Fat and Not Afraid

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Disappointed & Disillusioned w Occupy

January 19, 2012

GIANT trigger warning for fat hate, violent rhetoric and imagery, and racist language.

Today has been a rough day with my local Occupy. It started with a long, heated conversation about using violent and/or eliminationist language, a conversation that lasted nearly all day even though I was at work, (see below for a transcript if you dare) and now, browsing through the photos from the Eco March last weekend, I found this:

Image Copyright Candace Freedom-Lover

Mentally I'm exhausted. I'm saddened and disappointed to be fighting with supposed progressives about whether or not saying they want to scalp someone is actually racist, or if it's just me being offended. It doesn't matter how articulate, reasonable or accurate I am, I get shot down.

I'm tired of letting things slide that I know I shouldn't, but am letting them slide because I knew this kind of day would happen; I'm too sensitive, I'm censoring people, there's freedom of speech in this country you know! So I should just say nothing when someone says "The thing that pisses me off is that we didn't scalp Gordon Campbell as he waddled his useless ass off to Europe." or use the terms 'crazy' or 'nuts' to talk about people they don't like or don't agree with. I should say nothing in the face of this particular sign because of course she doesn't mean ME or any of the other fat folks who are a part of Occupy, she means those OTHER fat people, the bad ones who eat bad food and ruin the planet with their over-consumption.(Of course, I did leave a comment on it saying "Nice to know us fat people are to blame for the world's ills. Makes me feel really welcome!" Just waiting for the backlash on that.) Edited to add: Comments now include "Truth hurts, life goes on" and, as I knew there would be "oh, she didn't mean it/mean it that way." And now, well, the sign is only aimed at the fat 1%. So I guess it's ok to attack rich fat people, but not rich middle class or poor people.

The thing that's REALLY REALLY bugging me is that, although I have repeatedly said that I think Occupy can be better than it is, and that's why I'm bringing this stuff up, it comes back to me being unreasonable, a censor, an enemy to free speech. I let the thread where the argument originally happened die because derailing the entire page for it because of 2 people arguing with me wasn't worth it.  So we took it to the internet specific group where one of the guys wanted to talk about moderator's personal opinions having too much sway, and that we should just stick to our basic guidelines. These are my responses to various posts by various people, with thier comments paraphrased as I don't actually have permission to repost them whole. I'm plunking it here to help me get it off my chest and also to show what I'm up against in a supposedly progressive space like Occupy. 

Me: I'd just like to say that I've actually let a lot of stuff slide that, if I thought for a second anyone would back me up on it, I would've said something about it. I've been, IMO, lenient and let a lot of things go that in a more truly progressive space, would be called out. Asking people not to use racist, homophobic, abelist, or sexist language, or violent rhetoric, isn't censorship or limiting their right to freedom of expression. It's asking them to have some basic compassion and thought for what they actually post on our wall. It's challenging their privilege, thier supposed right to use language that's oppressive, and ya, people get defensive (because noone likes to get called on this stuff) but that's how we grow (hopefully). Is it REALLY that hard to think of a better word or different phrase than 'scalping'? Is it REALLY so difficult to not use language that is steeped deeply in racial oppression? I don't think so, because if it IS, Occupy Nanaimo isn't nearly as progressive and open minded as I thought it was.
P.s I'm not offended by the term 'scalping', I'm contemptuous. I dont' give a flying fuck if someone is offended by what I write, anywhere, but I AM concerned with harm. Using racially loaded terms like scalping hurts us as a movement and alienates our First Nation allies. It was a real thing done to real people. It's not an abstract concept from the distant past. Scalping took place well into the 20th century, and there are STILL places in the world where simply being First Nations will get you attacked, especially if you live somewhere that a big company wants to mine or deforest."

In return I got "But scalping was done in Europe by white people to other white people!" and that how you use a word is more important than what the word actually means. "Meaning is use specific".

Me: Sorry **** but words mean things. It's not 'just' language, or are you going to argue that someone who uses the word 'nigger' on our page can go ahead and do that? I mean, it's 'just' language, right?

After THAT I got "well how YOU see the word doesn't actually make it wrong" and "scalping was just 1 of many bad things that happened. Are we never allowed to mention those?"  And then he got pissy with me for using the N-word to make my point about language, and told to 'grow the fuck up'. Charming!

Me: Whether it's scalping or lynching, another historically racist act, my broader point that people are missing is that this violent eliminationist language is not acceptable for a progressive space. That's the kind of language the violent and ignorant use. Are we stupid or ignorant? No, because I've clearly explained things. At this point the only arguement that can be made for continuing to use/allow that kind of language is privilege. "Well I can say this stuff because it doesn't affect ME. I'M not racist! I'm not REALLY advocating violence!" It's just so much easier to keep using this language than to THINK, isnt' it?

