Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Guilty as Charged

When Occupy Nashville made the decision to begin a physical occupation on Legislative Plaza in the first week of October 2011, I was very clear with myself and anybody who was paying attention to what I was saying at the time about why I was involved:  1) I supported the stated goals of this movement and, 2) I wanted to be a source of support for the women who chose to participate in the process of working toward achieving those goals.

I'd watched for months leading up to October as forces gathered publicly in Nashville in response to both what was happening in our state (regarding issues like teachers' and public unions and more) and also to what was going outside our provincial bounds, in states like Wisconsin.  I went to numerous rallies and grew to believe, as did others by October, that it was at least possible what I was seeing coalescing for the first time in my life was a movement with the potential to bring together people who could leave aside parochial differences and unite to confront our common enemy.  Not even in the fabled 60s, that epically activist decade when I was a teen and young adult, had I seen anything like this.  The politics of those who were gathering in the streets were diverse; some whose political stance might be described as Tea Party-like  found themselves talking with leftists and anarchists (and others) in small groups about what to do, how to work collectively to achieve what we all understood was the only thing that would level the playing field so we could eventually fight those parochial battles we individually cared about...get money out of politics.  End corporate personhood.  Some of those who were uniting had voted for Democrats, some for Republicans...others claimed fierce independent status.  Did I want to be a part of this?  My first reason for being here as stated above was a no-brainer for me.  I wouldn't miss this for anything. Even now, I pine for those early, heady days.  (And that may be the saddest thing I've written in a very long time.)

Reason number two was a no-brainer for me as well.  I've been female in this body for close to sixty-six years, so I've had time to observe that there is no part of my experience since the day I was born that has not been influenced by the fact I was born a baby boomer white female in a patriarchal culture, to a blue-collar family in the South.  I consider those circumstances to be both my privilege and my baggage, but they're no doubt a part of why I've worked with and for women on issues that impact women for most of my adult life.  It's what I do.  The fact that I came of age at a time when the world for women was changing at dizzying speed enabled me to see both the before and after life for women in this country as a result of the feminist wave of the 60s and 70s.  Once my own feminist spirit was birthed, I never thought to do other than what I could to ease the way for other women.

It's what I've tried to do within Occupy Nashville as well.  Because some of my professional work had at times included working with homeless and formerly homeless people, I expected to see some of society's most vulnerable women show up at the encampment on the plaza; they did.  My first trip to the plaza after the encampment began found me coming up on a young woman standing just off to the side.  She appeared to be a little disoriented, or confused, or...I wasn't sure what, but she appeared, at minimum, to be very uncomfortable, so I initiated a conversation with her.  I asked her if she was staying on the plaza.  Her first response was to ask me, "Who are these people?"  She told me she was homeless and had been drinking on Broadway the previous night, had nowhere to go, and had been brought to the plaza by someone she didn't know.  She didn't know where they were now.  She'd tried to sleep out in the open on the plaza, in a sleeping bag someone had given her when she got there.  She was tired.  She was hungry.  She was hungover. 

I don't know what happened to that young woman.  I walked her over to the food table (there was no kitchen or food tent yet), then I went and got "Tim," who allowed her to get some rest, safely and undisturbed, in his tent, while he assured she would be left alone until she was in a less vulnerable state.  When I returned a couple of days later, she was gone and I didn't find anyone who knew where she went.  I never saw her again.

This is just one woman, one that I encountered during the first few days of the occupation.  I'd like to think that there's nobody who would argue against my position that women within Occupy, Nashville or elsewhere, are more vulnerable than are their male compatriots, but at this point I'm just not sure there's anything that's not possible when it comes to either lies or delusions around the issue of women or misogyny or even feminism within Occupy Nashville.

