We are the 49%?

// 16 October 2011

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A photograph of the words We are the 99% painted in green and white on fabric on the floor. Around it are the feet and legs of various unidentified people. This post was written in collaboration by Helen G, Jess McCabe, Philippa Willitts and zohra moosa.

We are the 99%; it’s the slogan of a protest movement that has swept from Wall Street, across the US and now to the London Stock Exchange. But what does it mean, “we are the 99%”? It’s a slogan of solidarity, an alignment of the mass of the population in opposition to the influence of a tiny minority.

But, as many have said, it ain’t that simple.

Yesterday’s Occupy LSX protest, according to the organisers, was intended to “highlight and address social and economic injustice in the UK and beyond, as part of a global movement for real democracy“. The protest apparently passed off peacefully, although the now predictable heavy-handed response of the authorities was on display.

But why, many feminists are asking, was Julian Assange of Wikileaks asked to speak? Assange currently may be facing more than one charge of rape.

Let us remind ourselves of how Assange’s own lawyers described the incidents over which Assange may be tried in Sweden.

Asking women to put up with sexism for the ‘greater good’ is a time-honoured part of the leftist movement. It’s been written about plenty in terms of the anti-racist movement, for example, and the suffrage movement in the UK actually grew out of women’s frustration with sexism in the abolitionist movement. The unwillingness of unions to support dinner ladies in their gender pay gap claims is another example.

When will we start to understand that any movement which asks women to put up with sexism as a sacrifice for the group, as if sexism isn’t part of the problem, is doomed to fail? It’s no accident – or secret – that women make up the majority of the world’s poor and that women are being hardest hit by the financial crisis.

Throughout the action, reports came through on twitter, and live video streams were available to watch online. Television news even covered the demo, from the time to time. The world saw a crowd of people who were clearly very strongly motivated by the injustices apparent in the world. However, much of this crowd then went on to celebrate Assange’s appearance. There were also boos from the crowd, but his appearance as a speaker changed the tone. People who had been following the event with interest and passion felt it become something that was not at all related to us. Were we no longer part of the 99%? A 49%, perhaps.

Lots of people on twitter relayed their discomfort, expressing feelings that they were no longer represented, as women, and as rape survivors. Women’s rights are central to the #occupy movements around the world. And women involved in the movement deserve better treatment than to have their injustices treated as marginal, unimportant, and unworthy of direct challenge.

We’re trying hard not to be like this. But some of us are asking, if we are not represented in the 99%, and are not part of the 1%, then where are we, and why are we, in this movement?

[The image is A photograph of the words We are the 99% painted in green and white on fabric on the floor. Around it are the feet and legs of various unidentified people. It was taken by Wasi Daniju and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]

Comments From You

kimserca // Posted 16 October 2011 at 6:03 pm

a few errors there:

1) Assange hasn’t been charged with anything. The extradition attempt is for ‘further questioning’ by Swedish prosecutors

2) the passage you quote in a linked earlier post aren’t Assange’s lawyers words. They’re from complainant statements in the leaked Swedish police reports. Assange’s lawyers argument was that even on the accusations contained therein, they did not meet the standard for charge, hence for extradition. There was no comment, nor none required, on the veracity of the accusations, or of an alterntaive account of the events from Assange.

3) The principal complainant in the accusations has never signed her police record of interview and stated to witnesses – as recorded in the police report – that she never wanted to make a complaint, but was bullied into it by police and others. So the case may be proceeding without her, run entirely by the Swedish state, about which theres should be some judicious suspicion

flo // Posted 16 October 2011 at 6:17 pm

Thank you for writing this. I share you concerns about Assange’s involvement, and about the reaction to it within the group present.

I have also been concerned when I read that people of colour have felt excluded from occupations in the States, and I was saddened to read in the links you share above that other groups are feeling equally marginalised.

I also (yet again) as a disabled person feel excluded from this action/occupation because I could find no evidence that accessibility had even been considered. I know that the uncertainty of events like this make planning for accessibility difficult – but it is not impossible to at least improve it with some forward planning and effort.