More about freedom of speech, as long as it's not hate speech, and how wrong I am, how ignorant, defensive and close minded I am, and how dare I use the n-word just to 'win' at a debate! 

Me: Ok, let's pretend for a moment that I'm coming from an advanced, progressive and feminist space and actually know what I'm talking about. Let's pretend I've spent years studying and debating and talking about this, living it and writing about it. Now that we're all on the same page, please try to understand; this isn't about winning a debate, it's about working with our group to get rid of its defensiveness, ignorance and close-mindedness surrounding certain language. The wonderful thing about freedom of speech is it allows you to really see where a person's coming from. What we say and how we say it matters. Words mean things, and it's not just my opinion that scalping, or lynching, is an oppressive, racially loaded word, it's fact. The really troubling thing for ME, as a progressive, as a First Nations ally, as a feminist and as a moderator of this space, is that anyone is actually DEFENDING their ability to use this language. To me, it's reprehensible and tells me a lot more about you (general you/them) than it does about me. I cannot condone the use of violent, eliminationist language on our page, for any reason. Aren't we better than that?

Apparently not, because immediately following that I'm told that I'm 'parading around like one of our trolls' and that the page is a free and open space where people can say whatever they please. Again I'm being told I'm 'offended' by the original scalping comment, and that words only have value/meaning if you give it to them. This guy's not going to go all 1984 on our pages by censoring people, oh no he's not! It's just me who's got the problem.

Me: Parading around? Really? Making a strong argument that none of you have actually been able to refute is 'parading'? Should I get myself a trombone and a shiny hat? Maybe some nice boots to go with it? It's a free and open space that can be better than it is. Thats' all I'm asking for really, is that people THINK before they post. I expect more, I expect better, from a supposedly progessive and open-minded space like Occupy. My standards, they are high, but like I've said, I've also let other language slide in the past because I didn't want to rock the boat. Why? I KNEW that this discussion we're having, this dog-piling on me about language, would happen. But I can't swallow that shit anymore, so here we are.

A while later Parading came back with "We're doing what?" and basically that policing language in this way is outside admin/mod duties, and that hey, I shouldn't allow words to have negative meanings. Seriously? *sigh*

Me: Again, you're missing my entire point. It's not my personal opinion that saying "I wish I'd scapled so and so" is racist and oppressive and violent. That's reality. Its' a fact. I'm saying that there's no place for that kind of language in Occupy. It is incredibly close minded to continue to want to use that kind of language in the face of the arguements I've presented. It's not just my personal preference here, it's years of experience in actual progressive spaces, with actual progressives. It's distrubing to me that you and everyone else who's responded to this thread has sidestepped my point of "But don't you think Occupy should be BETTER THAN THAT?" with "But free speech!" Or "Just don't take it so personally, Jen" or "words don't really have meanings!", with that last one taking the absolute verbal cake. Words have meanings. Just because those meanings don't make YOU personally uncomfortable doesnt' indicate that the words themselves are empty syllables. If we're actually serious about making Occupy a safe and open space for everyone, we need to be serious about what kind of language we present.

And now more 'but scalping isn't a racist term!' and 'it's just an expressive comment, not a threat!'

Me: Words aren't racist? Really? What about cracker? Kike? Chink? Gook? Wagon-burner? Sand-nigger? Towel head? Those are all racist terms. They're racist no matter who says them, though context is important. As with swearing, there's a difference between calling someone an obvious racial epithet and using it as an example, as I have done. According to M I should be allowed to use this language on the page because hey, words don't really mean things! If someone gets mad, I'll just tell them not to let my words affect them negatively, right? I should also be allowed to say "God, I wish someone could just go shoot Harper in the face." or "Man, I wish someone would bomb Parliament and wipe out all those politicians who are messing things up for this country." Or how about "Geeze, I wish someone would beat the crap out of Bill Gates. That guy's such a jerk for having all that money." I'm not *directly* saying that *I* want to go do these things, so it's OK! I'm only wishing harm on people, it's not a big deal, and it's not like noone's ever heard violent rhetoric before and then decided to follow through! That's NEVER HAPPENED. (That was sarcasm, btw).

