Today is a nationally recognized holiday. It is Columbus Day.
In a bizarre twist of potent irony I’m heading to a conference about preventing violence and then down to Occupy Wall Street.
I’ll be spending this day steeped in thoughts about violence (systemic and intimate) and then in the act of (re)occupying occupied land. There is something bitter and something sweet here. I am not taking the day off to honor a “conquistador.” I am taking the day to mark and recognize the legacy of violence that he fomented. America is not a land founded on freedom and exploration – it is founded on the genocide of Native and First Nations people.
I am taking the day to remember that.
Recently, while at a conference, Jessica Yee, of the Native Youth Sexual Health Network, asked a group of us in the audience whether we knew whose land we stood and sat upon. She asked us if we knew the people whose land we were on. After an uncomfortable silence, someone spoke up. There were about 300 activists in the room, and perhaps 2 knew the answer to her question.
Do you know? Wherever you sit right now, do you know who lived, worked, loved and died there before your history books begin the story?
Today would be a good day to find out.
As I go down to Wall Street today, Columbus Day, I cannot use the language of occupation flippantly. It is not an occupation, it is hardly a re-occupation. I am farmilar with the way occupation and colonization operate. My own family history is mired in stories of occupied lands and colonized people. The asks of Occupy Wall Street protestors are about institutional accountability. Today is a good day to recognize the failures of our financial institutions as well as a failure of historical accuracy and collective memory.
The island of Manhattan is occupied territory.
(Flyer by Julian Padilla of Brooklyn, NY, with input from Coya White-Hat Artichoker and Jessica Yee.)
From a statement by the People of Color Working Group at Occupy Wall Street:
“Let’s be real. The economic crisis did not begin with the collapse of the Lehman Brothers in 2008. Indeed, people of color and poor people have been in a state of crisis since the founding of this country, and for indigenous communities, since before the founding of the nation. We have long known that capitalism serves only the interests of a tiny, mostly white, minority.
Black and brown folks have long known that whenever economic troubles ‘necessitate’ austerity measures and the people are asked to tighten their belts, we are the first to lose our jobs, our children’s schools are the first to lose funding, and our bodies are the first to be brutalized and caged. Only we can speak this truth to power. We must not miss the chance to put the needs of people of color—upon whose backs this country was built—at the forefront of this struggle.”
So today, I ask if you know the legacy of the land on you’re on. If not, perhaps today is the day you find out.