Help Support Freedom of Expression
My friend and compatriot, Samsarah Morgan has been the target of threats because of her involvement with editing a book, A People's History of Occupy Oakland.
Samsarah, along with Shake Anderson, Cami Graves, Zappa Montag and myself, put together the book as a selection of articles about Occupy Oakland. Some of the articles were old, and some were new pieces.
After the book went live on Amazon, Samsarah began receiving threatening phone calls, instant messages and emails, demanding that she condemn the book and the other authors. Needless to say, she has refused to cave in to people who are so frightened of freedom of expression that they resort to threats of violence to stop it.
Unfortunately, this was not the first time that people have tried to silence Samsarah. Several months ago, during the 1 year anniversary of Occupy Oakland, Samararh was instrumental in drafting a press release that drew a clear separation between Occupy Oakland and the people then calling themselves the "Oakland Commune." At that time, she also received threatening phone calls, IMs and emails demanding that she condemn the statement.
There's a certain irony in people who claim to be part of a movement for human liberation trying to violently suppress freedom of expression. However, that irony seems to be lost on some people in the movement. In fact, for quite some time now there has been, for lack of a better word, a pack of online cyberbullies involved with Occupy Oakland who have taken it upon themselves to harass and threaten people, often women of color, online and offline.*
At its height, Occupy Oakland had supporters numbering in the tens of thousands, and this was clearly visible at street marches and in the amount of logistical and financial support we received from the wider Oakland community. Unfortunately, the movement also had a difficult time drawing boundaries to exclude frankly anti-social and destructive behavior. I document this in the book as one of the failings of Occupy Oakland. Destructive, anti-social people drove many kind, thoughtful folks from the movement. If you want to see evidence of the kind of unhinged behavior, just check out the Amazon reviews. What you will see is that some, if not most, of the reviews hit just after the book went live on the 17th. It would have been impossible for those people to have read the entire book in just a few minutes, as the manuscript has approximately 30,000 words. I do understand intellectual disagreement, which is of course a natural and legitimate thing. But simply camping out in a review section and flipping out over a book without engaging the content is the height of intellectual dishonesty.
The number of people involved with cyber bullying (and to some extent real life bullying) is not that large. In fact, I would estimate it as no more than 30 to 50 people, maximum. From where do I draw those numbers? If you look at the Amazon reviews, you will see that most of the reviews have about 30 to 40 people saying that the review is helpful. The fact is that the reviews appeared immediately because the cyber bullies are adroit at using social media to rally a mob of people to attack others online. I am glad, in a sense, that the cyber bullies decided to mass attack the review page, because they clearly demonstrate behavior that I saw in real life-- the mob mentality, the failure to engage intellectually,and the hyperventilation. That behavior unfortunately stretched across Occupies, as documented by Quinn Norton in her excellent piece "A Eulogy for #Occupy."
There is something else notable in the reviews too-- the drive for purity and the statement that "people shouldn't make money off the movement." That is a coded way of saying that people who do political work should not be able to support themselves. That is a loser mentality, and it is a mentality that has crippled the left. Without organizational resources it is impossible to meet the basic stable living requirements for people within the movement. Yes, the stereotypical 20 something anarchist response is that we should all dumpster dive and squat in abandoned houses.
That is not practical for everyone, and that's no way to build a movement to challenge the oligarchy. There's a less obviously faulty version of this kind of thinking that one often sees among progressives and moderates, namely, that political movements should only raise money via donation to a nonprofit. A friend of mine with years of experience in the non-profit world says, this makes us into beggars. Without resources, the left cannot deliver protection and support to people who choose to sign up for political work. If you have been around the non-profit space for a while, you will meet plenty of people who have given everything they have, and when they reach about 55 or 60 years old they have nothing to fall back on-- no stable housing, no real pension, not much savings etc. I'd like to see that change, so that people don't have to choose between either embracing poverty or doing important political work. As I detail in my contribution to the book, there were missed opportunities during Occupy Oakland to jumpstart local, sustainable businesses.
Despite that, a group of us came together to assemble the book, both to document stories of Occupy, and to organize a (very) small test of economic sustainability within the movement. Through the end of Black History Month, we will donate all proceeds from book sales to the Campaign to Save the Marcus Garvey Building, a local historic landmark and church/community center in West Oakland.
Please show your support for freedom of expression, and for my friend Samarah, by buying a copy of A People's History of Occupy Oakland.