The contribution of those who cannot physically participate in such actions (for example keeping people aware of how the action is being portrayed in the media) is not acknowledged or appreciated.

I find it hard to feel solidarity with a movement which has failed to express or act in solidarity with so many groups it claims to represent.

Sorry for the essay.

Flo

Philippa Willitts // Posted 16 October 2011 at 6:49 pm

Thanks for this, Flo. I agree, completely. I too am a disabled person and have noticed that there hasn’t been a single mention of accessibility in the occupation. I, too, understand that spontaneity makes it difficult, but even a “we are at location x, it has 3 steps” or whatever would make me feel at least like people like me were being considered.

I find it hard to feel solidarity with a movement which has failed to express or act in solidarity with so many groups it claims to represent

Exactly.

Jennifer Drew // Posted 16 October 2011 at 7:27 pm

In fact it is not ‘sexism’ but centuries old misogyny which ensures women’s lives and experiences are once again missing from this male-dominated protest action. Women make up majority of human populations but as usual men claim they are the majority and it is men’s issues and men’s needs which are being presented as the ‘real issue.’ Left wing men have a his tory of always exploiting women of all colours and ethnicities because these men arrogantly consider their grievances with other more powerful men to always supercede women’s demands.

Irrespective of a woman’s class/ethnicity etc. she is always perceived by male supremacy and individual men as being subordinate to the default human which is always proclaimed to be male. These latest exploits by left-wing men;anarchist men is not new but is continuing misogyny and as always women are being told ‘you must put men’s issues first because misogyny is a trivial issue compared to men’s right of wresting power from other more powerful men.’ Women always lose when men engage in challenging other men for power and social control because male supremacy always claims women are not human despite fact men would not exist without women doing men’s dirty work for them.

That’s why feminism began because began to get together to denounce male domination over all women and to challenge male supremacy/patriarchal systems. But of course male supremacy enacted that old and clever male practice of ‘dividing women from each other and thereby ensuring the male supremacist system remains unchallenged and male domination over all women continues unabated.

Rose // Posted 16 October 2011 at 8:39 pm

If I didn’t have a big exam this wednesday I’d have liked to have been at the protest.

That said, there’s a fair chance I would have left when he started speaking.

It’s differcult to know how people there actually reacted to his presence. I feel that the ‘occupy’ movement is all about the performance, being visual, getting attention for ‘the demands’. Regardless of guilt or innocence, his image is not the right display of principles.

It’s just not right to stand against greed and coruption by putting someone on a pedestel who ‘may or may not’ be guilty of trumatising and abusing others for their own pleasure, and leaning on gender inequality in law (which in practice there clearly is), to get away with it.

Laurel // Posted 16 October 2011 at 9:04 pm

unfortunately the lack of access will be down to the fact that so many people at there at the moment are activist newbies who went on an occupation without considering toilets, and are only now having things brought to them through donations.

as for assange, my main issue, apart from the lack of sensitivity to what he represents, was the whole, having idols in the first place, thing. why is what he has to say, more important than what the other people there have to say? it isnt. personally i dont see how they managed to make consensus so top down and unrepresentative. for a broad and anti-political movement, it sure isnt open to people with radical political views and tactics, and sadly thats going to be reflected in less radical views towards women/minorities/disabled/whatever the people themselves havent had to deal with yet. it seems as if theyre occupying public space in order to lobby mps to ask for a revolution… in greed. but if they DO get anywhere then im supportive.

personally im more interested in the anarchist bookfair this weekend.

http://anarchistbookfair.org.uk/whatson.html

of interest to us sidelined types:

‘Anarchism, Feminism, Prostitution and Sex Work’ – open to all

‘Anarchism and British Sign Language (BSL) – Does Anarchism offer a better world for Deaf people’

‘UK Youth Rebellion’

‘The Battle of Cable Street, speaker David Rosenberg’

‘Targeting Israeli Apartheid. An examination of strategies and targets for the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israeli apartheid. ‘

‘Is your group dominated by white people? ‘

‘Radical Women Take Action’ – for all self-defined women

‘White privilege and Racism’ – aimed at white people but all welcome

‘Anarchism & Spirituality. ‘

and hopefully som others!

