Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Occupy as Form: Gina Acebo

The Arts Research Center at UC Berkeley is sponsoring the working session "Occupy as Form" on February 10, 2012. Participants have been invited to post some brief thoughts on the topic in advance of the event. This guest posting is by Gina Acebo, a first-year MFA candidate focusing on Social Practice at California College of the Arts.

Occupy the Hood -- We are the 99%

As the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement mushroomed city by city in states across the country, the need to make room to expand a vision of racial equity through the participation and leadership of communities of color came to the fore. In early October, OWS participant New Yorker Malik Rahsaan launched Occupy the Hood in order to involve more people of color in the OWS movement. Later joined by Ife Johari Uhuru of Detroit to coordinate outreach, Occupy the Hood leveraged social media tools like Facebook and Twitter to amass more than 7,000 followers in its early inception. Comprised of individuals and organizations, their mission statesFrom Occupation to Liberation, De-Colonize, Empower The Hood”,  People of Color, and in particular Black, Brown and Native/Indigenous People, have been disproportionately affected by the issues that the Occupy Movement has recently raised. Unemployment rates double nationwide, disproportionate incarceration rates, wealth gap, subprime mortgages/foreclosures.

Moving from a frame of solely diversifying the Occupy movement is a central task. In The Nation, Rinku Sen, Executive Director of the Applied Research Center and Publisher of Colorlines.com argues that the movement must “occupy racial equity”: “How can a racial analysis, and its consequent agenda, be woven into the fabric of the movement? We need to interrogate not just the symptoms of inequality, but, more fundamentally, the systems of inequality, considering how and why corporations create and exploit hierarchies of race, gender and national status to enrich themselves and consolidate their power.”

The need to center a racial analysis within the narrative of the Occupy movement is not merely an intellectual exercise, but is actively explored through grassroots organizing efforts taking place across the country. These efforts utilize posters, theater, storytelling and other artistic forms. Examples include:

In this historic moment, Occupy the Hood offers artists/makers an opportunity to explore the role and use of site, narrative, and framing while informing our own vision and artistic practice.

Dignidad Rebelde: Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza

Dignidad Rebelde: Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza


  1. Thank you for your interesting reflections on race, art, and occupy. Your post brings up for me the various ways in which race was represented by the media, from the SF Chronicle quoting "I have seen more diversity at a gun show" to a UStream reporter stating of Occupy Oakland "this is the most diverse occupy." I appreciate the ways in which artists have joined in the effort to decenter the representations by the mainstream media, producing a multidimensional picture. I look forward to discussing the ways in which race was utilized to discredit (or credit) the occupy movement(s).

    Example of Coverage of Race in Occupy Oakland

  2. Hi Gina. I hope that we can talk about ways to broaden this discussion and apply it to our current practice. Ideas for actions? Let's do it!

  3. Thanks for adding this to the discussion... I'm also interested in thinking about how this focus on race relates to and/or displaces the Occupy movement's focus on class.

  4. Important points and a perspective that needs to be a part of this conversation.

    As progressive or radical as people may perceive the Bay Area and Oakland in particular, what we saw play out around the debate at Occupy Oakland to "Decolonize" was telling in terms of how far we still have to go to "occupy racial equity" and center a racial analysis in the narrative of the movement.

    While the proposal to change Occupy Oakland's name to "Decolonize Oakland" received more than 2/3 majority vote, it wasn't enough to effect the change.

    More disturbing or telling to me was the sentiment expressed in the Occupied Oakland Tribune, after the proposal failed, by someone opposed to the change: "we do not need to be lectured about our supposed blindness to genocide and racism," and "Many of the arguments raised are absurd."


    The entitlement that enables someone to declare absurd the concerns of a considerable majority is the same entitlement that would marginalize a racial analysis in this movement, were it not for the grassroots organizing efforts that Gina points to and groups like Occupy The Hood.

    I hope there is room to name and speak to this power dynamic, in order to make room at the center of the movement for an informed racial analysis, to enable us to stop reproducing the same racial hierarchy in our own work.

    Along the lines of what Seth refers to above, I did attend an #OSF action council meeting awhile back along with another P.O.C. artist, and we were both shocked at how much the group of 4-5 dozen actually reflected the lack of diversity that I had thought was only a MSM distortion of reality (e.g. the gun show comment).

    Issues of class, labor, education were the clear, if not exclusive focii. A People of Color working group will probably be forming soon as a result of this.

    It's hard for me to imagine that including a racial analysis could somehow displace class as the focus of a movement called Occupy Wall Street, but does the logic implied or suggested by that potential displacement present a framework that might be deployed to prevent the centering of racial analysis in the narrative of the Occupy movement? If so, how do we overcome or find ways to work around that?