Ayesha Kazmi

Why I Am Not Protesting at Occupy

In The Personal on 06/12/2011 at 21:29

For those who have known me, my keen interest in the Occupy movement comes as no surprise. For those whom I have met only recently know me as the researcher, freelance journalist and blogger who has been making it a strong point to let everyone know that I am merely observing protests from the sidelines and not participating as a demonstrator.

Since the beginning of Occupy at Wall Street on 17 September, I have stood on the peripheries of encampments observing a democratic movement unfold before our very eyes: from marches, to GA meetings, to police raids, and even the arduous online activism that has now become part and parcel of the current movement.

As a researcher and journalist, I have spent a lot of my time ranting about nothing but Occupy since its inception. It may come across as somewhat odd in case some wonder whether or not I have an actual job. Those folks are correct to wonder, in fact. Since the first day at Wall Street, I have actually put my main project – about how anti-terrorism laws in the United Kingdom effect the broader British society as a whole – on a backburner while I do my best to keep up with the daily happenings in the United States with regards to Occupy.

There is a reasonable explanation as to why I have temporarily abandoned my project. My parents are activists and when I was a kid, they dragged me to rallies and protests of sorts. As a teenager, my parents actively participated in activism against the Bosnian war. It was my job to come up with various antiwar peace slogans then to make and colour placards to hand out at demos. My activism took its own form when I was a college student from supporting unions at labour rallies, to free Palestine, to the anti-war movement leading up to both the Afghan and Iraq wars. And like for many else in the United States, my activism went dormant after our “democratic” governments ignored the pleas of millions throughout the world against the Iraq invasion.

In the meantime, I finished up my undergrad, got married, got my masters, got divorced, then subsequently landed a job as a researcher on anti-terrorism laws and counter terrorism strategy in the United Kingdom. The nature of my research was true to my activist upbringing, as I look not only at how anti-terrorism affects European Muslims, but also non-Muslim majority in every day circumstances in Europe. Filling my head with all sorts of useful knowledge while speaking out against the criminalisation of ethnic minority communities throughout Europe felt like a natural fit.

To someone like me, the Occupy Wall Street protests have been the most exciting developments in the United States in almost a decade. Thus, it was only natural that my attentions piqued. Those who have known me for years are not surprised that I showed up to New York City to meet a bunch of people I had never met in my life. My new found friends I met at the first few days at Occupy, on the other hand, fast learned me as the freak who stands on the outside frantically observing the police and ready to flee at a moment’s notice. Some have laughed at my anxieties, while others patiently stood by my side observing with me, ready to make a dash when I said so.

Sometime in August, shortly after the UK riots, I began seeing twitter references to 17 September as the day to stage a Wall Street sit in and demanding financial accountability and an end to corruption. “These guys are nuts,” I thought to myself. Had they ever seen the heavily guarded New York Stock Exchange? I tweeted back at people telling them that Wall Street is not only guarded by killer attack dogs, but that the police guards carry machine guns across their chests.  I remember being in New York City in 2006 and waking up Wall Street past the New York Stock Exchange and seeing the heavily armed guards and my instincts were to run far and fast. I picked up the pace because I didn’t want to attract too much attention to myself. Running while brown and Muslim in New York City past heavily armed police guards would most likely not bode well and, I assumed, could potentially land me in a whole host of trouble.

My senses as an anti-terrorism researcher are precisely what tuned me into the fact that the policing in the United States around Occupy protests had shown a dramatic shift from the protests I attended in the 1990’s when the police accommodated protest and were willing to not only negotiate with protesters needs, but also, by practice, resisted the urge to arrest demonstrators to a “last resort” basis. This, however, was merely my rational academic judgment at play here.

Truth be told, my problem has not been the mere fact that I am tuned into making police analyses before many others. As some can testify, I was beyond frightened by the NYPD and their overkill presence even on day 1 of Occupy Wall Street – well before all the paramilitary madness, with all of the crazy documented explanations behind it, unfurled before our eyes. My problem was my learned fear of the police over the past decade.

Norm Stamper, former police chief of the Seattle Police Department who resigned after the heavy handed response by Seattle police to the WTO protests in 1999, writes the following in “The Nation”:

The paramilitary bureaucracy and the culture it engenders—a black-and-white world in which police unions serve above all to protect the brotherhood—is worse today than it was in the 1990s. Such agencies inevitably view protesters as the enemy. And young people, poor people and people of color will forever experience the institution as an abusive, militaristic force—not just during demonstrations but every day, in neighborhoods across the country.

It is precisely for this reason a slew of ironic article titles have appeared through the twitter circuit such as Elon James White’s piece “Dear OWS Welcome to Our World: Police brutality experienced by the movement is nothing new in the black community” in which White states:

While the Occupiers were dealing with such abuse, during civil disobedience, communities of color suffer these type of injustices simply because it’s Wednesday, and they may look like someone else. That’s what happens to us — and it’s accepted as if it were just a day of the week.

One morning about 9:30am, approximately seven to ten days after 9/11, I received a phone call on my mobile phone. I was a part time college student at the University of Massachusetts Boston and was having a slow morning at home catching up with my reading for class. It was an FBI agent. He asked me if I was at home because he was driving in a car on his way to talk to me. Quite naturally, my insides melted. I had absolutely no idea what this meant, nor why he wanted to speak to me of all people. I told him I was at home studying and that he could stop by. He told me to expect him in about 15 minutes. I was at home alone and wished at that moment my parents had mobile phones so that I could call them home to be present when the FBI showed up to question me.

I got up from my desk and tried to make myself look as presentable and friendly as possible. I even put a kettle of water on the stove so that I could offer him a cup of tea or coffee then got out a plate of biscuits and put it on the living room table.

The knock on my front door was not a minute too late or too soon. There were four agents gathered. All four walked into my house and up the stairs. I brought them into the living room where I sat them down like guests and offered them coffee. They all agreed. While I went into the kitchen, two of them began to walk around my house searching for something, up and down my walls, around corners, in the bathroom, behind the shower curtains. To this day, I’m not exactly sure what they were looking for or expected to find.

