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Reflections on Occupy LA, Wall St. and Bel air

by Paulina Friday, Oct. 14, 2011 at 8:25 PM

Reposted from facebook

Domingo, 09 de octubre de 2011, 22:52

I pushed my way to the center of the circle, at 5’1 this was the only chance I would have to see and hear and to be seen and be heard. I took a deep breath added my name to the stack and waited for my turn to speak among this group made up mostly of men. The group had formed from the Occupy LA General Assembly, it consisted of people who had blocked a proposal to endorse a civil disobedience action by dozens of hotel workers. These workers had planned a protest with their union because they had been fired by a hotel in Bel Air. This small group now held this proposal in the palm of their hands. The group also consisted of anybody else from the General Assembly who wished to join in on the discussion. The people they were talking about are hotel workers, most of them immigrants and women, they are veterans of the fight against corporate power. I know this because my father, who was fired from his union job as a hotel dishwasher a couple of years ago, is also one of these veterans. The fight of these veterans of struggle is a fight for dignity and respect, but also a fight for their livelihoods, and in this fight they stand toe to toe, immigrant workers against corporations. While waiting my turn to speak, I thought of these workers, the housekeepers with their aching backs from lifting heavy beds. I thought of the dishwashers with their aching knees and fungus in their nails from working in water all day. I thought of the women hotel workers who go home to their children with worn bodies from catering to the 1%. As I stood among this group of men, I wondered quietly to myself what these workers would think of this conversation.



At times the conversation turned into a shouting match, the loudest person often won control of the floor. The men in the circle demanded to know why these workers hadn’t joined Occupy LA. “Where is their union!?!?!?!?”, they asked. “When is their union going to bring 35,000 people down HERE!?!?!?!”, they shouted. I felt my anger and frustration boiling and at times I shouted too, but as impatient as I was growing I decided against battling the maleness of the group on their terms. So as others yelled louder than me, I again waited. It was getting late, and behind us 200 people were still taking part in the General Assembly discussing other proposals that had been brought to the group. In between us and them another small group had broken off from our discussion and formed around a young man who carried a sign denouncing non violent tactics. I turned my attention back to the group and listened as a man around my age spoke, he told us that he is a union member and that he was here despite the fact that he had a young daughter waiting for him at home. I felt a connection to him, after all, I’m a single mother and I have two children at home.



When it was my turn to speak I stepped right into the center of the circle and I spoke from where my spirit comes. “I speak to you today as the daughter of a hotel dishwasher, who walked the picket line with her father in his fight for dignity and respect on the job, for his right to be treated as a human instead of a dog.” What would my father think about this discussion? Although he can understand some English and could hear and understand the comments being made about people like him, he would need to ask for a translator to be understood by everybody else. I imagine that he would leave frustrated and angry.



Last night, my point to that group was this: What would it mean to this movement of the 99% if women housekeepers were to march up here to join us? How powerful would that be? But the question is not why are they not here, the question is what would it require to make this space more diverse and broad? What would it require from us? What would it mean if we joined them that day, in bel air the heart of the 1% , and marched with them in their struggle against corporate America. What would it mean if we made it clear to them that this is also their space and that we are fighting for them, because they are the 99%. There is a reason why they are not here and it has nothing to do with whether or not they believe in the fight. As I spoke, dozens of hands waved their fingers in the air signaling agreement. I stopped speaking after I felt that I had taken up too much space. Two minutes later what I had said was forgotten among the discussions about process and another rant from the man who blocked the proposal. A short while later I left because after 8 hours of Occupy LA I had to get home and help my daughter with her essay that was due Monday morning. The man with the daughter, whom I had felt the connection with earlier, he was gone too.



As I went home after this experience, and as I thought about the potential that this movement holds, I realized that it is not held by me or anybody else occupying city hall, or Wall St., or any other city around the country. It is held by the 99%, and the 99% is much bigger than all the aforementioned people. The 99% includes the hotel housekeeper, it includes my father, it includes my neighbor in working class Montebello, it includes working class white Americans who may not yet believe in protest but do believe that they should be heard much more than any corporation, it includes my son’s 2nd grade teacher, it includes my 17 year old daughter who hopes to go to college, it includes the people I work with on a daily basis who struggle to put food on their table and whose community was in an economic crisis long before the rest of America. The movement of the 99% also includes all the struggles that my father, the hotel housekeeper, and the resident of South Central LA are embroiled in. This movement is not contained by Wall St, or Main St., or City Hall, or Portland, or Las Vegas, or any other physical space. If we try to contain it, we will kill it. We must grow it, we must link arms, we must lift all these struggles up, we must come up with new ideas and new forms of resistance and organize for them. If we do, we will take this momentum, this moment, this movement and we will win

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