October 22, 2011

Why Queers Should Care About the Occupy Movement


By the time that this blog post is published, the Occupation will have begun at Duke. That’s right folks, Occupy Duke will be showing its face on the Chapel Quad, right in front of the statue of James Buchanan Duke. For me, it’s something that is exciting, energetic and full of potential, but that’s not the case for everyone on campus. Over the past few weeks, the question I’ve kept hearing has been “So what’s the point?” I wanted to take this chance to write something that would help elucidate what exactly the point is, but more importantly, I wanted to write something about why the point of Occupy Wall Street and the point of the LGBTQ rights movement are at their very core the same thing.


If someone were to ask you what it’s like to be queer, what would you say? It’s a difficult question, but it is a question that is fundamentally important. For me, being queer is not something that I chose, it is not something that I opted-in to, it is not something that I brought about: it is the way that I was born, the way that I came into the world. And when I came into the world as the queer baby that I was, I came into a world that wasn’t going to make life easy for me. I came into a world where I was going to have to fight much harder in order to get to the same place as my heterosexual, cisgender friends. I came into the world already at a disadvantage, and that disadvantage was something that I had to work hard to get through. But I fought on: I fought hard to get through childhood, even though I knew that my queerness made me different than many of my peers; for a long time, I fought hard to seem like I wasn’t queer, I wasn’t different; I fought hard to be secure in myself and in my capabilities despite my queer identity and I had to work harder to achieve the basic things that made life happy for me. Many doors were shut in my face and I was barred from things that I thought everyone was entitled to—a date to the prom, a secure job, a happy marriage, a consistently loving and affirming family. Being queer made life harder.

And what about poverty? How you describe what it’s like to be poor? What would you say? I imagine you would say much the same thing. For those who are economically disadvantaged, being poor is not something that you chose, it is not something that you opted-in to, it is not something that you brought about: it is the way that you were born, the way that you came into the world. And when you came into the world as the economically disenfranchised child that you were, you came into a world that wasn’t going to make life easy for you. You came into a world where you were going to have to fight much harder in order to get to the same place as your affluent, economically privileged friends. You came into the world already at a disadvantage, and that disadvantage was something that you had to work hard to get through. But you fought on: you fought hard to get through childhood, even though you knew that your poverty made you different than many of your peers; for a long time, you may have even fought hard to seem like you weren’t poor, you weren’t different; you fought hard to be secure in yourself and in your capabilities despite your economic status, and you had to work harder to achieve the basic things that made life happy for you. Many doors were shut in your face and you were barred from things that you thought everyone was entitled to—a reasonable mortgage, a secure job, an adequate healthcare system, a living wage. Being poor made life harder.

It’s about time that the queer community wakes up. It’s about time that we, as the LGBTQ citizens of the world, stop seeing our movement as something that is separate from the movement against poverty. It’s damn well time that we stop seeing our struggle as fundamentally different from those of the poor. It’s time to recognize that privilege is privilege everywhere, and that all systems of privilege are immoral, not just the ones that disadvantage us. It’s about time that we, as a queer community, rise with our brothers and sisters in poverty, many of whom are queer themselves, and say that we are not only tired of homophobic laws, but that we are tired of a the heteronormative, racially discriminatory, economically divided system of privilege that engulfs our modern world. It’s time that we rise up as one voice fighting for a more equal society for everyone.

That is what the Occupy movement is all about. It is about working towards a more just, more equitable, and fairer world where systems of privilege do not perpetually disadvantage some and perpetually benefit others. We strive as a movement to create that world, and through our presence, to help others see the importance of it.

It’s time for us queers to join the Occupation.

In Solidarity,

Jacob

9 comments:

  1. Jacob, this is beautifully written! I love your articles on this blog most of all. Well said.

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  2. "It is about working towards a more just, more equitable, and fairer world where systems of privilege do not perpetually disadvantage some and perpetually benefit others."
    Ahh but HOW?? Though hand signs and drum circles? Wake me up when the civil disobedience starts, call me when you want to get something accomplished.

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  3. ^ Well, it's at least better than sleeping.

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  4. jacob, this is terrific.

    anonymous #2, its easy to be a cynic isn't it? but the occupy wall street phenomenon is a salient demonstration of democracy and, in particular, the failings of our democratic system. sure, it seems like we are just sitting around complaining, but what is important about this movement is that it has created visibility. it has made clear the broadly-experienced discontent in the intrinsic inequality of our economic and social systems. the point is not for 10 millions people to sit down and draft a suggestion to congress as to how to make things better. the point is for all 300 million americans, including our legislators, to recognize and be thinking and talking about the problems that we face as a nation. the point is to make amelioration, particularly in the face of impending elections, inevitable.

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  5. okay, the movement for lgbt rights is inherently different from that of economic equality. one is about human rights and one is a matter of whether or not you believe in either a) radical liberal economics b) socialism or c) communism

    i'm sorry, but you cannot just equate the two by using an abstract argument that uses the same words to describe the difficulties being either gay or being poor. your argument by extension argues that there is either correlation or causation between being gay and being poor. there is no such a relationship. while i believe in better economic equality AND human rights (read: gay rights = straight rights), i am not willing to say that i am fighting the same fight as I do not support occupy duke. just because its a cause for action or activism doesn't equate it to another cause.

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  6. @5:11: Just curious - do you think that there's an overlap between the movement for equality for people of color and the issues of Occupy Wall Street/Duke/etc. ?

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  7. @Chris...Just curious: did you mean to imply an isomorphic relationship between political claims for equality by *persons* of color and those of queer(ed) persons? What are that?

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  8. I'm a skeptic by nature as well, and it's my normal reaction to look at a movement like this and assume that it's overly idealistic and won't solve anything. That it's a silly overreaction to an exaggerated claim. And I did this with the occupy movement at first, I won't lie and pretend otherwise. Yet when you see police showing up in riot gear to clear out groups of protesters (violently)...

    If our democracy is fine the way it is, what's wrong with a peaceful protest? and if the protesters are wrong, why are they being attacked and removed? That doesn't sound like democracy.

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