Why I Am Occupying Wall Street

John Bird

I feel like I have been waiting for this moment an entire lifetime. More like a hundred lifetimes when I count the 500 years and lifetimes of all our indigenous ancestors who went to their graves wondering if justice would ever again prevail on Turtle Island.

My great grandfather Heavy Runner (Blackfeet) must have gone to his grave wondering about that in 1870 when the US Calvary massacred him and my grandmother on the Bear River (Marias) in Montana along with about 200 others in a tragedy that is now known as the Baker Massacre. He had made a peace with the US government and emerged from his lodge holding the paper of peace high on that cold winter day in January. He was gunned down before he got very far from his lodge and all out massacre ensued.

I know that many Indian people, myself included, are so very weary, tired of waiting and hoping for justice. I see it on the faces and hear it in the voices of my family and relatives and in the Native communities I work with. Far too many of our young people decide it is a better option to commit suicide than live as a commoditized serf or non-person in the current system. I never condemn them for this choice. I think there is a level of correctness in their assessment of the reality in which we live though I strongly disagree with the remedy of suicide.

Growing up I always heard the rallying cry of the Blackfoot people: Ikaakimaat! Take courage, try hard, don’t give up. Sometimes, those voices in my head are the only thing standing between myself and total hopelessness.

Hope does spring eternal, though. Just when it seems all is lost, hope revives, and the eternal flame of hope for justice roars back to life from an unexpected direction, unexpected source. For me the Occupy Wall Street movement is that new hope. What I see in the Occupy Wall Street movement with its focus on economic justice which is entwined with social justice, growing and strengthening and merging with the environmental movement is the beginning of new hope. Not just for Native Americans, but for all Americans and all citizens of the world. Our Indigenous philosophies have always told us we are all related, we are all connected, we are all in this together.

This movement, with its growing alliances of economic justice, social justice, and environmental justice activists will be formidable if they hold. Climate change, endless wars, and a yearning for freedom beyond a future of corporate serfdom seems to be driving and strengthening new opportunities and alliances. Sunday, the Occupy Denver assembly unanimously adopted a 10 point platform put forth by the Colorado Chapter of the American Indian Movement.

Correctly, the movement blames both Wall Street and Washington for orchestrating the upward shift of money, assets, resources, and power to the governing elite, the 1%. This collusion perpetuates, expands, and institutionalizes poverty for the masses, where most Indigenous people reside. Poverty and war are social justice issues, deeply entwined with economic justice. Now,with the merging of environmental justice into this movement and the proper identification of the real source of injustice, the collusion between Wall Street and Washington, there is real hope for real change.

I have come to the conclusion that Barack Obama, who sold himself to the hopeful masses as the face of hope and change is severely hindered in that he, like his predecessors and too many members of congress, Republicans and Democrats alike, are beholden to the Wall Street masters and their money. I think this movement has a real chance precisely because it refuses to be co-opted and, like so many of the American people, it no longer trusts Democrats or Republicans. Correctly, it acknowledges that both parties who dominate our political system are similarly corrupted by the same greed and lust for power that rots Wall Street at its very core. People are taking to the streets now because they realize that change will not come solely from the ballot box.

In my community organizing work, I sometimes heard a saying. “It does not matter on which boat your ancestors came here, we are all in the same boat now,” to which I would add: “even if your ancestors did not come here in a boat, we are all in the same boat now”. The window of opportunity to bend the course of history back towards justice is once again opening. It will not stay open long. Let us, Native Americans and all others who have not given up hope for a world based on real economic, social, and environmental justice, not squander this opportunity. It may very well may be our last.

John Bird M. Ed. (Blackfeet) is a long time community organizer and mental health and wellness activist. He was one of the founders of NANACOA and one of the developers of the original GONA curriculum. He lives between his home on the Blackfeet Reservation and Tucson, Arizona where he is helping to raise his two grandchildren who are half Tohono O'odham.

