure of a system corrupted by power, we must be clear about our differences. We can agree that corporate money has corrupted our political system. We are equally critical of the fact that the top 1% of income earners control over 1/3 of the country’s net worth. Many of us are not shy about expressing our hatred for capitalism itself, and the entrenched institionalized inequalities that stem from it. We do not believe that a legislative solution will lead us out of this crisis; the entire legislative system exists in the service of structures of power designed to privilege the few at the expense of the many, and based on profound disrespect for the needs and perspectives of the majority of the humans on this planet (not to mention the planet itself). We are not excited about a resolution passed by the City Council; the very structures of government must be entirely re-imagined if government is to be actually relevant to the needs of people it seeks to support (not to mention a vision of autonomous self-government). We do not appeal to existing power structures to somehow resurrect something that has been broken; existing power structures are entirely inadequate to the world we inhabit (not to mention entirely unfun to experience!). We are not protesting in the hope that an imaginary lifestyle can be restored in the future; we are imagining and enacting a new way of living here and now.
We are equally aware of the formidable nature and complexity of what this acknowledgement represents. And that is why we are still here… In this space of possibility, with humility and rage and love for each other, we hope to begin to construct a world we where we might actually want to live. We need more people here—in the vibrant space of the occupation. We need to multiply the forms of participation in the occupation so that together we can look at the ways that the occupation itself can work to subvert our own potential to reproduce oppressive systems of administration and control. This is already starting to happen—this letter is just one instance of a number of affectionate, generative critiques and instigations. We must be ruthlessly and irreverently self-critical. Already we risk the appropriation of the occupation by political and economic forces that wish to restore rather than transform the economy and our ways of being together.
Life in its entirety,
life with its shortcomings,
hosts neighboring stars
that are timeless …
and immigrant clouds
that are placeless.
And life here
How do we bring it back to life!
Mahmoud Darwish, translated by Fady Joudah
We hope others will write open letters. The aim of our writing is to participate in critical dialogue involving a multiplicity of voices—that is, to engage and expand the cacophony that already exists. This letter is gratefully informed by many textual and visual documents, including disoccupy, Racialicious, POOR Magazine and the Occupy Wall Street Journal. We are ready to listen, curious to learn, and eager to continue finding creative ways to articulate our thinking.
We are not joining any movement; we are a movement and everything we do—whether we’re at Los Angeles City Hall, in Freedom Plaza, at the grocery store or taking our children to the park—constitutes a collective effort to re-claim the commons through a radical re-thinking and re-imagination of relations between humans and the world.
Love and solidarity,
P.S. If you would like to respond or to write a letter under the name paracaidistas collective or if you would like a PDF version of this letter for any purpose, please write us at firstname.lastname@example.org.