I brought coffee for four on a large tray and proceeded to ask around how much sugar each agent would like in their coffee. Once each had their coffee, the questioning began. First they took out a series of photos and asked me if I was able to identify a series of Arab and Muslim looking men. It was all quite bizarre. Why on earth would I know these people, and what on earth would connect me to them? So I asked questions back. “Who were these men?” and “Were these men suspecting of carrying further attacks against the United States?” 9/11 was a very fresh memory for us all.

Then came the question that still shocks me to this day: “Do you know Mohammad Atta?” I am pretty sure I screwed my face and gave the FBI agents my “lolwut?!” response.

I had a question of my own:  why on earth did these FBI agents show up at my house? Weren’t they supposed to be finding the terrorists that had attacked us? To which I was told that the FBI had been receiving daily leads from various individuals and organisations. By that point, I was told that the leads database had reached in the 10s of thousands and that as protocol, agents were following up on each lead. So, it appears, someone had snitched on me. And for what? To this day, I have no idea.

What I do know is that as the events on 9/11 were happening, I sat in a university classroom when multiple students got up and began to hysterically address the class that Arabs and Muslims were an uncontrollable cancer on this earth and that they finally needed to be put in their place. One student stared me down as she ranted in a panicked state. Two days later, at work I was singled out when one of my colleagues asked me in front of 20-30 people what my background was. When I told him that I was born and raised in America, he was dismissive and told me not to be evasive. So I told him that my parents were Pakistani. To which his follow up question was “And they are Muslim in Pakistan, right?” to which I nodded my head, to which he sounded out an assured “Mmhmmm.” One month later, I was called into my supervisors office and blamed for an incident that I was not present at work the day of the incident in question. Nevertheless, I was subsequently fired anyway.

The 9/11 Muslim narratives like mine are not novel. If anything, these stories have gone on to make it into the mainstream consciousness in the United States. However, the reason it is extremely critical to recall these stories at this particular point in time into the American consciousness, is so that Occupy protesters, previously part of the American mainstream who have only recently joined the rank and file of the criminalised Americans, fully grasp the fact that millions of Americans not only distrust the police forces, but are frightened of them and for good reason – even mouthy activists like myself. One only has to look as far as the recently leaked “Moroccan Initiative” to know that the police are no friends of minority communities.

For more than a decade, American Muslims have been well aware their communities have been infiltrated with FBI spies looking to entrap people. Multiple members of my family have encountered a mysterious never before seen loud mouthed persons at Muslim community centres, mosques, and events using unusually politicised and extreme language that, I can surely attest, one would not normally find at an average Muslim gathering.

Over the past decade, the very system that has been used to stir up fear and suspicion against Muslims, Muslims, on the other side of the coin, have had their fears and suspicions stirred up against that same system.

I don’t protest at Occupy because I know that my name has long existed on some intelligence database and I do not know what on earth it will be used for and how I will be targeted because of it – especially if I begin to show my face more regularly protesting at my local encampment.

Police target minorities in a disproportionately heavy handed manner than they do our white counterparts, be us all part of the 99% or not.

Just this past August, an Eid-ul-Fitr celebration at an amusement park in upstate New York ended when police beat up 3 and arrested 15 during a scuffle over whether or not a woman’s headscarf was a health and safety risk on an amusement park ride.

Kareem Meawad, 17, went to try to protect the woman and was beaten by cops and also arrested, she added. Her brother, Issam Meawad, 20, was pushed to the ground and taken into custody when he tried to help his cousin, she said.

“She just wanted to get on a ride. That was it,” Dena Meawad said of the initial confrontation. “It’s clear, this all happened because we’re Muslim.”

It is also pretty clear to me that the heavy handed nature of this incident was due to the fact that police forces are trained to view American Muslims as a potential security threat – sadly, even when they’re at an amusement park amusing themselves with hotdogs and popcorn.

This is precisely why when Hannah, a headscarf wearing Muslim woman, attended the October OWS march in which 800 protesters were kettled and arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, she found herself in a distinctive position during the mass arrest:

Before the handcuffs were put on me a man came up to me, clamped his hand down on my shoulder, and led me away from everyone else. He was wearing a long black trench coat. This detail sounds comically villainous, but I specifically recall it because it worried me that he was not wearing a police uniform. The first thing he said to me was that he was “not a cop”. I knew immediately that these were not reassuring words to hear, and later my suspicions were confirmed when my lawyers told me that this likely meant he was an FBI agent. This man isolated me from my friends to interrogate me, threaten me, and attempt to intimidate me into answering his questions, which were all along the lines of, “Who are you and what are you doing on the Bridge?” His manner made it clear he assumed that I was on the Bridge for a reason other than participating in a peaceful protest. I told him several times that I was exercising my right to remain silent, and he became more aggressive. He finally shouted to the other cops, “This one’s a keeper!”

Now with the passing of the National Defense Authorisation Act, Muslim Americans are more afraid than ever. Just this past Friday, mosques all throughout the city of Boston made announcements at their Jumma prayer services about the passing of this bill that extends indefinite military detention to include US citizens. American Muslims have been threatened to be thrown into concentration camps since the early days of the War on Terror should there be another terrorist attack on US soil. It is no exaggeration to say that American Muslims currently feel like the US has just declared war on US soil in which they know they will be targeted first.

If Occupy protesters are wondering why they are not attracting enough minorities to their causes, this may help to explain things a little bit. Some of you may be reading this and might be tempted to call me chicken shit – and that’s fair. At least on the sidelines, while I warn people about the police, I feel a little bit like I am doing something rather than nothing at all.

In the meantime, one way to make an impact on American minority communities is for movements to engage with minority concerns by taking them out of fringe politics and universalising their concerns as Philip Brennan did in his recent piece suggesting Occupy create a civil rights angle as one of its central components.

As tempted as many white Occupy protesters are to proclaim “we are all one and the same!”, you cannot expect minorities, whose communities have been subjected to intimidation and abuse, to suddenly throw away the race card and jump on the bandwagon. These are critical times, and as such, it is important for Occupy to get it right. We are all part of the 99%  – and the concerns of some should fast transform into the concern for all.

  1. Thanks for telling that story.

  2. I admit I was shocked to see this article’s title from someone I respect so much. My mind leapt to assumptions – fears – that you were about to denounce the #occupy movement in act or intention. I also, to my shame, began formulating attacks along the lines of ‘coward’ and ‘all mouth no trousers’ (or skirt or sari as the case may be).