kahloo // Posted 17 October 2011 at 12:59 pm

I too am outraged that Julian Assange has been invited to speak at the Occupy LSX. Whether the charges against him are proven or not, the fact is he has publicly demonstrated no respect for women, in his defence he has admitted that – he does go to parties to pick women up, sleep with them and then dump them. This behaviour is deemed almost acceptable, using women for sex is part of a good night out, alongside wearing designer clothes and snorting some really good coke. Women are mere accessories, having an attractive woman on your arm is prevalent in all circles of life. His blatant acceptance of women as a accessory and a play thing surely is enough to warrant an outcry at his being asked to speak for a cause where women are the hardest hit whether he is guilty of rape or not.

Abuse of women is a choice for men in our society, men can choose or not choose to partake in sexism but they have the choice. Many times have I come across men who say the right things, are right up there with women to support them, but behind closed doors make choices which contradict their ‘right on’ image. I have always felt more empowered working with women only groups and was most surprised that that some women’s groups in this day and age feel it okay to work alongside men on women’s issues. I was absolutely gobsmacked when attending a feminist conference that men who define themselves as feminists were in attendance. How can they relate to the oppression of women, they have no experience of being women, they can choose whether to be non sexist or not to suit their environment.

So if we are to start the debate about Julian Assange speaking at the Occupy LSX we need to take this argument wider, much wider, he is just one man who participates in misogyny, there are many more like him about.

jrms // Posted 17 October 2011 at 5:02 pm

I completely agree with the article’s argument that we do not progress very well when we ask some of the oppressed to shut up while we focus on our favourite victims. Historically, some trade unions have considered male workers those favourites.

However, I also want to live somewhere where “innocent until proven guilty” applies to everyone. I dislike the notion that I should consider a person untouchable when they find themselves accused, but not yet tried, of a crime I find sufficiently repellent.

We also know that governments have used these sorts of accusations before as a method of smearing, and thereby silencing, voices they find inconvenient. Julian Assange heads a group that the most powerful, controlling, and successfully murderous alpha males on our planet find particularly inconvenient at this point in time.

We surely know about smearing. Women have found their wisdom regarded by the ruling alpha males as inconvenient, if not downright treasonous, for most of the West’s recorded history. In those days, crying “witch!” at an ornery woman worked quite well in the court of male opinion, and the accused could expect to find herself quickly silenced, often permanently.

Now I don’t KNOW that governments want to smear Assange. I don’t know that they DON’T, either. At the moment, I cannot see a moral course of action other than considering him innocent until proven guilty, and meanwhile, if he has something interesting to say, I shall listen to him and learn what I can.

Laurel // Posted 17 October 2011 at 5:33 pm

personally i think innocent until proven guilty is an outdated method. before trial certainly, however this is the one case where if the accused is innocent then the accuser is guilty, ergo guilty till proven innocence. id like to see these things done far more case-by-case and far less black and white. currently if we are all innocent until proven guilty then 94% of women reporting rape are guilty of making it up. whilst i believe that we could with understanding and changes and technology raise this significantly higher, many forms of rape by coersion, or just on someone who was scared, or changed their mind but who did not physically resist hard enough to cause injury or at all, will ALWAYS be found guilty by this method, and I believe this is still the vast majority of cases.

i think perhaps rape has to be almost de-stigmatised from something that evil monsters do to ruin innocent girls lives, in order for us to feel comfortable as a society to point the finger at that regular nice guy with lots of female friends who figured if he kept trying she would change her mind as a rapist, and ‘ruin his life’.

i actually liked the idea of not being able to name and shame the accused and accusers before they were charged as it would decriminalise the accuser… if only it were the same for other crimes as well, rather than under the assumption that rape accusations are more likely to be a slur than others.

