Occupy movement success requires diverse, far-reaching participation

The United States is in the midst of one of the most intense political and social soul-searching moments in recent history.

First the Tea Party, which evolved into a sect of the Republican Party. Then the Occupy movement, which, while a leftist movement, hasn’t yet been adopted by the democrats other than in rhetoric. Now we are seeing vicious reactionary forces on the right resisting the prospect of rupturing social boundaries at the center of the Occupy movement’s vision.

Those of us with any sense of social justice can see clearly the backward and unacceptable thinking in the GOP’s attack on women, LGBTQ communities, blacks, Hispanics and anyone else who isn’t a “real American,” which, by the way, is code for white, male (or if you’re female, a denouncer of feminism), straight and cisgendered. Those of us with a sense of social justice have a duty to fight back against these reactionary forces which would have us turn the clock back to 1950.

Even though I have never been to a rally, march or general assembly, I am part of the Occupy movement. Before you scoff that I’m just jumping on the bandwagon of the movement because anyone who is really involved does the things that Occupiers do, think about what your schema of “what Occupiers do” is. I say this not only to challenge attacks against me personally but also to challenge those who don’t think they can be part of the movement because they’re not doing “the things that Occupiers do.”

There are two problems with the schema of “what Occupiers do.” First, the media feeds us images of the iconic stuff and only the iconic stuff: The people who occupy literal physical spaces and are physically punished for it. Second, there is a historical misconception of how social movements work in this country. We learn about the leaders, speechmakers, lawyers and Supreme Court cases. We don’t learn about the envelope stuffers, cooks, journalists, academics, social workers, community center volunteers, public high school teachers or parents.

Any successful social movement achieves its goals not only in the courts or legislative houses and not even only in the streets at rallies, marches and speeches. If it is to succeed, Occupy needs to occupy everything and everywhere, including the social consciousness of the country.

You can be a part of the movement by being an active voice in the national dialogue at the hyper-local level by talking to people about issues of inequality and unearned privilege – just don’t rest by preaching to the choir. You can be a part of the movement by choosing not to spend money on products produced by unethical corporations. You can be a part of the movement by volunteering to register voters, make phone calls or mail letters. You can be a part of the movement by refusing to legitimize reactionary rhetoric, deconstructing it for what it is whenever it comes up: Those in privileged spaces trying to patch up ruptures in their boundaries as “outsiders” begin to occupy them.

For my part, I intend to occupy the academy. As public-higher-education funding is threatened each year, the only thing certain in the academy’s future is that it must transform. There are still too many academics that are not comfortable with this, who don’t want to change their pedagogy or their principles. After becoming a professor, I hope to do what I can to make the academy’s necessary transformation successful. And maybe I’ll attend a few marches along the way.

How about you?

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