Blog post about Occupy Wall Street, deportation, and demands.
This is an article about Occupy and immigration and demands. I've worked on this for a while off and on for a few months and I think this is as done as it gets. I'm sure there's more to say but this is the best I can do for now. I should also say, I'm aware that immigrant issues are in the mix in Occupy in the US to some extent and are growing, I don't say enough about that. I'd like to start with a story.
My dad spent Christmas a few years ago on the phone trying to reach a private prison in Texas so he could send a Merry Christmas wish. Earlier that week my stepmother and stepsisters, age 14 and 7, had been taken into custody by Immigration and Naturalization Services. My stepmother was a legal immigrant from Europe. Her daughters were not. She brought them into the country illegally after she got her work visa for a job as an accountant for a medical technology company.
After my stepmother got caught she showed up to all the hearings as ordered. At the hearing the week of Christmas they were taken into custody at the hearing with no warning. They walked in and were put in handcuffs and separated from my dad. The three of them were sent to the T. Don Hutto Center, a private prison in Texas run by a for-profit company. There's a documentary out about it that I haven't watched yet, online here.
The girls were kept there for three or four months. The girls were finally released to my dad, after having missed most of a school year, which they would have to repeat the next year. Five or six months of detention later, my stepmother basically being in limbo, her lawyer said "I feel really confident now that we can get you out, but it might take another year." This is after about 9 months and about twenty thousand dollars in legal fees. My stepmother said she just couldn't handle that and said she would prefer to just be deported. She was out deported soon after. It took around three months after that to work out the girls' travel arrangements. My dad and my stepmother tried to keep it together for the next year but in the end their marriage broke up.
I read an article recently that said that at least 5000 children right now are in foster care because their parents are in detention or have been deported. That's my family's experience. There's another article on this awful stuff here. I know someone will point out that my stepmother broke the law. That's true. I don't think that the law is just here. But setting that aside, detention and deportation as punishment is like impounding your car if you're driving five miles over the speed limit. The punishment is way too harsh for the crime.
All this was on my mind in part because it's been the holidays so I remember this stuff. It's also on my mind because I've been talking with friends about all this Occupy stuff. I am excited about it but not as excited as I'd like to be. I'm excited because I'm a part of this 99% of U.S. residents who own very little of the country's wealth. In the fall someone did a quantitative study of a website tied to the Occupy movement, and found that the biggest issues are student loans, children,unemployment, and health care. These concerns speak very much to me. I owe too much money in student loan debt. I'm a father. I'm employed and insured through health insurance for my family through my job. But I make less than twenty thousand dollars a year and the place I work has very little job security. I have nightmares sometimes about losing my job and losing my child's insurance. I have been through numerous layoffs and spent several years uninsured. The 99%'s concerns are my concerns, I'm part of the 99%.
So I'm glad to see people standing up against some of the things that are wrong and things that affect me. At the same time, while I care a lot about these issues because they're such a big deal in my life, the deportation of my family members isn't as close to the core of the Occupy Wall Street movement as other issues are.
Occupy Wall Street is (and it matters to the degree that it is) a movement for justice. Not that my opinion matters much but I like Occupy Wall Street. In its grievances I can see some of my experience reflected - the sleepless nights because of worrying about money and losing my insurance and being able to provide for my family, the low pay, the past layoffs… I'd like to see more of my experiences reflected there, though, particularly the experience of Christmas a few year ago. What happened to my family was an injustice with terrible consequences. This shouldn't happen anymore to anyone. What happened to my family has happened to a lot of families. And current estimates show that it will probably happen to 15,000 more children in the next five years. I care a lot more about this than I do about my student loans and my fears of losing my job.
Another reason I raise all this is because of recent conversations I've seen about demands for Occupy Wall Street. Like I said, I share the concerns people have over insurance, student loan debt, and unemployment. As such, I'd like it if we got universal healthcare, or forgiveness of all debts ("Debt Jubilee"), or a guaranteed basic income for all. I also work too much and so get less time with my family than I'd like, so I'd like it if we got a four hour workday.
But none of that gets at the deportation of my family. I'd like to see something about borders and deportation too. I like the simple slogan "No Borders." The Repeal Coalition in Arizona expressed this as saying that all people should have the freedom to live, love, and work anywhere they please, and has called for and end to all anti-immigrant laws. I'm for that. But even that…
I am still angry about what happened to my family, and nothing will undo what happened. There's no making that better. I don't want that kind of thing to happen to anyone ever again, and it makes me furious, and very sad, to know that this is actually happening increasingly often, and often in worse ways, and sometimes to people with less of a support system. And like I said, I care more about this than I do about my student loan debt. But I don't just want an end to deportations. I don't have to choose between deportation and debt. I'm against them both. And more. I'm against a lot..! And I'm in favor of a lot. I'm against injustice. I'm for freedom.
Where I'm trying to go with this is that I want to say that demands involve a sort of metaphorical boundary. What I mean is, a demand is the thing that people in a movement want. In Occupy there's no single demand. Often there aren't expressed demands at all, and different people involve want a range of things. Still, people want specific things. That's basically a demand. Whether it's said explicitly or not, the demand is the thing that people want and that, if they got it, they'd be willing to return to business as usual, at least temporarily. People are different, lead different lives, so of course people want different things. I do think it's notable though that there are more people in Occupy who seem to want student loan forgiveness or foreclosure relief than there are people who want an end to deportations or border policing.