    As I read on of course my fury turned to guilt. I often bemoan the absence of people of colour in the movement – “why should we have to work to involve them? Why don’t they involve themselves?” – but it’s taken you to make me see why its a legitimate issue. Why there is real fear. The worst I really have to look forward to is a pepper spray, a bit of a bruising and a night In cells but your story, and the unavoidable kenning (true understanding, feeling) that it happened and happens to… countless others, well it shut me up.

    So I guess what I want to say is thank you for sharing your story and you’ve made a real difference to this privilaged middle-class white girl.


  3. Amazing piece. The FBI ordeal is gut-wrenching and the college classroom story brought back a few memories. I remember sitting in a grad-school class on Sept 13, 2001 and being mortified by the crazy stuff I heard coming out of peoples’ mouths. And it was even more disheartening when I noted that these folks were representative of the so-called American educated class. I wonder how many members of the 99% were the same ones taunting and telling on Muslims after 9/11?

    Those experiences are why many of us are suspicious of certain protests, especially when the perceived mainstream has finally woken up to what the rest of us face everyday. The police shouldn’t be criminalizing protesters for exercising their rights. Moreover, the police/FBI/CIA definitely shouldn’t be spying, harassing, and jailing people of color on a daily basis, simply because we have the audacity to live our lives.

    I’m a well-educated, professional, African American male living in New York City, and I am terrified whenever I encounter the police conducting random searches at subway stations, or walking around with machine guns strapped to their chests. I don’t use/do drugs, have never been arrested, and am an upstanding citizen, but I always proceed with caution and an added layer of friendliness whenever I encounter the police. People assume that minorities are being overly sensitive about this topic, but they don’t understand what its like to walk around with that dual consciousness. Furthermore, they don’t realize why many of us are deathly afraid of being caught in the web of the criminal justice system/prison industrial complex.

    Anyway, if anyone dares to call you a “chicken shit” tell them to kiss it. You openly state your views in an online medium that can be spied upon by the powers that be. That is an act of defiance, strength, and courage. Most of all, you live as a Pakistani-American woman in the post 9/11 world, where you contend with a lot of bullshit that most of the protesters have yet to experience. Ask anyone that is critical of you not protesting to switch places with you. Then note how many of them jump at the chance to deal with 1/10th of the stuff you shared in this article.

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking piece.

  4. I’m also of a Pakistani American heritage, and I share your concerns. And these arent the only short comings of the movement. However, I don’t see how sitting it out and waiting for OWS to stop being so white (and so ‘middle class’) will solve anything.

  5. I’m no writer, would rather paint this, but wanted to tell you, Im proud of how you handled your life and this movement thus far, wonderfuliy. I see you as a huge part of the movement. At a time when the media in general fears the movement and where it might be going you know it or not are keeping it in truthful prospective. So I Thank and SMILE with and for you.

  6. The fear is completely justified, it has happened before in America. The Cherokee Trail of Tears was the first highly visible genocide enforced by the US government. The Navajo also walked a death trail, from the Four Corners to Kansas and then back.

    More recently the Japanese were put in camps, children I grew up with had fathers who were interred as children, with their families, at Manzanar:


    Nixon began a nationwide push for paramilitary policing as a response to the Weather Underground and other student protests in 1969. After the four murders at Kent State people on both sides pulled back somewhat, but the basic equation has never changed.

    There has always a very ugly side to the American government. Whether the Occupy movement can come to terms with the full enormity of that legacy remains questionable. Too many people are too busy these days, trying to figure out how to keep from starving or freezing to death.

    Thanks very much for telling your story. Hearing testimony about the personal effects of prejudice is one of the pre-requisites for change.

    • As the Mother of Muslim serving in the US Military and myself working for an anti-terrorist organization, and also Indigenous American…I can totally understand any hesitation to delve into a movement that would draw attention to even honorable intentions…Every Native American it’s made to feel like a visitor in his own homeland…taught from infancy that it is better to keep it to yourself…brought about by years of forced assimilation and christian boarding schools, still affect us to this day with ideas programmed into the hearts and minds of the elders who suffered ssuch indignation.

  7. Hi Ayesha. I was going through your blog and I really liked it. I was wondering if you would like to cross-post articles (especially this one) for http://www.inpec.in , which is a social sciences magazine. Please have a brief look at the site too see the quality of the content and the credentials of our authors.

    Thanks and regards,

  8. This is terrible. They way they rule us is to break us down into warring tribes. Identity politics sucks. It destroyed us before and it will do it again. So the FBI visited him. So what? The FBI chased me around for refusing to go to Vietnam. Stop being wimps. This is a war we’re fighting.

  9. Thank you for your brave position. It is clear to me as I continue to watch and research and participate in both the movement and the repression rising against us, that we are part of the war on terror, that we are viewed as domestic terrorists. They may very well seek to turn a portion of us INTO REAL TERRORISTS to justify their repression. This is the oldest tactic of all.

    There are many different types of warfare. We are in the midst of economic war now. People tend to forget that this country is a republic, not a democracy, Amerika was designed for business and landowners, not the masses. The two party system, the inability to form coalition governments like parliamentary democracies, ensured that we would never be entirely free. Above all, the founders feared the mob, the street, the French Revolution. People forget now just how ferocious the French Revolution was, blood literally ran in the streets, mobs attacked palaces and tore aristocrats to pieces and stuck their heads on pikes.

    A war is coming, in many ways it’s already here. The authorities have not forgotten the Rodney King riots. My sister, who lived in Korea Town in L.A. at the time, had to run for her life with her husband and baby daughter by car to save their lives. I am caucasian.

    Ayesha, you are right to be afraid as a Pakistani Muslim, you have much to fear. My point is that all of us have the same fear to share. There may come a time very soon when ethnic distinctions no longer matter, when it will be just their fear of the mob (us) as they attack us with their paramilitary armies. They are armed to teeth, not only with armaments, but information technology. They control every aspect of the social media we use to bind ourselves together. We may all end up in concentration camps or worse, just for practising civil disobedience, for demanding our rights.

