Speech at the Occupy Oakland Rally, 28 January 2012
“This Land! Don’t you feel it? Doesn’t it make you want to go out and lift dead Indians tenderly from their graves, to steal from them — as if it must be clinging to their corpses — some authenticity. . .”
Those are the words of poet William Carlos Williams. We stand here today on the land of the Ohlone, and honor this earth in which their ancestors are buried and the descendants of genocide continue their struggle.
Under the crust of the earth that is called the United States of America (“From California to the New York island; From the red wood forest to the Gulf Stream waters, this land. . .”) are interred the bones, villages, fields, and sacred items of Indians, whose living descendents of the survivors cry out for the interred to be heard, for their story of what happened to be told. They are truly the undead and carry the memories of how the United States of America was founded and how it came to be as it is today, having made the whole world “Indian Country.”
It should not have happened that the great civilizations of the western hemisphere, the very evidence of the western hemisphere, would be wantonly destroyed, the progress of humanity interrupted and on the path of greed and destruction. Choices were made that forged that path of destruction of life itself, the moment in which we now live, and die. It is no longer a choice to know this history, rather a requirement for survival. Its name is capitalism; its method is colonialism and imperialism.
So, how do we destroy this evil that is capitalism, which found its center in what is now called the United States? I think the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, the IWW or Wobblies, at the beginning of the last century, in 1905, gave us a road map that is expressed in the Preamble to their constitution.
The working class and the employing class have nothing in common. There can be no peace so long as hunger and want are found among millions of the working people and the few, who make up the employing class, have all the good things of life.
Between these two classes a struggle must go on until the workers of the world organize as a class, take possession of the means of production, abolish the wage system, and live in harmony with the Earth.
We find that the centering of the management of industries into fewer and fewer hands makes the trade unions unable to cope with the ever growing power of the employing class. The trade unions foster a state of affairs which allows one set of workers to be pitted against another set of workers in the same industry, thereby helping defeat one another in wage wars. Moreover, the trade unions aid the employing class to mislead the workers into the belief that the working class have interests in common with their employers.
These conditions can be changed and the interest of the working class upheld only by an organization formed in such a way that all its members in any one industry, or in all industries if necessary, cease work whenever a strike or lockout is on in any department thereof, thus making an injury to one an injury to all.
Instead of the conservative motto, “A fair day’s wage for a fair day’s work,” we must inscribe on our banner the revolutionary watchword, “Abolition of the wage system.”
It is the historic mission of the working class to do away with capitalism. The army of production must be organized, not only for everyday struggle with capitalists, but also to carry on production when capitalism shall have been overthrown. By organizing industrially we are forming the structure of the new society within the shell of the old.
I think those words expresses the spirit of the Occupy movement, particularly Occupy Oakland.
I want to read a short piece I wrote a few years ago. I think you’ll see why the Occupy movement makes my heart sing. Why recognizing the existence of the one percent as the enemy is the doorway to the future, if there is to be a future. It’s called “Hating the Rich.”
“The rich are not like you and me,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald. Christian preachers intone: “The poor will always be with us, so be charitable.” “Get real and accept it, humans by nature are selfish,” we are told. “Give alms and aid to the poor, tax the rich, but let them stay rich.” “Establish private foundations to avoid the taxes. “Be a responsible trust baby and give.” You’ve heard it all, and maybe even believe it in your heart. But, it’s toxic thinking.
I have a suggestion for clarifying our consciousness: learn to hate the rich. Hate, yes. You can dress up the language and call it rage. But, hate is a concept underrated. Everyone does it, but no one wants to admit it, usually hating the wrong person, often hating oneself. Hate is the opposite of love. Do you love the rich? Like the rich? If not, then maybe you can learn to hate the rich.
I don’t mean shame the rich in order to get money out of their guilt, as has been a long practice on the left and among non-profits. I mean NOT taking money from the rich, isolate the rich, don’t allow them to soothe their consciences by giving money and getting huge tax breaks in the process. Force them to build tall walls around their estates and corporate headquarters as the people force the rich to do in Latin America. Imprison them. How dare they be allowed to have plate glass windows on their corporate headquarters and mansions!
We are held back and diminished by the claim that hating is bad for us, bad for everyone, that we are all a part of the human family. You can hate a person’s action but not hate the person. You can hate wealth or capitalism but not the rich. It’s an absurd logic that keeps us hating and blaming ourselves for not being rich and powerful. Anyway, it’s not consistent; it’s all right to hate slavery and slaveowners, fascism and Hitler, etc. Why not hate the rich, the individual rich, not an abstract concept, such as a corporation?
