where we occupy
after june jordan
by Aimee Suzara
projectile canister fracture crack
baton bullet teargas attack
rise remote display destroy
disturb the peace
on native soil
return release unsettle sleep
unrest the dead upset unseat
veils oya elegba watch
bathala christ diwata cross
baree baree tabi po tabi po
remember those whose
My first night back in Oakland from the farm was the night of the raid on Occupy's encampment. I had grown used to hooting owls and coyotes, and the distant yell of college kids to break the silence. But this night was helicopters overhead and an unrest creeping beyond downtown. Morning headlines flashed stunning images of tear gas and police in riot gear targeted on peaceful demonstrators. Although I was feeling far from the soil, I realized here, the unrest was its own force of nature, a water that coursed through streets like stony rivers, buildings like sentinel trees. And like any force of nature, things moved quickly.
Within days a general strike was announced for November 2. The march was a vibrant and growing flood as thousands swelled into the street. Families, librarians, scientists, faith leaders, mothers of color, nurses, a children's brigade, musicians, immigrant rights groups, elders, environmental justice folk walked out in full force. Oakland was a different picture from images of mostly white-dominated Occupy actions around the country. Brown and black faces moved the crowd, lifted banners, pushed strollers, and rocked the mic.
"We got to hella hella occupy!"
"We are the 99%!"
"What do we got? People power!"
I felt proud to raise my voice with the thousands as energy swirled around us. It felt strong to walk with Filipinos calling out for the recognition of justice, with food advocates protesting corporate food systems that fail to feed, as an ordinary person in a river of voices. Hearing "people power" called out in the chants by this river, a term coined by the Philippine's peaceful People Power Movement in 1986, lifted my heart. This was organized, this was peaceful, this was beautiful, this was powerful.
And yet...some corner my heart was unsettled. I don't want to be a naysayer as Occupy is sparking across the country, has a national and global impact, and puts a spotlight to many social issues. But I had to work through the emotions that "occupy" surfaced, linked to a long history of stolen lands.
I first heard the word "occupy" when living in Hawai'i, and witnessing Kanaka Maoli-led struggles for sovereignty on their ancestral soil. As a daughter of Philippine immigrants, the language of occupation meant that takeover of ancestral lands - and the fight for accountability - could transcend geographical borders. At Occupy Oakland and elsewhere, Native communities reminded folks of the ongoing occupation on this very piece of earth, from false borders to lack of federal recognition.
As writer Robert Desjarlait posed, "How can decolonization be a part of the process if the occupiers are occupying occupied land?" I believe in Oakland as one of the places leading that much-needed conversation. As this all unfolds, I hope, like many do, that this leads towards true transformation. And that will take the continual self-reflection on the roots of a 500+ year old history wherever folks Occupy.