    The truth is we have no choice. I am in a different position, I am 54, have no children, am not close to most of my family, I am an artist, free by definition regardless of outside structure. I write, play music, design, surf. I must create, whether I sell my work or not, but I am 54, soon to be an old man if I live that long. If you are under thirty, this is your world. I may be part of this fight, but I fought against the Vietnam War in my youth and was changed forever by the Sixties. OWS is your time, your Sixties, the time when you must rise up and be free, even if they attack you, imprison you, torture you, kill you. The same may happen to me, but I am old, I have left life, less time to lose. That is why i say do not be afraid, be happy, be free! Every minute spent free is worth a year living in fear. Even if you have children, do not be afraid. Stand up for them.

    I watch occupations and struggles all over the world. I have witnessed the most incredible courage in Syria in the face of absolute brutality. Hundreds of thousands may die there before Assad is deposed, but they will be free and have conquered their fear. They know what the face but will not be cowed because they understand what freedom means. I pray that such dark days never come to us here, but we have to remember what happened to minority communities here from the beginning and recognize that THE POOR AND THE UNEMPLOYED ARE THE NEW MINORITY, even if they are half the country.

    Rough times are coming, but as long as we remember that to live free is more precious than anything else, they cannot defeat us by definition. That is why they, above all, seek to sow fear in our hearts. I do not pretend to not be afraid, I am often terrified. I have a bad back, cannot run, cannot defend myself if attacked and dislike crowds, much less corraled protest marches. Regardless, I march and I laugh and I am glad, because I am free!


  10. If you’re playing for black then why go after white pawns, when you can mate the king?



  11. Native Americans, Africans, Asians, Europians, People of Middle East, Pacific Islanders, … my thumbs are cramping.

    There isn’t a single group that has not called themselves Americans and also discriminated against non-Americans.

    I remember as a child learning hateful nursery rhythms, bullying techniques, and anyone who isn’t family are subclass animals.

    During my many tours of duty in my military service throughout the world, I had opportunities to talk to many local nationals from different countries, different backgrounds, different points-of-view. As I learned that the pride of knowing American history was based on an outstanding number of false truths. I became embarrassed to even call myself an American.

    I also came to realize that as I was fighting for what I felt was for the right reasons that my “enemy” was doing the same.

    As I come closer to the common inevitable end of my life, I now believe EVERY living being plant, animal, and yet undiscovered all have equal right to flourish with love and care of its souroundings.

  12. I have stared at the screen for 15 minutes pondering what to say… I think…

    With visibility comes responsibility. Not responsibility to do a certain thing, but responsibility to do what one does responsibly.

    Like writing about the choices you make and why. Which you’ve done here and very well.

    One thing to consider – do you have a “mission statement” for yourself for this Movement time? Going through that process, figuring out a short guiding statement, is useful. If so, it’s easy to tell if today’s efforts move toward that mission. If not, tangents constantly tempt. In regular times, tangents are good and informative. Now, in a time of change, focus is better.

    OK – also check out David Kennedy’s Ceasefire policing strategy. Good stuff.There is a better way to police. In fact Occupiers are implementing his strategy for themselves – “we” can identify our problems – we can use mediation and interventions in our communities – we can ask police to address intractable problems – we hand over the bad actors.

    But the enforcement and intelligence communities do have a task and an opportunity with Occupy. There are interlopers to be identified. There is a legit group that needs to be protected from forces that cannot be self-identified. Also, true “enemies” of America – of all of us – may reveal themselves in the Movement. To attempt to identify and to protect all of us from those threats is exactly what “the govt” is supposed to do. Of course, it’s a problem that this still sometimes considers identity more than behavior. Fortunately, people are watching… you are watching.

  13. thx. Anti-Muslim, anti-people of color, anti-foreigner feelings have never been fully processed in America, which begs the question why is OWS color-blind? If it was an ethnic group assembling to prorest economic injustice I wonder how the protestors would be handled? … Oh we have witnessed that brutality too.

  14. Interesting piece.

    I am *also* Pakistani American, my family’s home was *also* visited by the FBI in the days after 9/11, and I had similarly awful experiences in the wake of the attacks — sometimes, years later, even by the students I taught.

    Yet I’m involved with Occupy. After reading your post, it occurs to me how naive I might be, given I fully expect to be arrested at some point or another. But honestly this doesn’t feel like a choice to me. Sometimes I am afraid, but I simply can’t not participate. This is something I feel like I have to do. I have been genuinely amazed at the amount of diversity Occupy attracts, so I must not be the only one who feels this way.

  15. Hi Ayesha,

    I’m an activist living in Oakland, California, heavily involved in Occupy Cal and also involved in Occupy Oakland. My political activism began with the WTO protests in Seattle, where I was part of a human chain that was ridden through by officers on horseback, tear-gassed, and treated as criminal for peacefully protesting an unequal economic system. I’m also a Muslim American whose family has refused to sit quietly by the sidelines (even after being interviewed by the FBI in the days following 9/11). So far, we have helped start a girls school in Afghanistan, helped campaign for anti-war electoral candidates, and been involved with raising awareness of the effects of Israeli power in Palestine. I’m not saying that this is something that is every Muslim’s duty, but I’d like to add another voice to the mix here. Political activism creates enemies, but it also creates allies. Allies that I am profoundly grateful to have been able to dialogue with, learn from, and teach.

    Part of the reason I have grown more active since the Occupy movement began (after a pause of some years) is that Occupy also coincides with Secure Communities, the police/ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) collaboration which means that any illegal immigrant who has an encounter with the police (whether they are charged with a crime or not) is run through the ICE database and subject to detention and deportation. Clearly, policies like these restrict, in ways similar to the ones you discuss, who has access to free speech, political activism, and public space. With these voices silenced, it feels even more important for me to participate in Occupy and make my presence felt, seen, and heard. It is a risk, as you discuss, but it is one I am willing to take. I do understand why this feeling would not be shared by others who are the prime targets of repressive policies like the Patriot Act, Secure Communities, and the National Defense Authorization Act. But for me, the whitening of political activism and public discourse is nearly as terrifying as the economic and political realities that Occupy is mobilizing against.

  16. Thank you for this.

    As someone working full-time in the NYC Occupy movement I do want to say to your question as to whether people within the movement wonder about this issue: we do not. We remind ourselves of the reality of this at every turn and in every meeting. It is as much a given within the movement as the abuses of the financial system, and it is frequently repeated as fact in meetings, in casual conversation, and at many organized teach-ins that those of color, of differing immigration status, that muslims, and others of a variety of backgrounds that are not white and middle class risk much much more and have far worse experience of the abuses of law enforcement than those who have so much privilege. For us, this is not a question at all, but something taken very seriously.

