I visited Occupy in downtown Cleveland on Columbus Day in 2011. Things were different then.
The spirit of organized grassroots opposition was clear, of course, if almost nascent in a way. This window in time was distinct from anti-war efforts in the early and mid-2000s, and yet it still feels apart from today’s often fragmented anti-fascism movement and, more vitally, I think, the fourth-wave feminist movement in the U.S.
Still, I think an anti-imperialist viewpoint undergirds a lot of critical thinking in the activist community, and I hope that doesn’t get lost, especially on a Western punchline like “Columbus Day.” This through-line of opposition grows only more vital, as the federal government morphs more openly into tyranny. Foreign policy has been pushed to the fringes of the news media, frequently, and I don’t think that’s unintentional. I remember now someone standing beneath the statue of Moses Cleaveland, seven years ago today, reciting the opening passages of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States.
“Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log:
“‘They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.'”