Laurel // Posted 17 October 2011 at 5:39 pm

also just to add that assange isnt actually left-wing/anarchism, not to discount misogyny in the left or manarchism, but he isnt anti-capitalist. hes more like an american libertarian capitalist, so that hit a few nerves in itself

Laura // Posted 17 October 2011 at 6:34 pm

@ jrms – Assange’s lawyers openly said that he started having sex with a woman while she was asleep. Unless there has been prior consent to this, which it appears there was not, that’s rape. It doesn’t matter to me whether he is found legally guilty or not – anyone who thinks that kind of sexual behaviour is acceptable is abusive and misogynist, and it sickens me that so many people don’t seem to have a problem with this.

SexierThanThou // Posted 17 October 2011 at 9:36 pm

I think kimserca might be right on this one…

jrms // Posted 17 October 2011 at 11:22 pm

Hi Laura Woodhouse,

I spent a while reading articles about this after your reply. Penetrating someone unable to give consent certainly counts as rape, and if Julian Assange admitted rape, innocent til proven guilty does not apply.

After about an hour of surfing around trying to get a handle on the details of the case, I turned up a minute-by-minute account of the hearing where the details you wrote about emerged. And I found that shortly after describing the charges “in graphic detail”, Ben Emmerson, Assange’s lawyer, said he considered them unfair and inaccurate:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2011/jul/12/julian-assange-extradition-live-coverage

10.46am: Ben Emmerson, Assange’s barrister, says the case against his client rests on four sex charges, and goes on to describe them in graphic detail.

10.53am: The description of the circumstances of the alleged offences in the warrant is not fair and accurate, Assange’s team says, and the offences cannot be fairly characterised as rape.

Many reports about the hearing quote quite large chunks of Emmerson’s description of what the warrant has to say, but then never say that 7 minutes later, he questions their accuracy. The reader of such a report would reach the conclusion that Emmerson had “admitted” everything in those charges, when in fact, he doesn’t appear to have done anything of the kind.

Here, for example: http://jezebel.com/5820468/julian-assange-back-in-court-now-with-less-victim+blaming

And this one: http://studentactivism.net/2011/07/12/assange-lawyer-concedes/

And this one, which uses the previous article for source material: http://shakespearessister.blogspot.com/2011/07/assanges-account-looks-like-accusers.html

So it looks jolly like Assange’s lawyer openly described the contents of the warrant (including Assange penetrating someone still asleep), but then went on to question the fairness and accuracy of that description. Only many of the reports about the trial miss out the second part, leaving readers with the impression that Assange’s lawyer openly confessed. I might be wrong, but for now, agnosticism coupled with an “innocent-til-proven-guilty” approach seems like the best policy for dealing with this, to me.

cim // Posted 18 October 2011 at 8:12 am

jrms: That sort of “neutrality” misses a major point, though. Two women went to a police station to report Assange’s sexual activity. That’s not a usual thing to do after a consensual sexual encounter. Even if it turns out at the trial (which Assange is doing his very best to avoid) that what happened wasn’t exactly as described, and as a consequence falls below the Swedish or English thresholds for a sexual offence, that still doesn’t make him a good person.

“Not technically guilty of rape” and “The sort of speaker one might want in a movement inclusive of less privileged people” are nowhere near the same thing. See the 10.50 and 10.58 entries in that Guardian article, for example.

sianandcrookedrib // Posted 18 October 2011 at 9:16 am

This post inspired me to write my own, here:

http://sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com/2011/10/im-woman-im-excluded-from-99.html

I was horrified that Assange was invited to speak. It makes me feel that i am not considered part of the 99% as a woman.

Laura // Posted 18 October 2011 at 9:15 pm

@ jrms, That’s interesting, thanks. However, even if he didn’t admit to those details, I would personally still expect people to treat him with caution, given that two women made these charges against him. Instead, people have been falling over themselves to defend him. I know I wouldn’t want to applaud and defend him, only to later find that he was in fact guilty. But, as ever, it seems the assumption is that the women must be lying and that such a supposedly great man could not possibly be guilty of rape.

Dan // Posted 20 October 2011 at 10:17 pm

I also feel totally sickened by Assange’s presence at #occupylsx, although I still support the movement. That said it is overwhelmingly, unbelievably middle class.

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