I'm honestly not trying to criticize people for what they do and don't want. People think with the ideas they have on hand, based on what they've experienced. And all of the injustices that are bundled together in Occupy are injustices, and injustice is unacceptable. At the same time… I don't quite know how to put this… it seems to me that there is a We in Occupy. There are Occupiers. The metaphor of the 99% gets at this. Who Are We? We Are The 99%! Which is to say, who are we? People who aren't the 1% richest people, people who don't own most of the wealth. I'm in that group, I feel that. At the same time, you know who else is in the 99%? The people who deported my family members. The people who put the cuffs on them. The people who charged them. The people who guarded their cells in the private prison. So… some of the 99% deport some of the rest of the 99%. I don't know how else to say this -- that's fucked up.
Some of the 99% do fucked up things to others of the 99%. When they do so, they probably help the 1% keep their position, but either way, doing fucked up things to people, well, it's fucked up. Which is to say, it's not enough to be the 99%. The 1% aren't the only people I'm upset with. The division between the 99% and the 1% isn't the only injustice. And I'd be more excited about the division between the 99% and the 1% -- that is, I would be more excited about Occupy -- if there was more attention to immigration issues there.
Let me try this another way. Like I said before, Occupy Wall Street is a movement for justice. That's important. There's a collective and individual piece of this. Collectively, Occupy Wall Street and the 99% are the names for a We who suffer injustice. We Are The 99% And We Have Been Wronged. Damn right we have. But like I tried to say, this is not the only injustice. In a way, making it mostly about wealth and making it 99% vs 1% in a narrow way, that involves an implicit ranking of injustices. Economic inequality is unjust. So is deportation and border policing. (So is gaybashing, so is sexual assault, so is police brutality… there's a very long list of injustices in addition to economic inequality.) I am for fighting economic inequality. I am for Occupy Wall Street. But I want to see it expand. (I wrote a flyer that tried to get at some of this, it's online here.)
I want to see Occupy Wall Street and the 99% expand not only in the numbers of people doing stuff and talking about all this, but also expand in the sense of having a bigger sense of justice. I want to see the grievances expand, so that the We behind We Are The 99% become bigger than We Are Victims Of Economic Inequality, so that the action of Occupy is bigger than Fight Economic Inequality. I want it to become We Are Victims Of Injustice, I want Occupy to come to mean End All Injustice. That's the collective side. The individual side, that's about who people see themselves as, and who they see themselves as part of.
Those of us who identify with the 99% metaphor, we're people who are like "yes, I've been mistreated in terms of the economy. That's wrong. The injustice done to other people about economic inequality, that's my fight too." That's part of what I guess I'm trying to get at here - it's my fight too. A much older slogan goes "an injury to one is an injury to all." As in, an injustice to one person concerns the rest of us. Right now the 99% and Occupy agrees broadly that economic inequality harms all of us. That's awesome. I want us to come to agree that all injustice harms all of us, including deportation and border policing, but not limited to that. I want us to agree to that collectively, and I want Occupy to become a place where individuals involved get transformed, where people have their moral horizons broadened, so to speak. That is, I want Occupy be something that makes participants find all injustice to anyone unacceptable, rather than economic inequality being the primary injustice. To put it yet another way, I want Occupy to become a movement for total human liberation. Maybe the demand could be Everyone Gets What They Need…
Like I said before, I am really not trying to put down Occupy for not demanding what I want it to demand. Occupy is a positive thing. It's done a lot of good. It's changed the questions and issues in the air politically. It's changed a lot of people's lives. I'm sure it has expanded people's sense of their abilities and their sense of who the We is that they are part of. I like all of that. I just think it could go further, and I think it's good to talk about different ways it could go further as… as a movement for moral transformation which is simultaneously a powerful movement that is fighting against the fucked up things that happen now. I'd like to see all of that continue, that expansion, until Occupy is a movement that believes an injury to one is an injury all (and so it's not okay for some of the 99% to do fucked up things to other members of the 99%)…
I want this expansion to happen and I don't really know how to make it happen. If I did, it would have already happened. I do have two thoughts here that I'm trying to work out. In my experience, a key part of people changing and people building relationships is hearing and telling stories. Our lives and our ideas of who we are and our relationships are largely made out of the stories we tell ourselves and each other. So one idea might be to have sessions for people to tell their stories. That We Are The 99% blog is an example of this. We could try to get more types of stories in the mix.
This relates to the second thought I'm trying to get at, which is that I think we could try to shape the meaning of the terms and images and metaphors in the Occupy milieu. I don't mean argue over what words to use - do we really mean 99%?! - but rather I mean try to change what the words actually mean. We are the 99% is not really about income statistics, and it's about unjust distributions of wealth. Let's make the 99% about more injustices than that. My Family Was Deported - I Am The 99%. My Little Brother Was Attacked By A Racist When The Gulf War Broke Out - I Am The 99%.
What I mean is, let's get more stories in the mix, and let's own the terms. What does Occupy mean? It means end deportations. What does the 99% mean? It means we oppose all racism. And so much more than that. It means we commit to expanding people's notions of injustice and expanding the We that people see ourselves belonging to, so that we all start to move toward an injury to one of us being an injury to all of us. So instead of a Robin Hood Tax or even no borders, I guess I'd like to see Occupy occupying as part of the view and the demand that everyone should have everything they need, and what people need above all is freedom.