Divide and rule works both ways

// 20 November 2011

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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 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]

Comments From You

Katie Meta // Posted 20 November 2011 at 5:17 pm

A person who gives constructive criticism is trying hard to help the movement, not harm it! Big respect to those who point out where a movement is falling short in order to make it stronger.

joanne matthews // Posted 20 November 2011 at 5:33 pm

Giving constructive criticism is very important for any movement.

Asking people not to report rapes is utterly disgusting. Which camps have they happened at? And where is this document? Unfortunately I think that this highlights the patriarchial structure of the movement

Philippa Willitts // Posted 20 November 2011 at 5:40 pm

Hi Joanne, it was Occupy Baltimore that asked people to not report rapes – details here.

Jane Oliver // Posted 20 November 2011 at 8:48 pm

I second the respect given to any individual who delivers constructive critisism.

Challenging a movement such as Occupy (particularly in its infancy) can only further strengthen its core.

The ‘rape’ pamphlet appears to place victims in murky waters at a time when clear thinking and immediate support is vitally important.

Regarding the inaccessibility issues of the disabled protest: inclusiveness is most certainly the backbone of collective thought and action.

Keep up the good work!

Jennifer Drew // Posted 21 November 2011 at 11:56 am

Don’t we women know Occupy campaign is all about liberal men challenging other men for power and domination. Women’s experiences of male sexual violence against women as well as men’s continued misogyny and contempt for women of whatever ethnicity or race are supposedly irrelevant. No the issue is all about men and their demands.

We women only exist to serve men as ‘handmaidens’ because men’s issues are far more important than ours. Which is precisely why Feminism arose in the first place – because we women demanded an end to male supremacy and male rule over women.

So of course the liberal men will rush to denounce women as ‘being divisive’ because we mere dehumanised female beings mustn’t deflect attention away from men and their demands must we?

Remember women – don’t challenge men and their political organisations because only men’s issues are ‘real’ and only men are the ones who have the right to hold other men accountable. That is how male supremacy operates with men banding together to denounce women as ‘being divisive’ and male domination over women will continue as usual.

Claire Donnelly // Posted 21 November 2011 at 6:14 pm

It really infuriates me when this accusation is made. They are the ones being divisive when failing to take other people’s needs into account, and in some case actively making an unsafe space for many of the people who have been able to access it. I can understand more people being thoughtless when they are unaware. But all of the examples given above have been actively pointed out and very little in the way of apology or remedy is forthcoming.

I speak as a woman who was very actively involved in the trade union movement and left wing politics for years. Time and again this kind of thing happened, I got totally disillusioned with the organised left as a result. It is very disappointing to read about people’s needs being disregarded in this way and makes me feel little has changed. The Occupy protests, in many ways so inspiring, will leave a sour taste in my mouth.

Jane Oliver // Posted 21 November 2011 at 7:19 pm

Any recommendations then for those women who have chosen to participate in a movement that finally is so clearly (to some) about men vs men domination?

Should they abandoned the Occupy collective? Then what?


Philippa Willitts // Posted 21 November 2011 at 7:24 pm

Hi Jane,

I think it’s up to each individual woman to choose how much they want to participate. I’ve visited my local occupy camp a few times, and will do again. Others are choosing to boycott, and others to get more involved and change from within. The same applies for other movements and protests, I think we will all make the decisions that feel best to us.

mollymod1 // Posted 25 November 2011 at 10:38 pm

I think when a movement is young there are issues that need ironing out. Any attempt at silencing these issues without a fair open debate lends ammunition to the opposition and undermines the values and principles of the issues you are fighting for in the first place.

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