I've related the story of the young woman above just to offer a glimpse into who some of the women are who found their way to the plaza during the months that ON had a camp there.  There were some exceptions, but I think it's fair to say that the majority of women who spent the night on the plaza while the ON encampment was in place were there because they had no other place to be.  The next time I would attempt to intervene to assist a vulnerable woman whose circumstances, not her politics, had landed her on the plaza was what I saw only retrospectively as a turning point in my own relationship with ON.  (That incident is related here.)  My audacity to confront male members of the ON stream team about their treatment of another young woman who was part of ON triggered the onslaught of an assault on my character that has continued mostly uninterrupted for the ensuing seven months since November.  I had no idea at the time what buttons that would push for those guys, but that it did and what that looked like for me and how a similar phenomenon would repeatedly manifest itself within ON and that team's interactions with other women is well documented in this blog.

This blog entry isn't about my cred or credentials as a feminist, nor will it be a catalog of what I've contributed to this movement.  I'm simply trying to be as precise as I can be about why I was a part of ON and why I'm writing tonight.  And I want to assure of a few things I've seen speculated on as well...If you think I've spent more time during the past eight months taking up for women than for men in Occupy and Occupy Nashville, you are correct.  If you believe I've spent a lot of time actively looking for women within Occupy and ON who are vulnerable and/or need support, again, you are correct.  Have I been "looking for trouble?"  Absolutely.  Guilty as charged.  I considered it my "mission" to seek the overlooked, the least powerful, the bullied.  The most vulnerable.  This is my unapologetic acknowledgement of all of that.

None of that makes me a misandrist, any more than my being female makes my awe and wonder at and love for my adult son any less than the same that I feel for my adult daughter.  It is patriarchal defensiveness that concludes the very act of acknowledging disparity in privilege between men and women and confronting it must by definition be "man hating."  It is a very deprived (depraved?) sense of equality that doesn't allow the possibility one can care for all while at the same time recognizing the privilege of one group over another.  

If you're reading this, I'll assume you know about the Occupy Nashville general assembly last week in which the ON Internal Restorative Justice group reported on their findings after a three month-long investigative process of incidents involving Jason Steen and the ON body present determined unanimously to shun Steen.  (If not, you can catch up here.)  In the hours that immediately followed that GA, the repercussions of Occupy Nashville appearing to finally address in any meaningful way the misogyny within their internal organization were fast and furious.  You know why I said it appeared they acted in a meaningful way if you've read this.  Clearly, the long established pattern within ON of attacking the messenger instead of addressing the issue at hand has become SOP here.

And, now it's escalated.  What we have here, folks, in the above photo, is "circumstantial evidence" that I'm a bully. Yes, that's an actual quote and as far as I can tell, the dude who said it thought he was serious. Alternatively, it might be evidence I'm a "terrorist." The other explanation floatin' around via Twitter is that I'm armed for bear and actually an infiltrator, an agent provocateur, if you will (a title that may have more syllables than any other I've ever managed to acquire for anything I actually did).

Ok, jest jestin' about the title part.

The reality (sorry to be rude and disturb the trance) is that this is a staged shot (ooops, and I was tryin' to be so careful) created one fine sunny day for no other reason than to post online to play with some people who were posting with me in November 2009 on a political forum.  What we were going around and around about at the time was, you guessed it, 2nd Amendment views. I was visitin' friends in Missouri who also posted on the same forum, and I put on one of their jackets and they armed me...momentarily, of course (they're not idiots).

Ok, I guess I can joke about this stuff, right? Or can I? Here's the rest of the story...No shocker here, but it's the Occupy boyz again. This mess is going out all over the place online to be done whatever with by whoever is in their sphere of influence.  Jason's boyfriend, Mickey Russell, entertained himself yesterday by posting it on the Women Occupy Nashville facebook page as well. (Note to J:  Some of us wish y'd take better care of yer dude.)

By yesterday, there appeared another image supposed to be about me.  Skills previously honed muckin' up a copyrighted photo of Eva belonging to me were now used for this...