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page




judithavila's picture
A strongly felt and beautifully communicated commitment, John. Amen!
dbender's picture
This is our Revolution, Chief. This is the same Revolution that Fidel Castro and Che Guevara, Evo Morales, Hugo Chavez, National Indigenous Movement of Argentia, First Nations against the XL Pipeline and many others have begun and continue fighting for the survival and rights of the average human being (proletariat). This is the same Revolution that brought us civil rights and women's rights. This is the same movement that gave us the 5 day work week and banned child labor. It's Capitalism that is killing the world, manipulating truth, poisoning our air and water, and poisoning the minds and bodies of the people. This Revolution is for the Future of our planet. My personal Revolution is just another piece of the puzzle; just as our comrades are enacting their Revolution on Wall street and in over 200 cities across the nation and worldwide. This Revolution has everything to do with sovereignty and a world order dictated by the people -- not corporations! So pay attention and stay tuned, you just might learn something!
spktruth200's picture
Chief: RE: the USS Liberty! It is pure fact and has been proven by the surviors themselves. They went to DC and poured through the Archives and found all the evidence needed to prove it is not a conspiracy it happened. In 1967 the USS Liberty was sent to international waters near Egypt and Israel and warning about Israel attacking Egypt were known to our intelligence. While the USS Liberty was in international waters, Israel attacked ship for more than 40 minutes. They even torpedoed it to sink it. Why, because they wanted to blame Egypt for it. Its an old zionist trick. When the ship finally came ashore, 34 sailors were dead and hundreds wounded. They were told never to tell who attacked that day or face courtmartial. Every once in awhile one of the vets would call in Cspan and tell the truth. Survivors are now gearing up with evidence, video, and proof positive Israel declared war on the USS in June 1967, and it was all covered up. Many of these conspiracy theories actually have some basis in fact and this story is one of them. Chief, why would you support any "apartheid"nation after what has been done to the indigenous people of this country. what is happening to native americans is precisely what is happening to the Palestinans. The Blue coats still ride.
softbreeze's picture
I agree that this is a pivotal moment in the society that now exists on Turtle Island. It's good to see people standing up for what they believe is right, standing up for themselves. My only concern is the degree that the protesting went to today. I think people need to show respect for each other while participating in this discussion of human rights, economic rights, and environmental preservation. I think marching in the close vicinity of other peoples' homes, where there may be innocent children living there, is something that goes beyond discussion, and enters into the realm of mild intimidation. I think this kind of choice will diminish the opportunity we now have at hand to be heard and for fair negotiations. We are at a point of increasing vibrational frequency on this planet. The great changes are at hand. In order to transition with the changes, we must all be in harmony with them. That means being positive, and sending out unconditional love. I struggle with this as much as anyone, but I know this to be true. The Creator is the greatest power in the Universe. We must work within these higher laws in order to bring positive and lasting changes in our individual lives, and also in our collective societies. Peace to all my Relations. Nimziwi.
thechief's picture
I would be a little suspicous of these "occupy wall street" events. I am sure their are some well intentioned people there it seems like the events are just to vague. No student loans, climate change, bank bailouts, unemployment extension, no border, etc. Just a generation ago Wall Street and Bankers were often code word for Jew. If you add the 99% vs the 1% thing, it sounds very similar to the national socialist party's fight against big business and the wealthy. The same rhetoric that you hear the protesters yelling at the protests sound eerily similar to old nazi propaganda. "They ruined our economy." "their greed is responsible for our suffering" "they get rich while we stay poor" "we are slave to them" As far as all of the authors personal native history it seems kind of silly. I don't think Geronimo or Sitting Bull would have been hanging out with the hipsters and drop outs that you see in "occupation" protests.
thechief's picture
Ok. You just proved my point. We have a marxist and an anti-semite. I haven't heard from an anarchist yet but I am sure there is one out there.
dbender's picture
And you sound eerily like your fellow right-wing propagandists in comparing entities whom go against your agenda to Hitler. If you know anything about Hitler, you might realize that he was a big fan of the United States and their "conquest" of Turtle Island, through systemic racism and violence. So much so that he used the Indian Reservation as a model for his concentration camp and ethnic cleansing. The people with "occupy Wall Street" are in fact Marxists and so what? Marxism is about wealth distribution and moving towards classless society. Its about abolishing racism and exploitation. As it is, there are many socialist institutions in this country: libraries, police and fire departments, military, agriculture, and schools. So it's all about taxing the rich or tearing it down. Right now, the 99% are being exploited. We live in a nation where you are funneled into the military, funneled into low-paying jobs, funneled into a 2-party system that goes against ones true morals, and we are constantly bombarded with nationalist propaganda. Propaganda that entices individuals to become racists and bigots. They have been dividing and conquering for so long -- that people like you are so conditioned by it that you hardly even notice. You know, I don't think anybody cares if the United States is a "super-power" or not but the right-wing and people like you. I think this generation is more concerned about weakening the unseen hand that runs this nation. Maybe you just can't comprehend or appreciate a revolutionary frame of thought. Obama won by a landslide on the premise of change. Unfortunately, he has yet to deliver. So this is what happens; power in numbers.
notnek's picture
Thechief Assumptions like hipsters, dropouts is misleading at best. I can say for certain you know nothing of what is in the hearts of those putting the government and Wall St on notice of the greed and corruption poisoning this country. Referring John Birds story and those protesters to Nazi's in nothing but the Extreme Rights rhetoric to glibly counter other Americans right to an opinion, written or by assembly.
thechief's picture
I think the comparison is fair considering that the nationalist socialist party was made up of unemployed underachieving citizens that needed somebody to blame for their failure. At that time it was also the banking system and currency crisis. When hitler was able to humanize their reason for failure into the jews it was convenient for them to get rid of them. Right now, you just hear people such as yourself calling this imaginary group "they." "They have been dividing and conquering for us long""they have been funneling us into the military, and low paying jobs" Who is they? Warren Buffet? Donald Trump? Alaskan Native Corporations? Big Per Cap Tribes? ? What should we do with all of these "evil doers," take their money and give it to Marxist so they can choose who deserves it?
dbender's picture
I'm sorry I can't debate with you for you are standing way to high in that ivory tower of yours. You are way to much a fanatic for feudal serfdom to understand what is going on here. You just said it yourself, "big per cap tribes". That's communism at its best.