Divide and rule works both ways
Philippa Willitts // 20 November 2011
When I complained about Julian Assange speaking at Occupy LSX, I was told I was being divisive. When I drew attention to zohra moosa and Chitra Nagarajan’s experiences of racism at the same occupy camp, I was also told I was being divisive. Complaining about the Labour Party, about the Lib Dems, about rapes at other Occupy camps, about inaccessible feminist meetings, and about issues being ignored under the heading of #solidarity, all get me called divisive.
The idea is that if you complain about something, you risk dividing the movement, at which point the opposition – be it the patriarchy, the ‘right’, the rich, the government – can move in and rule. And I understand this concern. When a movement is struggling for a voice, the last thing it needs is the people within it arguing amongst themselves, instead of against the people they are uniting to fight.
However, there comes a point when supporting a movement whose ideology or aims you broadly agree with becomes one painful compromise too many. And if you speak up, the ‘divisive’ accusations pour forth. But in my daily, lived experience, the division does not come from me raising awareness, the problem comes from the issues arising in the first place.
Because if I cannot physically get into your occupy camp, it is not me who has divided the movement. There is a very literal division between the non-disabled people who can get in, and the disabled people who can’t. And because if there have been rapes at your occupy camp, or your occupy camp produces a document telling anyone who is raped at the camp to not go to the police, it is not me who divides the movement by drawing attention to it, it is those who rape, and those who attempt to suppress legal redress against rapists who cause a division. And because if disabled people who can’t leave the house spend hours and days and weeks live tweeting events to take part in, and raise awareness of, a demonstration, and then those same disabled people actually plead with the protesters to add benefit and social care cuts to their banners and chants, and are ignored at every turn, the division is being created by them, not me.
I understand that in a broad movement, gathered together ideologically but not always agreeing, compromises will need to be made. I am becoming less and less understanding, however, about how often the white, heterosexual, cis, non-disabled men are asked to compromise, in comparison to the rest of us. Because being called divisive is sometimes very similar to being silenced.
[The image is a black and white close-up photograph of a person’s mouth, with piercing, with a finger held up against it in a ‘shush’ position. It was taken by Ko_An and is used under a Creative Commons Licence]