Because Not All 99%-ers Are Created Equal

10-14-11

(Lenape custom teaches that you have to hear a story three times before it is a story you hear. This would be number two.) 

We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we’re working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

Occupy Wall Street is a horizontally organized resistance movement employing the revolutionary Arab Spring tactic to restore democracy in America. We use a tool known as a “people’s assembly” to facilitate collective decision making in an open, participatory and non-binding manner. We call ours the NYC General Assembly and we welcome people from all colors, genders and beliefs to attend our daily assemblies. To learn more about how you can start a people’s assembly to organize your local community to fight back against social injustice, please read this quick guide on group dynamics in people’sassemblies.

The 99% percent has been a powerful way to mark the difference in economic, legal, medical, and environmental inequity addressed within the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is a difference about economic privilege but as well about the history of laws – property, tax, health, environmental — that define and protect the privileges of the 1% over and against the 99.

It is an old history. One that continues to be embodied by the displacement of Native peoples from the “occupy” part of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

The Difference Begins Here

The Dutch East India Company established a colony in 1625 on an island it mapped and named Manhattan, building a citadel it called New Amsterdam. (The company, incorporated in 1602 but collapsing under the weight of its own corruption in 1800, was a global corporation of vast legal and economic power — waging war, exercising criminal jurisdiction, brokering treaties, and establishing colonies.)

But the island was already inhabited, known, and named by the Lenape as Manna-hata (the island of many hills). It was part of a larger territory of the Lenape that included parts of what is now known as Delaware, New York, and Pennsylvania.

The Dutch East Indian Company attempted to secure its exclusive rights to the island against other colonial claims by performing a purchase of it from the Lenape in 1626. While the Lenape understood the Dutch to be making a gift of goods as a thanks for the use of the area, the Dutch would treat the exchange as a purchase of the island from the Lenape. As was the practice of other colonists in north America, the purchase was a claim of the exclusive rights of property ownership. An ownership that the Dutch would attempt to protect legally and then by force.

In  February 1653, the Dutch incorporated Manhattan Island as New Amsterdam. They quickly built a wall attempting to block the Lenape, other Native nations, and the English from attacking the colony. But in 1664, the English conquered the Dutch and renamed the island New York (after the Duke of York and Albany who would become King James II). In 1673, the Dutch regained control but a year later would lose it again to the English, who then demanded a treaty of cession and forced the Dutch out.

By 1700, the English tore down the Dutch wall and paved a street over its location that they called “Wall Street.” In 1783, the English withdrew, ceding the island to the American militia under the rule of George Washington. The Americans would preserve “Wall Street” — and all of Manhattan and New York — as their own.

The Occupied

Not all 99%ers are created equal.

Within them are the 1.8% of the U.S. population — including the 1.6% of American Indians and Alaskan Natives and the .2% of Native Pacific and Caribbean peoples including Kanaka Maoli, Taíno, and Chamorro– who have, as the Lenape, been defrauded of their lands and rights to governance in a long history of colonial expansion that now defines the imperialism of an empire: that defines, in other words, the possibility for the 1%.

Not only have they been defrauded of their lands and governance but 24.2% live below the poverty line and 31.7% live without health insurance. And these are old statistics, not ones produced by the 2008 economic crisis. They are the statistics that embody the economic system created by the colonialism and imperialism that defines the United States.

We Are Still Here

I stand with the OWSers. The economic system we live in is unjust, inhumane, and aimed at protecting the legal and economic privileges of the 1% over and against everyone else.

But we have not just been kicked out of our homes: we have been kicked off our lands.

I do not believe the occupation of the OWS movement will lead to reform.

The aim has to be on decolonization. It has to be on a redress of the very wrongs that historically and today define the system we live in.
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