  17. This doesn’t solve any large issues, of course, but I am heartened by OWS (and Occupy Providence, which is closer to home)’s use of “progressive stack.”

    Here’s an excerpt from “Feministing.com” about this:

    Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly operates under a revolutionary “progressive stack.” A normal “stack” means those who wish to speak get in line. A progressive stack encourages women and traditionally marginalized groups speak before men, especially white men. This is something that has been in place since the beginning, it is necessary, and it is important.

    “Step up, step back” was a common phrase of the first week, encouraging white men to acknowledge the privilege they have lived in their entire lives and to step back from continually speaking. This progressive stack has been inspiring and mind-boggling in its effectiveness. Manissa McCleave Maharawal writes on Racialicious regarding her block. In fact, the Declaration of the Occupation of Wall Street would not have been released if not for the blocking power of a different document a week prior by the Speakeasy caucus (for non-male identified and traditionally marginalized people):


  18. I don’t think it matters so much if you personally attend OWS events and camps, so long as you act upon the issues they rightly raise. Move your money from the big banks to non-profit Credit Unions, for example. People anywhere can and have done that, and it’s creating real pressure toward positive change. Though I’m white and therefore less obvious as a target for profiling, I don’t feel any need to risk getting beaten or pepper-sprayed by cops to support the movement. My issues are with governments, not soldiers.

    I think your personal experience of the paranoia and racism that has always been part of American history is a separate issue from deciding whether or not to protest in the street. When Pearl Harbor happened 70 years ago, looking “too yellow” meant your home, business and funds got confiscated, and you got to live in a camp behind barbed wire for the duration of the war. By comparison, you were questioned and made to feel frightened by federal agents. Though no more justified morally, I still consider that an improvement in the legal process.

    You are entitled to find a balance between personal risk and activism. You probably have more power to effect change through persuasive writing anyway.

  19. Occupy San Diego is very much into supporting our minority community. On our first marches we were joined by a group of illegal aliens, who purposely hung back from our main march so as not to endanger us all. They did this despite us asking them to join in the main march for their safety. Our message here is not only a financial one. We also seek social justice.

  20. Living in fear of the authorities is what makes them an authority over you. I wish I had more than a quick trite response at this time, but I’m too busy trying to house all the protestors who are willing to step up to the plate. Good luck in whatever you do.

  21. Ayesha, youve definetly the right to act and believe as you do. However I’d like to add that currently throughout the middle east and now Russia, and here, many are protesting anyway knowing this might happen. In fact, it always happens when protesting gets to proportions that confuses and scares those in power. It wont and never does stop the actions, once critical mass is achieved many would rather die than live another day without letting those in power know its time to leave. But I will finish now with a popular line from a movie.
    The People shouldnt be afraid of their Government, Their Government should be afraid of their people. And are if you look at their response, it cant last, they cant afford that level of protection because its ever changing, the desires will materialize, but it must be people led not simply offers of change like we see in egypt. The people must move into their offices and throw them out, period.

  22. This may sound like heresy, but I’ve wondered why police response to Occupy has not been more violent.

    The violence against Occupy has not even come close to the terror that was unleashed in the 1960’s and the 1930’s. Is that because most of the protestors involved with Occupy are white and perceived to be middle class? I have heard people say that the reason the cops have been so violent in Oakland was because there are more people of color involved in the protests there.

    My reading of American history tells me that multi-racial radical alliances are perceived as the most dangerous to the established order. My guess is that if more people of color become involved in Occupy and take more more leadership, than we will see a whole new level of repression.

    Am I frightened? Of course. I was involved in the multi-racial Black Panther-led Rainbow Coalition Movement around 1970-71. It was smashed and some people did not make it out alive.

    But fear is supposed to focus our attention and heighten our awareness, not paralyze us. If we don’t experience difficult days, it would mean that we are not doing our job of transforming this nation. A resistance movement has many varied and important jobs that need to be done. Not everyone needs to be on the front lines. So whatever jobs we choose, we have to keep on keepin’ on, preparing for the worst as we hope for the best.

  23. To Bob there were multiple revolutions going on in the 60’s and 70’s and whites at Columbia University in New York were met with similar animosity, so can be said for White Freedom Riders who came under attack in Alabama. To suggest that the reason guns have not been used on protesters is because they’re white is a fallacious argument. As a member of the press who is white and of Puerto Rican Discent and who has had Billy clubs wielded at him during the OWS raid with press credentials on I can assure you that it hurts all the same. Lastly on the matter the common trend among all law enforcement agencies when dealing with “unruly” mobs is to use flash bang grenades, lrads, tear gas and pepper spray and not stun guns and electric scorpions that shoot multiple pronged electric charges is due to the increase of YouTube videos showing excessive use of force with the electric methods not to mention the number of people dead or permanently suffering nerve damage from being subdued in this manner. If you want to see protesters getting shot in the news that are of all skin colors might I suggest going to Syria.

    To the subject of this piece we all have harsh criticism of the law but by no means should an event that transpired 10 years ago with the FBI should be effecting you. You were a subject of an international investigation, there are worse things that could happen. You could be a woman who got raped and called a whore by the NYPD or you could get raped by the NYPD and on your day in court have a majority male jury suggest that though you were unconscious you were still a consenting adult. To protest is the right of man to sit and have your voice quelled and become a fear monger by advocating abstention to exercise your right to free speech and peaceful assembly due to racial disconnect is absurd. Do minorities have it worse who cares. The largest collectors of public assistance in this country are white. Just because we experience inner city problems does not allow one to assume that their adjudication against a social movement is infallible due to skin color in fact it is the contrary you have no right to adjudicate abstention because you do not provide information beyond your specific locale. I’m not standing up because the FBI scares me, is a weak position. God I can only imagine how you would fair emotionally after a run in with the mob. I’m not speaking out against angel hair pasta because I’m afraid of retribution to my family.

