Anyone who has been paying close attention to the Occupy movement knows that “the 99%” is, in fact, several different groups. While it might make for good news reporting, #OWS is not a group with a unified message about corporate greed and income inequality. There is some truth to this narrative, but it is most certainly not the whole story. #OWS can more accurately be described as a collaboration between several different protest movements who have, for the moment, agreed to focus their attention on the overlap between politics and finance, because eliminating the problem will benefit all groups in some way.
There is an easily-drawn parallel between the affiliated causes of #OWS and the atheist/skeptic/freethought movement. They (we) are not a monolithic group with a singular goal – we are better described as a voluntary association of a number of disparate causes. There are freethinkers who wish to see the eventual disappearance of religion; there are others who simply wish religion was out of the public square. There are freethinkers who are activists because of the way religion treats women; there are others who fear for the security of the planet if fundamentalists control nuclear weapons. We do not have a single common goal, but we focus on religion (or, more generally, pseudoscience) because it is a common enemy.
The similarity does not end there, however. Just like religion does not harm all freethinkers equally – think of what an Iranian atheist faces compared to a Norwegian one – rising income inequality may be a universal problem, but there are some fractions within the 99% that, to put it bluntly, have more cause for concern:
The Census findings show a striking difference between racialized and non-racialized Ontarians. Racialized Ontarians are far more likely to live in poverty, to face barriers to Ontario’s workplaces, and even when they get a job, they are more likely to earn less than the rest of Ontarians. Among the core findings:
- Racialized Ontarians want work but have trouble finding it: While a larger share of racialized workers in Ontario were looking for work, fewer of them found jobs compared to the rest of Ontarians. Higher unemployment rates cut across the majority of racialized groups, accounting for 90 per cent of the racialized population. In 2005, long before the Great Recession wreaked havoc on Canada’s employment scene, the unemployment rate for racialized workers in Ontario was high—8.7 percent—compared to the 5.8 unemployment rate for the rest of Ontarians.
The global recession hit everyone hard, but it has hit minority groups (including women – please think before you quote gender stats to me) much harder. We’ve discussed this pattern of statistics before, wherein for a variety of reasons we see disproportionate harms in minority populations. Ontario is not immune to this effect, and I dare say that I’d imagine this to be more or less the pattern for the rest of Canada. The Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, a group that does excellent social policy research, has pored over the census data in an attempt to show the precise size of the gap in the labour market. Their conclusion: even when controlling for age, immigration status and level of education, there is still a force of racial discrimination in the way we currently employ workers. While I’d like to spend this whole post going over the report in detail, I don’t think there’s anything I could add to their excellent analysis, and there is a larger point I would like to make.
The decisions we make and the battles we fight do not happen in a vacuum. The political and financial system did not come to exist without being able to lean on the patriarchy and white supremacy that underlies North American culture. While we can focus our attention on corporate greed as a major issue (and it undoubtedly is) whose resolution will help many (and it undoubtedly will), failing to pull the system by its roots will only result in it growing back, perhaps stronger. There are groups who have been waiting generations for the revolution to arrive, and who are more than a little annoyed that these fresh-faced (and white) youngsters are getting all the credit, especially when that group uses tactics and slogans developed by those who have been trying to raise consciousness about bigger issues for a lot longer.
The problem with the #OWS model (and, ironically, the problem that only a movement like #OWS could possibly address) is that many of the most visible activists are, relatively speaking, newly arrived to the party. They do not see the struggle that had been raging before they arrived, nor do they see how it is relevant to what they think is the “real problem”. We can look once again to our own community for a parallel. Whenever issues of sexism are brought up, there is a contingent of freethinkers who seek to shout down the discussion by complaining that gender skeptics are “distracting” from the “real goals” of the freethought movement (goals which are, incidentally, rarely defined and usually depressingly myopic the few times a definition is supplied). The problem is not that gender or race skepticism distracts from the True Skepticism(tm); the problem is that many freethinkers simply do not see those issues as relevant.
However, for the same reason that activists who are pro-LGBT, feminist, anti-racist, anti-classist, etc. flock to the freethought movement, many other societal revolutionaries are seeking to have their voices heard in the #OWS movement. The reason is simple: because this is an environment in which a dearth of political power is not a bar to entry. Minority opinions can be heard and become mainstream more quickly than they can in the general public. When there is pushback against people trying to raise minority-group issues in the #OWS forum, much as there has been (and continues to be) pushback against feminist issues in the freethought community, the shock of betrayal is felt much more acutely. After all, this was supposed to be the group that tears down the social norms, not the one that uses them as a club to beat dissenters into compliance.
Whenever we have an example of a social structure – be it religion or corporatocracy – that acts disproportionately against minority groups, we cannot blithely ignore those groups in service of the “real goal”. Not only do we ignore the important fact that the “real problem” is evidently propped up by minority exploitation, but we run the risk of once again ignoring those groups who most need our collective political muscle once the goals of the majority have been achieved.
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