Language of “Occupy” Wall Street Protest Movement Offensive?

If you’ve been following current events at all, you’ve heard about the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York. In spite of criticism that the demonstrations lack a defined focus,  similar demonstrations have ignited in over 600 communities in the US and 900 cities world-wide.

An October 24 article in the Washington Post titled “Swing Voters Respond Better to ’99 Percent’ than ‘Occupy Wall Street’” addresses an issue that has become important for those in the movement – how the language they use impacts public opinion about their cause. A number of people are pushing to redefine the protests from “Occupy Wall Street” to “We are the 99%.”

Amidst the discussion over how to best rhetorically frame the ideas of the demonstrators, Indigenous rights activists are raising another criticism. Namely, the term “occupy” is insulting to Native peoples, for whom occupation has been a traumatic reality in the Americas for over 500 years. As Anishnaabe writer John Paul Montano put it in an open letter to the Occupy Wall Street activists, he had hoped “…you would make mention of the fact that the very land upon which you are protesting does not belong to you – that you are guests upon that stolen indigenous land.

The response to this criticism among those in the movement has been varied. Some clearly resent being asked to alter the language of the movement. Others have moved readily to adopt language that they believe is more inclusive and more accurately reflects the sentiment of the movement. “OccupyBurque” is now (Un)Occupy Albuquerque while Los Angeles, Montreal, and a number of other local movements have preferred the term “Decolonize.”

We at Spoken First are curious about what our readers think. Whether or not you agree with the movement itself, do you think the language of the movement is offensive? Ineffective? Fine as it is?

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