  24. I’m a 30 year old white American, who grew up in North Dakota and has been watching this country unravel itself via hypocrisy since I can remember. My ancestors are responsible for killing tens of millions of Native Americans for no reason, for waging war on Latin America via corporate plantations (see Dole). I remember in 5th grade, America was called the melting pot, because it was a free mixing of all beliefs and colors and peoples. Boy what a lie.

    I’m not religious nor racist nor am I afraid of Muslims or Jews or Christians. I’m afraid of certain sects of every culture and belief, namely the USA’s police state. We are fighting a “war on terrorism” with what? I’ll say it straight out, terror. We are the goddamn terrorists, look at this poor woman, can’t even exercise her democratic rights without being in constant fear of retribution. I’m pretty sure the definition of terrorism according to our government is using fear, initimidation, threats against a group of people.

    America: fighting terroism with terror. Hypocrisy only lasts so long before it catches up with us.

  25. Ayesha, I am a Pakistani, currently living in Islamabad. I enjoyed reading your piece and it is representative of Muslim predicament post 9/11. Nonetheless, if I may add another perspective to your essay; Pakistani police harasses its own citizens on a routine basis in the name of counterterrorism. Quite interestingly, owing to the colonial mindset, Pakistani authorities allow white individuals (mostly Americans and Europeans) to pass through check points ‘unchecked,’ while they reserve the denigrating security checks and interrogations for ordinary Pakistanis – including dupatta/ hijab clad women. Many in Pakistan, particularly bearded men, have gone missing; abducted, detained, killed with no recourse or access to justice. I’d say, Faisal Shahzad was lucky to be in US as at least he managed to show up alive in a court. Here, in Pakistan, he would have been lifted by Pakistani authorities in broad daylight and soon found dead under an unknown bridge in a god forsaken place. And, all this would have been cleanly accomplished in the name of counterterrorism. The point being, *abuse of power* is criminal regardless of race, ethnicities and geographical locations of its perpetrators.

  26. I agree with your intuition, it is better to not get too involved in this if the FBI is coming to your house. I agree with the occupy movement, but wonder why no one protested the Bush regime, when the seeds were being sown for this current fiasco. It is also apparent that this type of taking to the streets attitude doesn’t really accomplish anything. It has to be more insidious and using guerrilla tactics of fear and terror just like they do to us, to keep us enslaved. What did the rioting of the sixties produce? What happened to that generation? Most are perpetuating the system they sought to destroy, or worse, allowing greater atrocities in the name of convenience, and turning a blind eye, while our communities and neighborhoods become more isolated and ravaged by consumer capitalism. Maybe the Labor Unions were successful in mobilizing and creating effective change, in their time. Look at them now, without morality and leadership, look at our workforce, out on the streets.

    Better to walk away. Do something you love to do. Enjoy life. The world is going through some major changes on every level; everything appears to be disintegrating- all of the structures that have created this present moment are crumbling. Maybe it’s the Mayans!
    Another thing, who cares about Wall Street? It’s the Federal Reserve Banks that are responsible for this Depression and all wars. Do the research and see for yourself. GO there!

    I am writing this only that I hope someone might read it with an open mind and see beyond herd mentality. Otherwise, jump on the bandwagon and pray it gives you your own sense of identity. I pray for the best!

  27. Thank you for your candor, for sharing something real.

    As a part of the privileged class (white, male, affluent, educated, straight, married) I have had experience dealing with law enforcement. Our nation’s increasing police militarization is transforming our law enforcement agencies, to the detriment of free people.

    I have gone out of my way to improve my personal understanding of Islam since 9/11 for the very reasons you have outlined. Everything changed after that event, and I found my own prejudices emerging. I recall flying somewhere, post 9/11, and feeling absolute panic at the presence of a Muslim male on the plane. This feeling did not sit well. This is America, and while I defend anyone’s right to freedom, I could not deny the power of my fear. For me, I had to wonder why. I was raised by liberal, educated, compassionate people. Why did I feel this way, suddenly, after a lifetime of open-mindedness?

    Now I recognize the problem. In the days, weeks, months, and years since 2001 many Americans have been immersed in the mainstream media message about that day, about “those” people behind the attacks. But we never get the complete picture about militant or extremism vs. mainstream and peaceful Islam. We have been successfully brainwashed to see Muslims as terrorists. Why don’t we feel the same way about Christians, after the Oklahoma City bombing? Prior to facts coming to light, the media actually reported that bombing as a likely middle eastern plot. Our media has cultivated a latent sense that this was not only possible, but a certain eventuality. But attacks by Christian extremists could never have been leveraged for the same heightened rhetoric, to launch wars and propagate billion dollar enterprises. This vilification of Islam has been a concerted effort by some inadvertently promoted by others. Having worked with a wide variety of blue-collar Americans I can testify that the job has been thorough and deeply absorbed among the nation’s less formally educated.

    This says nothing of the ongoing plight of other minorities.

    To be “American” is to stand for essential freedoms and liberty for all. I fight inequality and the erosion of civil liberties for my children, but also for you because I can do so with less fear of indefinite detention. But not totally without fear; I too may easily become classified and listed for my participation in civic action.

    Civil rights remains at the forefront of our problems, and I stand with people of all stripes.

  28. Well, you may want to look into how US minorities are taking part in Occupy. Why not follow, on Facebook, Occupy the Bronx and Occupy the Hood?

    Changing society: defense and offense.

    Good change comes in defensive and offensive ways.

    1. DEFENSIVE. Stopping abuses, defending the people as a whole or some people from abusive law and practices. Many defensive moves require standard politics plus mass education: getting corporate/lobbying money out of politics and Congress, getting rid of the Patriot Act, government subsidies for the privileged, racial discrimination, increasing benefits for the poor and middle class, etc.

    The Occupy Movement, focusing on the huge and growing income inequality in the US, is a defensive movement, aimed at getting the American people to have a discussion about this inequality and what to do about it (very few were aware before the Occupy movement). Secondarily it has focused on the need to get corporate money out of politics (buying elections, lobbyists writing the legislation). Third, it has begun to defend specific people against injustices, stopping mortgage foreclosures, for one action initiative.

    These actions/acts of education defend people from injustices and false propaganda by the promoters of special privileges but they they do not in themselves actively build a new and better society.

    Occupy activists would say that the way they organize, through the General Assemblies, demonstrate a positive direction, a way to conduct direct democracy. And that’s true, but limited. The General Assemblies focus on how to mange the defensive/protest/education/direct action initiatives of the local Occupy encampment.

