Guest Blogger

No Homo/No Terrorist: Challenges to Organizing in the US South

Filed By Guest Blogger | October 15, 2011 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Politics
Tags: Atlanta, jingoism, Occupy Wall Street, patriotism, white male

Editors' Note: Guest blogger Liz Kinnamon holds a degree in Women's, Gender, & Sexuality studies from the University of Georgia. She has contributed design work for Against Equality and currently writes and organizes in Atlanta, GA. Her interests include prefigurative politics, intimacy and affect, capitalism, and queer theory.

I can't help but wonder if the rest of the Occupy Wall Street cities are facing the same setbacks as we are here in the South. During our General Assemblies, libertarians and white men form roundtables with each other mid-meeting about the Federal Reserve. American-flag.jpgHalf of the group gives hand signals 'in support of capitalism' and encourages a self-professed entrepreneur to create a startup, make t-shirts and buttons, and open a nonprofit bank account. In a demands committee meeting, self-centered white males argued that in our guiding principles, we should refrain from using words like 'environment' and 'liberation' because they could potentially alienate people. Yes - that usurped term 'alienate' has actually become par for the course here. Alienate now means that it is too radical, too ideal, and too inclusive instead of too exclusive and marginalizing. Alienate means that it's not 'normal' enough.

Two things disturb me most so far about Occupy Wall Street: its reinforcement of nationalism by way of "take our country back" rhetoric, but also its reliance upon the 'normal.' Appealing to patriotism to actually be heard is one of the most disgusting things to be made to do. I remember it in the John Walker Lindh case, for example; his parents were at a press conference about their son, who is in federal prison for serving in the Taliban-led Afghan army in Afghanistan's civil war. He was imprisoned as part of the war on terror. As his parents campaigned to get him out of prison, his father said to the press:

John loves America. We love America. John did not do anything against America. John did not take up arms against America. He never meant to harm any American, and he never did harm any American. John is innocent of these charges.

Nationalism was a desperate plea. Here, I will vomit these words; is this what you want to hear? If we namedrop America enough does it begin to mean something to you?

What does that kind of patriotism even feel like? How could the American flag make you feel?

A similar dynamic is unraveling with the Occupy movement. This trying-to-be-leftist-populist patriotism that snatches the idea of the country from 'the wrong people.' The American flag stamp in this sense is synonymous with a declaration of legitimacy; it's like no homo. No terrorist. (Talk about heterosexism as the base and tool of the nation-state.)

Secondly, 'normality' refers to this no homo of patriotism, but precisely to the byline of 'we are the 99%.' "It's widespread, this suffering here, so I'm normal - not the exception. Moreover, I'm normal - look at me, I'm white even; a male at that." The notion that it officially affects 'normal' people is the only validated cause for concern.

At a General Assembly one night in the beginning of October, someone pointed out the way some occupiers dealt with a few drunk, homeless people the preceding night in the park. He said something lovely about being thoughtful with regard to the way we interact in such instances and suggested, for example, that one stops to take a deep breath before responding in heated situations. He said aloud that he felt cheesy, to which I affirmed, "no, that was fucking awesome," and then he concluded by saying something like "because we don't need to stoop down to their level, and act like them."

The last sentence of his statement was so deflating--another type of othering in a potentially revolutionary space. This was a small example of a functioning normal vs. non-normal. But a more illustrative example is the never-ending debate on what the occupation's demands will be. The term 'alienate' in its current ATL redefinition is a function of dominant interests, and as many will outright say, its non-use status is a function of "appealing to that 99%." The 99%, of course, are the middle class white conservatives, who so many seem to be contorting their vision to fit and lure in. Make it 'normal' or other people will never come. Buttress all oppressive systems, change nothing.

Inasmuch as this is a movement against capital intrusion in every sphere of life, it is also one against commodification. So, no sir, we would not like buttons and tote bags for our occupation. We would not like our emotions managed any longer, our meanings rendered meaningless, or our resistances made harmless by turning a profit off of them. We already experience our anti-globalization movement of the 90s repackaged into Reeses Peanut Butter Cups advertisements and our anti-consumer attitudes written into every possible campaign. This is not a product. It is the anti-product. And occupations are not non-profits.

In the words of a friend, spoken into the people's mic in response to the entrepreneur:

I myself (I myself)
am an ardent anti-capitalist (am an ardent anti-capitalist)
and I will block that (and I will block that)
until I'm dead (until I'm dead)

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I'm also a progressive in the Huntsville area, a small city that, despite its high tech, educated, and somewhat cosmopolitan reputation, is a thoroughly segregated Southern town.

I don't think the South can be saved until White progressives here take a giant, public step against White racism and the accommodations they've made with racism for the sake of getting along. Race is the elephant in the room, and until we confront it, the White South will remain profoundly un-American.

If you don't feel patriotism for America, should you be living here? If you are rejecting white men, then you do not understand the Occupy movement or its principles.