You'll note, of course, the names Jason Steen and Michael Custer in the above screen shot image.  You might even recall that a great deal of the over two-hour exorcism that was GA the other night dealt specifically with the matter of Jason tweeting out harmful allegations about ON members and using the ON hash tag to do it.  And Custer who led the move to shun Steen for his actions.

Make no mistake.  There is potential harm in what is going on here and it needs to stop.  It is not a joke, no matter how funny you think it is to laugh at someone's imagined discomfort, to put information out that creates the false impression that someone is doing something that others could be angry enough about to hurt someone over.  It's called slander, for starters, and it's also called inciting, which has potentially much graver consequences for everyone involved.

This isn't the first time someone within ON has suggested that I was an infiltrator or agent provocateur and there's no question that it's a go-to tactic for the busted when they're caught for their own misdeeds.  In spite of the seriousness of this all, however, I feel compelled to note that I've wondered just how stupid these people think any group would have to be to choose a sixty-five year old woman with significant barriers to even getting to the plaza on a regular basis to infiltrate a group of young Occupy activists?  Because it would, of course, go smoothly and work so well, right?  When I stop laughing at the insanity of that, I'll...

I dunno what.  I haven't stopped yet.  But I do have some questions while we're talkin' as we are about agents and provocateurs...Where's MajikNinja?  On which team has ON had their only security issues?  'Ssup with the guy who says he's on probation but apparently doesn't have to have verifiable income and can travel all over the country, who spent time away from the rest of the group when taken into police custody on Broadway one night, but was subsequently released uncharged while the others who had been detained elsewhere were issued citations? Did I miss the tweets on the ON fb social media page about these other people? 

And, good grief...Is there a damn thing I could possibly say here that would make any sense of the insanity of Jason Steen, shunned by the ON GA days ago, spending every day since doing a different verse of the same song to me with the loving approval of the one who led the group to shun him?

Does this look crazy to you?  Well. 

There is also some specific criticism of this blog that I want to address before I stop.  I've made it clear elsewhere and on this blog in earlier entries why this blog exists and how it evolved to be the only platform I had for saying what I wanted to say about Occupy Nashville.  The bullies assured I was silenced in every format they had control over, so I made my own platform.  Simple, really.

But I want to especially address the criticism that this blog is angry.  Too angry.  Once again, I want to acknowledge that your perceptions are correct.  I'm pissed.  I'm righteously angry at what I and other women have endured because we brought ourselves to a movement we believed in with every fiber of being.  I'm furious for that and I'll never apologize for being angry about it.  I ascribe to no belief system that tells me there's anything spiritual about either turning the other cheek or walking away from injustice directed toward another.  Further, if one is being truthful, there is nothing abusive about expressing, no matter how loudly, ones pain and, yes, anger at being violated.  I wonder at the being who wants to live incapable of expressing rage when it's appropriate to do so.

(PLEASE NOTE:  I feel like I do need to say just a few words about my use of the words "women" and "men" here, because it has been brought to my attention that I recently wrote some things that were offensive to some, words perceived as horrifyingly transphobic.  I've already apologized for that in the place where it came up, but I want to acknowledge here as well my own sorely deficient understanding of transgender issues.  It's not something that heretofore I've examined, for no reason I can think of other than it hasn't been necessary in either my personal or professional life.  Now that it's been brought to my attention, I do feel it's incumbent upon me to address that deficit in my understanding of gender issues, and I'm working on it.  For now, I'll say that when I'm discussing here "women," I'm including anyone who lives their life as a woman.  I have no doubt that I'm still laboring under the delusion/illusion of a binary gender system.  Again, I do apologize if I'm offending.  I'm trying to expand my understanding.  I'm absolutely willing to be schooled by anyone who would like to offer constructive instruction on this subject.  I am genuinely embarrassed to feel like I must apologize for my ignorance in this clumsy way, but will sincerely say thanks if anyone wants to steer me toward something you think I should read or take a look at.)