    2. OFFENSIVE. Offensive moves directly build a better society. Mere armed revolution does not do this, and I speak as one whose two parents were actively involved in an armed revolution, my father a fighter, my mother a message carrier for a key official (her brother) in the rebel military structure.

    The positive direction I am focused on is building worker-owned businesses and cooperatives. The most startling example of how these businesses work, and how a local municipality is governed by people from worker-owned businesses, is Mondragon (Mondragon Cooperative Society) in the Basque country of Spain. In brief a worker-owned business in that city is governed by two assemblies, both with everyone attending. The first is the General Assembly in which the workers meet as the owners of the company in order to make business and finance decisions. The second is the Social Assembly in which the worker meet as workers to decide pay, benefits, holidays, etc. There are six worker grades determined by skill and service. There is a management group headed by a CEO, and hired by the workers. The CEO cannot be paid more than six times the top pay of the lowest worker grade. Some of these Mondragon businesses are quite large, significant forces within their market niches.

    The worker-owned business movement (worker cooperatives) in the USA has been quietly growing. If you would like to know about this movement, you might want to Google: worker owned business United States.

    Another US movement focuses on creating other types of cooperative businesses that are customer owned. At one time we had many customer owned businesses here in the USA, especially dominant in the financial services industry, and legally incorporated as mutually held corporations. Many banks and insurance companies, some large, were owned this way. These companies were technically owned by the customers and paid the customers a dividend at the end of the year. These companies were bureaucratic but very nice and not focused on “maximizing profits” by getting rid of workers or cutting pay or screwing the customer. They did not answer each quarter to Wall Street and were liberated from the pressure to view workers merely as a commodity, a cost. The pressure they got came from their customers and from earning respect in their communities by treating people well, all people, not just privileged upper management.

    Finally, there is another movement for worker owned businesses in the US based on a model different from that of the Mondragon worker-owned businesses. These businesses participate in an ESOP plan (Employee Owned Stock Option Plan). these companies can be governed in an entirely conventional way, with workers passive in the governance but enjoying the benefits of passive ownership through stock holdings. However, many actively involve workers in some way in the governance of the company. A good example would be King Arthur Flour, founded in 1990 but converted to an ESOP in the 1990s. Since becoming an ESOP the company has grown much faster than it had previously.

  29. There are so many whose voices must be heard through the Occupations, but cannot. Most of us in the movement understand this and take this to heart when we are out there. When I talk about the movement, I try my best to include all the voices I have heard.

    I am speaking at a synagogue tomorrow (Friday) about the Occupy Portland movement. I will bring your piece up as I think it truly speaks to all of us.

    And I will include your voice.

  30. As an American which you are as well allow me to extend my apologies for the racist treatment you have received for no reason other than the color of your skin. Racism has and always will be a part of American history. We attacked Iraq for no other reason than we didn’t like the then leader of the country not because he had anything to do with the attacks on 911. Now in the so-called interests of national security innocent people of a religious faith are being spied upon jailed and who knows what else. It is Truly unfortunate that you a United States citizen are fearful of exercising your rights to protest as guaranteed under our constitution.

  31. If you were to remove racism entirely from society we would still have the exact same economic system we have now: 99.0% v. 0.1%. To imagine that the problem is race or minority status, and not economic status, is to play for their team: the .1% LOVE race politics. If we’re worrying about race, we’re not worrying about money. They are not the same. You can be poor in any color. Think about it: a world without racism is still identical to a world of massive exploitation of workers (of all colors).

  32. […] important perspective: Why I am not protesting at Occupy. (I have my own reasons for supporting but not protesting: I don’t want to be arrested as a […]

  33. […] Why I Am Not Protesting at Occupy « AmericanPaki While the Occupiers were dealing with such abuse, during civil disobedience, communities of color suffer these type of injustices simply because it’s Wednesday, and they may look like someone else. That’s what happens to us — and it’s accepted as if it were just a day of the week. One morning about 9:30am, approximately seven to ten days after 9/11, I received a phone call on my mobile phone. I was a part time college student at the University of Massachusetts Boston and was having a slow morning at home catching up with my reading for class. […]

  34. TL;DR

    • Excellent contribution to the discussion. I applaud your thoughtfulness and dedication to discourse on race, power, and civil disobedience.

  35. have you seen what happened at last sunday’s GA in oakland? many people of color shared why they wouldnt be at occupy…

  36. I have read ur entire article, found it interested, and understood your point. But I believe truely, that being an American and what ever other nationality or race we are we are still one. And fighting for those who continue to live in this country. Occupy 99.% is still about the financial future of the world not about who we ate as an individual. But the government abusing the constitution of our united states. And fighting the institution who screed up our children children future and there rights. But thank you for sharing ur point of view. For this my point of view.

  37. just speaking out takes courage, as you are then ‘on the list” I Thank you for speaking out. 99.9% of all people in the USA are simply Clueless that ‘the war on terror” is allowing the Third Reich to rise again…..uniforms and all…power is a drug and psychopaths are attracted to jobs with uniforms…

    I was deported from USA after 20 years waiting for my Greencard….they had an ENORMOUS FILE on me, marked “RUSH” – ??? —- Im a housewife, who worked in a bank, never had a traffic ticket, never paid my rent late? never been to mosque, barely been to church? whats the rush?? to shut me up about how fucked up it all is?

    So stuck in the UK ….I saw a psychic, he said ‘you have to be Very, Very Quiet, all I am getting is “Let it Be”…” Im from Liverpool, but really dont like/care about the beatles…or john lennon. It was wierd, I was curious…so I googled him, and found out that he fought for his green card for years to live peacefully in the USA…where there is supposed to be free speech. and then he died…

    Free Speech or expectin the same civil liberties as white people get (most of the time) can cost you your life. But then, most brown people already know that.

  38. Thank you for sharing your story. An important perspective for white protestors who can’t seem to understand why people of color can be hesitant to get involved with the protests to consider.

  39. Any uprising seeking justice and equality and giving a voice to middle class and poor people is worthwhile.

    • This Womans(peoples) Experience needs to go up on whitehouse.gov for a petition, its powerful and frnkly deserving of a whitehouse response for all the world to see, hear, and experience, it goes to the heart and sole of who this world is as a people!

