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The History of Occupy Women of Tampa (OWT)

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Occupy Women of Tampa (OWT) was a thematic group modeled after WOW (Women Occupy Wall Street) and formed in October 2011 by several female occupants to represent the women's caucus of Occupy Tampa. The group consisted of individuals committed to working together toward economic and social justice. The first months of meetings were passionate and productive, including non-violent direct action training and writing an Equal Pay Pledge for businesses to sign. 
OWT planned to issue Equality Certificates for businesses that supported the pledge. Many OWT members volunteered to gather support for the pledge, others to research potential businesses to approach. 

Then things went wrong. 

The group's first problem involved pressure from a powerful man in the movement who opposed the use of progressive stack, a process used in Occupy Wall Street and elsewhere. Progressive stack is like Affirmative Action for the General Assembly (GA). It allows historically underrepresented and oppressed groups, such as people of color and women, to speak first on stack.* Prior to one of OWT's meetings at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, this well-respected white male advised me that he would block any proposal to implement progressive stack. This particular facilitator was heavily involved in all aspects of Occupy Tampa and was beloved by all. I had personally worked with him on various projects. He claimed that his opposition to progressive stack was related to his own academic pursuits of gender and racial equality. Hesitant to cause commotion at that early stage of the group's development, I abandoned the issue. Occupy Tampa has never tried and still does not use progressive stack.

After the December 1st plan to take a park, OWT issued a statement of autonomy and solidarity to the Occupy Tampa GA. 
Although the discussion of OWT's statement was interrupted when police issued nearly 50 trespass warnings, OWT's position as autonomous and dissenting was effectively conveyed. The December 1st plan had been agreed upon offsite in a private residence by four (young heterosexual white male) individuals and presented to the GA as a group decision, as supporters from around the state and society were divided into three groups and told to follow one of three leaders to an undisclosed location. Order-following and secrecy seemed contrary to the movement's self-proclaimed horizontalism. When dissenters within OWT approached the planners with practical questions, they were viciously attacked and accused of trying to sabotage Occupy Tampa. OWT objected to secretive, back room decisions and presented a statement of dissent to the GA.** 

The group's third problem was the introduction of a women-only segment of the weekly hour-long meeting. The new format would allow thirty minutes of open forum and thirty minutes of women and female-identified individuals only. This was a strategy to allow women a safe space to discuss ideas without potential male domination of the conversation. This change was approved overall but caused co-facilitator Mary Ali to resign because she opposed the perceived exclusion of a women-only segment. 

My personal resignation from Occupy Tampa resulted from the culmination of two events. GAs from all over Florida convened in Orlando to draft a People's Plan to present to the state legislature. The plan then returned to local GAs. Many members of Occupy Tampa worked diligently to pass the plan through GA. While the working group passed entire sections of the rest of the plan, it failed to support a pro-choice, anti-personhood clause in the human rights section. Various reasons were given for this disgusting failure. Some said that they were rushed and couldn't devote attention to that particular human right, others said that a pro-choice stance would not effectively represent the amorphous 99%. Whatever the reasoning behind this decision, I could not participate in a group that does not actively prioritize reproductive rights.

Shortly thereafter, an active member of OWT and Occupy Tampa, and my good friend, transgender feminist and antispeciesiest activist Kara Michelle Sabia, died at age 24. One brief announcement appeared on the Occupy Tampa Facebook page. Two days later, no vigil or memorial had been announced. I publicly criticized Occupy Tampa's conspicuous lack of online reaction and was met with accusations of laziness and suggestions that I organize the memorial myself. I was busy cleaning out Sabia's room and generally grieving and was unable to orchestrate the memorial. I reached out to OWT for help, so Mary Ali organized a lovely candlelight vigil. On a brisk night around candles that spelled out Kara's name, statements were made, Kara's writing was read, and there was an air of respectful solemnity at the Occupy Tampa camp. 

During the vigil, one occupant, Ashley Perry, called for GA to be canceled that night out of respect for the recently deceased. Samantha Bowden and others seconded and thirded the motion. Bowden called on anyone who objected to speak up. No one did. As I was leaving camp after the conclusion of the vigil, I heard a mic check and then the announcement that GA was starting. Several members of OWT expressed shock and dismay that the decision to cancel GA had been unilaterally (i.e. without consensus) reversed to the facilitators. After this centralized decision, I resigned as facilitator of OWT and severed remaining ties with Occupy Tampa, as noted in a statement I wrote and posted on the OWT Facebook page. During a transitional period, the group selected a new facilitator. So far, they have not met regularly or updated their websites. However, there has been talk of a new women's group forming at Occupy Tampa.

While Occupy Tampa has the potential to positively impact American society and has already engaged many (young) people who were previously apolitical, it must begin being truly inclusive, even of dissidents. If Occupy Tampa will survive and flourish and be inclusive of the 99% that it claims to represent, then it is imperative that the group learn to accept, consider, and respond to criticism in a more healthy, productive manner. 

*Stack is the list of people who wish to speak on a given proposal.
** That statement is available on the Occupy Tampa forum.  

 

I'm a vegan, a feminist, and a writer.

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