Fine, we disagree. You don't think it's a big deal, and I really do. I think Occupy Nanaimo should grow and become better, you and others don't. As admins part of our job is to create safe space for dialogue. We agree that racism, sexism, homophobia and other things in the guidelines are NOT ok, why not violent language? Why the double standard?
Apparently no, words are never racist. They're just empty syllables until you put some feeling or intent or something behind them. It's like magic!  It's too bad Canada's hate speech laws and our Charter disagree with him (and by it's too bad I actually mean I'm so glad!) After that there was an attempt by me to point out that no, intent isn't everything because if you say to me "Hey baby, nice ass" and meant it as a compliment, and I charge you with sexual harassment, the law is on my side.
Edited on Friday evening to add that now the argument has devolved into accusing me of abusing my modly powers and 'pushing' Occupy in a personal direction instead of a group one. Also, in reference to parading, I was offered shiny hat, trombone and sheet music by one of the guys. I offered to continue to push for better language, but make it clear that it's coming from me personally and not from the mod team. Personally I think that just makes the rest of the mod team look bad, but if they dont' want to be associated with making Occupy a more progressive space, I can't make them. If this comes up at a GA, as has been threatened, to take away my modly powers, I'm more than ready to argue my point for a better Occupy Nanaimo and I'm pretty sure most of those assembled would agree with me. Oh yes, there was also a pointed question about why I even get to BE a mod, seeing as how I'm not at the GAs very much and don't DO enough for Occupy. Seriously? If me busting my brain the last 36 hours isn't work for Occupy, I don't know what is.

More as it develops, or not. Tomorrow is Friday, so thank Goddess for that.


There is a streak of meanness and judgement that often runs through people who are very politically engaged. Rage is what motivated them to get out there in the first place, but this righteous anger can quickly become self righteousness. Couple that with the fact that many protestors are often very young and don't realise that their opinions are just that, opinions, rather than received wisdom, and you can often have a toxic mix. 'Twas ever thus and one of the reasons that feminism has struggled to sit alongside gay rights or civil rights in general - even the most hardened leftists would dismiss 'women's issues' as being trivial compared to whatever big issue they were fighting for.

I've seen that same sentiment (as the sign) on a bumper sticker before. It makes me so angry. Do they not know that poor people are more likely to be fat than rich people? Also that fat people are more likely to be poor than thin people (not sure the causation doesn't go both ways)? Also, I happen to be fat, and I have an older sister who is very thin. I live in an apartment in the city. My sister lives in a five-bedroom home in the country. I drive a compact car. My sister drives an SUV. So who is destroying the environment more, the thinny or the fatty?

Pretty much... everything you wrote. Good for you for taking them on, though I know how mentally and emotionally exhausting it can be. I was bullied and mocked for protesting rape jokes, and called a humourless feminist for protesting anti-woman language, and a fat apologist etc for protesting language that equated fat with greedy etc, and for trying to explain why I objected to fat eliminationist language and policies.

All that to say, btdt, it's hard, and I admire you for diving in.

Take care, and you did good. Hopefully, despite the denials etc, someone read, and understood, and will be more careful.

Thank you, Leila for your comment and also for what you've done. Was that in an Occupy context as well?

Eve: Ya, the comments under the pic got worse and worse until I had to let that go too. I think I'm the only real progressive left on that page; all the other ones have thrown up their hands and left! Tempting, let me tell you.

I hear you!
Everything you said!...
As you know, i went through the same thing with a number of those folks.
They hid behind:
"You're just taking it the wrong way"
"It's a free country"
"You are censoring"
"I'm going to report you and have you removed"
"You have never been poor" [so you don't understand anything] (about what 'we' [the real warriors] are talking about".

It went on for days....
All i asked for was:
-To be spoken to and treated with respect
-To speak to and treat others the way they wish to be treated/spoken to.
-To use language, communication and ways of being that model an alternative to what we are purportedly fighting.
-And most of all, in over arching terms, engage in a way that results in the creation of peaceful relationships that harmoniously move the "Occupy" movement forward.

The next time you get into a place like that, contact me.
At the very least, i will reiterate your sentiments and maybe even have something to add to yours!
In Love and Service
Yours Dirk

Thank you Jen for your willingness, determination and 'stick-to-it-ness'. I appreciate how articulate you are and your passion!

An interesting exchange.
I'm not even sure which side I agree with. Language is kind of a slippery thing. Context matters, company matters... I might tell a dirty joke to one group and wouldn't think of telling it to some other group. Violent language isn't going away any time soon precisely because it packs a wallop and offends people.
I find the best way to get people to think is not to tell them they can't or won't (even if it's true), but to take what they say, shine a different light on it and throw it back.
"What has Gordon Campbell's hairstyle got to do with his politics?"
"Why are you obsessed with Gordon Campbell's ass and the way it moves?"
See, they're trying for shock value and you're making them sound silly.

"Aren't we better than that?", you say.
I say "no". Because I've known nice people who use nasty language and nasty people who use nice language.
If they say, "Truth hurts, life goes on", I'd just say, "It must be hurting you, or you would speak it." If they need to ask what you mean, they're more likely to listen to the answer.

By the way, I'm curious about what you think of this clip where Dustin Hoffman plays Lenny Bruce (go to youtube, look up Lenny Bruce Hard Words). I can't say I entirely agree with that either, but it does offer food for thought.

If/when it comes up again I'll keep your suggestions in mind, Mulberry. I haven't checked out the clip you've mentioned yet but I'll do so sometime today. Thanks for your thoughtful comment!



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