Notes on Occupy Brisbane from a Women’s Lib Perspective
By Corey Green
Occupy Brisbane has been happening at Post Office Square since October 15th. It is both an encampment and an ongoing process towards a better world.
As an experienced activist I find the movement both uplifting and frustrating. Uplifting because it feels like a critical mass of people is finally seriously acknowledging that things have to change. The frustration stems from the fact that it feels like the movement is constantly reinventing the wheel.
It is hard to say that Occupy Brisbane is any one thing because the movement currently has no demands, and shies away from creating them. In the first few weeks it seems that the main aim of the movement has been to live co-operatively. This is going quite well, with food and shelter for everyone there and a hygienic environment being maintained. It is also very encouraging to see that people who were previously homeless have found it a good space to live and to be actively and autonomously involved in their own community. If for no other reason than this, Occupy Brisbane is already a success. As someone who suffers from mental illness I have found it a positive place to hang out and do the work that I would usually do at home. Perhaps it keeps me balanced because it is meeting a deep-seated need for social interaction in a communal space.
Proposals regarding the occupation are formulated in working groups or amongst individuals then brought to a nightly general assembly to be debated on. Proposals are discussed using a strict consensus decision making process, which means that nothing can be decided upon if even one person disagrees. Consequently the meetings are quite lengthy, and sometimes decisions cannot be reached on important matters. Another impediment to decision-making is a fear held by some that discussion of negatives will “manifest” negative outcomes. Personally I find this a bit of a victim-blaming approach, and feel like it tends to get used to selectively shut down the sort of discussions I’m interested in: political discussion. There is a general dislike of “politics”, perhaps because people associate it with Australia’s parliamentary democracy, but as the movement is principally concerned with creating a better world it is in its very nature political and part of a very long tradition. I wish some wouldn’t shy away from that.
Amongst the fifty or so tents present at Occupy Brisbane are people from all walks of life. Many people are curious about what is happening, and support the cause. The general vibe is that anyone is welcome to come into the space and participate, even people who are obviously part of the 1% like the Queen of England. This is because the dominant discourse at Occupy Brisbane is a kind of anti-discourse where there are no right or wrong ideas, and any problems can be overcome by love for one another. There is very little acknowledgement of the fact that every person there comes from a society that privileges certain groups over others, and activists who bring up these issues have been accused of manifesting the divisions that exist between people.
To look at the idea that you “manifest” your life situation through your positive or negative attitude, I am going to apply it to women’s struggle to gain the vote. So there was a situation where women had always had the right to vote, but then some women who had nothing better to do got worried that they didn’t have the right to vote, thus causing the right to be taken away from all women. However, someone who was familiar with the idea of manifestation came to them and taught them to hope that they would someday get the vote. They sat at home and they hoped, oh they hoped really hard, and they envisioned having the vote, and they never thought about not having the vote. And in the end the right to vote was miraculously given back to them. What I am trying to illustrate with this example is that the idea of manifesting your reality is actually an impediment to political struggle. Also I feel that it is really insulting to people who are going through a hard time in their life. Are people starving because they have the wrong attitude, or are they starving because of a larger political economy that’s not going their way? Would they be better off fighting for long term economic change and short term relief, or maintaining a positive attitude by pretending that they weren’t starving? This is not to say that everyone at Occupy Brisbane holds this set of beliefs, it’s just that the consensus decision making process means that debate can get hamstrung by the beliefs of some.
As there is a general lack of discussion about privilege, the space can be dominated by people who are privileged in wider society. As a women’s liberationist I can’t help but notice that men outnumber women at the camp, especially after dark. Those women who are present do tend to be very active organisers, so perhaps it is the more timid women (and women are generally socialised to be less assertive than men) who feel that they cannot function in this space. Personally, I don’t feel very safe in the space and haven’t stayed over any nights. I don’t feel like most of the people present appreciate the risk to personal safety that women in our society face on a daily basis. I am particularly bothered that a known racist with a penchant for hassling those who disagree with him has been allowed to continue visiting the occupation.
Early on, there was a motion passed by the general assembly to address some of these issues. It was called “a safe space for all is a safe space for women” and it was proposed by longtime advocate for women’s rights Kathy Newnam. It proposed such commonsense measures as listening to others respectfully, not acting in a threatening or abusive manner and respecting physical boundaries.
“The women of Occupy Brisbane are strong, organised, outspoken women – that’s why we are here. Women don’t need protecting. Women don’t want to be patronised. These guidelines are about basic respect and inclusivity.”
The motion was passed with little trouble.
While this was a positive step and Occupy Brisbane is generally a positive space, more people are needed to bring attention to issues such as sexism and to stress the importance of continuing the long fight for respect and equality as part of a better world.
Here is the full text of “A safe space for all is a safe space for women”
“Occupy Brisbane is a resistance movement with people of many colours, genders, sexualities, cultures and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.
We recognize however that amongst the 99% there are many groups of people who face discrimination because of racism, homophobia, transphobia, ablelism and because of sexism.
As part of the 99%:
- Women constitute an estimated 70% of the world’s absolute poor, those living on less than $1 a day;
- Women work 2/3 of the world’s working hours, yet earn only 10% of the world’s income;
- Women are responsible for producing 60-80% of the world’s food, yet hold only 10% of the world’s wealth and 1% of the world’s land;
- The total value of a woman’s unpaid house and farm work adds 1/3 to the world’s GNP;
- Globally, at least one in three women and girls is beaten or sexually abused in her lifetime.
For these reasons and many more, Occupy Brisbane supports the struggle of women against oppression and we commit ourselves to working toward making Occupy Brisbane a safe space – for women and all oppressed peoples.
A safe space for women is one that is striving to be a sexism free zone. In this light, we adopt the following guidelines for those participating in the Occupation:
- Listen respectfully and don’t speak over or interrupt other speakers.
- Do not threaten to, or act, in an abusive manner, either physically or verbally.
- Refrain from any behaviour that may perpetuate oppression.
- Respect physical boundaries.
- No sexist language (“love”, “darl”, “sweetheart”, “bit**”).
- No exclusive language (eg. use “staff the table”, not “man the table”).
- Always get explicit verbal consent before touching someone or crossing personal boundaries.
The women of Occupy Brisbane are strong, organised, outspoken women – that’s why we are here. Women don’t need protecting. Women don’t want to be patronised. These guidelines are about basic respect and inclusivity.
These guidelines will be posted online and in the communications tent and we will aim to make all Occupiers aware of them.
If you feel that these guidelines have been breached and this cannot be resolved at a local level, please speak to the communications team.
These guidelines are a work in progress.
Adopted by consensus at the Occupy Brisbane General Assembly, 19 October.”**
**This text by Kathy Newnam can be seen at the following link: https://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150492102590968)
~ Corey Green