There are a lot of good, really exciting, truly revolutionary things about the Occupy movement, such as it is a movement, since it really isn't, but there is also one truth that almost no one involved wants to talk about or can talk about, which is the pervasive farce of white privilege. At some level the movement is nothing but the reactionary awakening of the white middle classes in the United States. It didn't matter enough to occupy the streets, fight against the banks, call out the millionaires, and disrupt the functioning of runaway neoliberalism when it was blacks suffering, latinos suffering, poor whites suffering, but it matters when the children of the middle classes begin drowning in debt amassed simply to attend university, or cannot find jobs, or cannot move out of their parents houses to find a home of their own.
Let's dispense with this hard truth right now: all of those complaints, legitimate as they are (for one, like myself, who believes education is a right, and therefore should be free, along with healthcare, at a minimum), are complaints from the position of obscene privilege compared to minorities in this country. No jobs, no university education, stuck living in parents homes, or worse? This is the daily life of the working poor in the United States and has been since before independence. Mass imprisonment, dramatically shorter life-expectancy, lower standards of education have been the reality for blacks in the U.S. for a long time now, just as dramatically following the civil rights movement as before it. There are systematic arguments for that, but what it really means at the most basic level is that the same white, complacent middle classes now taking to the streets to protest their loss of privilege are absolutely, even if passively, complicit and guilty of oppression imposed on minorities and the working poor.
They should start, then, with an apology, with an admission of guilt. They should start on their knees, acknowledge the farce of their position, their absolute privilege, and then maybe they will earn the respect, engagement, support, and knowledge of those communities which have been repressed in this country for as long as there has been a country. Otherwise, should Occupy be victorious in its goals, it will again, as every past "movement" has done, leave behind those same groups to be exploited, all it will accomplish is a return to the status quo in which white middle-class citizens have it good, the rich have control, and everyone else has it worse than those can imagine.
One needs to say, "We are sorry, we have ignored you, we have failed to fight for you until it was us they came for", or one needs to shut up and get to work on the streets without speaking. Those who have fought and failed, or fought and been thrown in prison, or fought and been beaten down time and time again, who know the police not as "friends" but as the force of control that they are, should have nothing but disdain to anyone that fails in this apology. I have nothing for disdain for anyone who fails in that apology, and I am one of those who needs to apologize. So I will: I am sorry. I have ignored massive injustice until it affected me. I have failed to show up for the fight during the long years there has been a war I was blind to. I am sorry.
In this country one needs to understand the "problem" is not whether people whose parents own nice houses and who will support them until a job is found have amassed a lot of debt, though that is certainly a problem. The problem is white, middle-class ignorance towards millions of people locked up for minor offenses because they are black, or latino, or simply poor. The problem is the millions who couldn't begin to afford university attendance even before tuition prices skyrocketed, while people like me got by without even having to hold down a job. The problem is millions bankrupt because of health problems. The problem is a system of exploitation in which the 1% (who exist and are worse than you imagine, find the statistics if you want) extract the wealth from all the rest of us and throw it into the multinational slipstream of commodity and resource trading trying to earn return upon return on our dollar. The problem is that everything in this country is built to support them, not to help us, including the police, the courts, and the government as a whole. The problem, really, is that 150 million people in this country know that and have known that for a long time now, but the privileged, entitled other millions were enough to keep the system afloat and in power.
Of course it is good that those millions are finally turning against power, finally failing to believe in it. But let's not delude ourselves into believing that this is some change in consciousness or essential goodness: things have been deeply unjust for a long time now, and precious few of us privileged noticed or cared, or we cared in the way we care if the wife of an acquaintance dies of cancer: "Oh, that really is too bad, honey." We care the way sitcom characters care, because sitcom characters are written to give familiar models of white society and their narratives are borrowed. We, and let me be clear I include the I in it, lack mirrors, and avoid looking into the mirrors we do have.
What I'm saying is that what we've done, in our privilege and ignorance, is already nearly unforgivable, and that we deserve to beg for that forgiveness. If we fail this time we will be truly complicit, have committed the truly unforgivable act of demanding a revolution for ourselves and again ignoring those who need it far more than we do. The streets have been occupied, the camps have been torn down, as I write this the last holdout in Occupy Los Angeles is about to get raided, so things change again. If you are one of the privileged it's time to occupy your own privilege: your shopping mall, your university, your courthouse, your favorite restaurant, your parents backyard, your police stations, your hospitals, your museums, especially the museums, and to remind them all they serve and must serve everyone, not just you.