  40. Thank you for sharing your story – a powerful reminder to consider my own privilege. I don’t think you’re chicken – I think you are dealing with a greater risk than I am (I’m a young white woman who normally couldn’t get a speeding ticket if I tried) and I don’t know what I would do in your situation. I know for certain that no one should shame you for your choices about how best to participate in the movement. It is pretty clear to me that you are doing a lot and you should be proud.

  41. Darlin’, I’m a 65-year-old “white” woman and I’m afraid of the same things you are. When they passed that piece of legislation, I was struck with horror. anecdotes. My parents were raised in the Soviet Union and I know how it feels when people say “All ____ are bad.” My mother wasn’t bad. I was 10 years old and why all Russians are bad and why my family was hated for being Russian was beyond me. (We’re not Russian–that’s 1950s shorthand for communists.)I wanted to say something pithy and uplifting here, but can’t think of anything but platitudes and more self-serving anecdotes. I’ll support Occupy from the sidelines and praise those who put their lives on the line there, but must put my affairs in order before I venture to demonstrate and, quite possibly, disappear.

  42. Thank you for sharing your story. I completely understand and empathize. I’m white myself, but my boyfriend at the time of 9/11 was a Pakistani. I saw first and second hand how people treated him, even though we lived in liberal San Francisco and he was very Americanized; heard the death threats he and his family got, and heard about his little brother getting beat up at school.

    He’d come to the US as a child, but was still on a green card, which had to be renewed in 2002. Visa processing took forever then, so they advised turning in the application 3-6 months early. We turned his in 7 months early, but it took them a year and a half to process his application, so he was technically in the country illegally for a year. A very long, scary year during which time we heard weird clicks on our phones, during which time we were too afraid to go to the anti-war protests, during which time we were afraid that he could get pulled over for driving while brown and, if they checked his papers, he could get deported.

    We’ve long since split, and I’m active with Occupy, even though I imagine my name may well be on a list somewhere. But even so, I know that even were I to be arrested I’d have it a lot easier than POC, and I could never blame anyone for making the rational, logical choice not to participate.

  43. The great irony in these experiences of fear that you and so many others have had, and continue to have, is that they are caused by people who are themselves living in fear. That they are in positions of authority, or representing authority, gives them a sense of power which they use to evoke fear in those whom they fear.

    It doesn’t matter to them that there is no real need for their fear, only that they are afraid. And they are most inclined to create fear because that is what they know best, through their own experience of fear – fear that is born of ignorance, misinformation, lack of understanding and active but misguided imaginations. But of course their fear is justifiable … because it’s theirs.

    The only antidote is Love. Love that can grow through knowledge, understanding, tolerance and acceptance. It’s going to be a long, rough road, and far too many will be hurt along the way. I’m sorry.

  44. […] Why I Am Not Protesting at Occupy […]

  45. Very interesting piece. Thank you for sharing.

  46. Enjoyed that – you’re a great writer. We will all participate in this in ways that are right for us. While women make up 50% of the population we hold less than 10% of the property and are still fighting for equal consideration in terms of employment, pay and in criminal law courts. That means women continue to be treated as a ‘minority’. Yeh, I know I’ll get a harder time than a white guy if I’m arrested and find myself in front of a judge. But we all need to be courageous in standing together. I’ve seen people in wheelchairs out there and people over 80 being on the receiving end of police violence. It is up to all of us to protect one another.

  47. No question that your fears are justified. But the chilling effect & intimidation you describe are psychic handcuffs, stronger than anything on a riot cop’s belt. You have been detained for all practical purposes, by fear. Take your pick – an FBI hand on your shoulder or your own hand over your mouth. Not much of a choice.

    The only way out of the quagmire is to find courage to exercise what’s left of our rights. Wikileaks said it best: courage is contagious.

    I wish you success in reconciling your principle & your fear.

  48. Thankyou Ayesha for speaking your mind. I am here first time on your blog but seriously what you say does not come as any sort of SHOCK at all. I am from Kashmir and in 2010 while i am a respected reseacher in New Delhi, my parent’s house was rained down upon with stones because people had dared to protest Indian rule. When I went home I could not help but see broken glass and my parents helpless face. So if in America such things could happen imagine what could be the state of confict zones.

    I could never think of protesting in Delhi either, my family was getting phone calls for my activities in Delhi.

    I am pleased that world is awakening to respond to injustice which is not any more covered.


  49. […] Kazmi of the blog American Paki explains why she is not protesting at Occupy: Over the past decade, the very system that has been used to stir up fear and suspicion against […]

  50. […] masse, are now holding Islamophobes responsible for unjustifiably criminalising American Muslims.  The fears I’ve been expressing over the past decade have actually receded some. While I may still be afraid of my government, I feel safe with the […]

  51. […] response to the earlier piece about not protesting at Occupy: Why I am protesting at […]

  52. […] Wins When The Mercs Shoot In Iraq Why I Am Not Protesting at Occupy (chilling effect of post-9/11 hysteria) The North Dakota Cops Do Not Need Drones, Damnit There Will […]

  53. […] A personal account: Why I am not protesting at Occupy Wall Street  […]

  54. I’ve seen plenty of minorities at Occupy protests. As for the ones that aren’t there, why is the onus on white activists to reach out to them?
    Also, have you considered that maybe the reason that Occupy protests are predominantly white might have something to do with the fact that the country is predominantly white??? They’re called minorities for a reason.

  55. Ayesha, you have already taken a stand at the Occupy Movement because of this post. You are already representing your people and people of color in the most profound way without physically being present. Peace. -Hannah Faye, Author of Occupy the World: From the Heart of the Protesters.

  56. […] us to be sensitive to anything that could cause people to feel further disenfranchised. Journalist Ayesha Kazmi puts it best: As tempted as many white Occupy protesters are to proclaim “we are all one and the […]

  57. […] as it seems to be so heavily on class to the detriment of say, gender, or race, or both, or on other experiences of differential oppression– and modified to ”1,2,3,4, we don’t want your […]

  58. […] I am not at Occupy Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  59. When I originally commented I clicked the “Notify me when new comments are added” checkbox and now
    each time a comment is added I get several e-mails with the same comment.
    Is there any way you can remove me from that
    service? Bless you!

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