Ah, but who are the rich? We have to be careful about that, living in a country that does not admit to class stratification, and class is subject to little analysis. Talking about class is divisive, it is said. Identifying the rich is not only a matter of income. It is essential in hating the rich to target the enemy and not some front for the enemy, such as the police or politicians. High income can certainly make people full of themselves, and most US citizens who live on high fixed or hourly incomes due to circumstances of a good trade union or a professional degree have no idea that they aren’t rich.
In polls the majority of the US population say they are in the top fifth of the income bracket, and they aren’t. A majority of US citizens don’t want to tax the rich more and don’t hate the rich, because they think they themselves will be rich one day. They won’t. It’s an insidious lie; they are prisoners of democracy. The rich own not just a mortgaged house and a car, a boat or a cabin in the woods or a beach house to boot; rather they own YOU, US; they own the government, the police, the state. And it’s not new, it’s always been the truth of capitalism. Just because we are just waking up, doesn’t mean things were better in the past.
Even the cash and luxury soaked entertainment and sports stars are not the rich; they certainly deserve contempt and disgust, but not hatred. Don’t go for scapegoats — Jews, Oprah, Martha Stewart. Hatred should be reserved for those who own us, that is, those who own the banks, the oil companies, the war industry, the land (for corporate agriculture), the private universities and prep schools, and who own the foundations that dole out worthy projects for the poor and for public institutions — their opera, their ballet, their symphony, that you are allowed to attend for a high price after opening night.
My oldest brother, who like me grew up dirt poor in rural Oklahoma, children of sharecroppers, rebuts my arguments by saying that no poor man ever gave him a job. That says it all. The rich own him, and us.
In all the arguments about religions — Judeo-Christian-Muslim religions, but especially Christianity, the religion of capitalism — rarely is it discussed that the leveling of class, rich and poor are the same in god’s sight, is a narcotic lie. What a handy ideology for the rich! The same with US democracy with its “equal opportunity” and “level playing fields,” absurd claims under capitalism, but ones held dear by many.
Why are we so silent about this, grumping over the increase in the income gap, trying to figure out how to narrow it? What do we expect, that the rich will empower the people to overthrow them as they almost did in response to the labor movement in the 1930s or the Civil Rights Movement and the War on Poverty? Not again will the ruling class make that mistake. I’m not saying we shouldn’t point to income gap as evidence of the crimes of the rich, but we should not delude ourselves that the rich will give up their ownership of us. So, we need to stop longing for the return of the New Deal or a wealthy savior such as Franklin Roosevelt who is thought by many to have been. My Oklahoma sharecropper father, son of a Wobbly, always taught me that Roosevelt had rescued the rich and saved capitalism, and he was right.
Passionate, organized hatred is the element missing in all that we do to try to change the world. Now is the time to spread hate, hatred for the rich.
So, that was what I wrote, and now here we are a few months into the convergence of the 99 percent against the 1 percent. You are the people and the movement that we’ve been waiting for. The other side of cultivating a cold hard hatred for the 1 percent, the rich, is love for the people, for the 99 percent, for ourselves, so that arguments and criticisms might be loving and compassionate, and mutuality will prevail. The two sides are integrally linked and inseparable — hatred for the rich, love for the people. We have a long, hard road ahead.
I want to close by quoting my great hero, Lucy Parsons, wife and widow of Haymarket martyr, Albert Parsons, and labor militant in her own right. Speaking in 1905, at the founding of the Industrial Workers of the World, Lucy Parsons said:
My conception of the strike of the future is not to strike and go out and starve, but to strike and remain in and take possession of the necessary property of production. Do you think the capitalists will allow you to vote away their property? You may, but I do not believe it. . . It means a revolution that shall turn all these things over . . . to the wealth producers. . . When your new economic organization shall declare as brothers and sisters that you are determined that you possess these things, then there is no army that is large enough to overcome you, for you yourselves constitute the army.
On another occasion, Lucy Parsons, herself an African-American, advised a black community in Jim Crow Mississippi to respond to white supremacist massacres of their friends and families that:
You are not absolutely defenseless. For the torch of the incendiary, which has been known to show murderers and tyrants the danger line, beyond which they may not venture with impunity, cannot be wrested from you.
Lucy Parsons struck a match and held it up as a symbol of freedom. You may not have to use it, but we have the power and the right to do so. You are free people, spreading freedom.
Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz is a feminist and historian. Her Web site is <www.reddirtsite.com>. Click here to read some of her articles that appeared in Monthly Review.