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A Response to Samsarah Morgan and the Oakland Greens
A response to Samsarah Morgan's piece on the Oakland Greens website defending Jason "Shake" Anderson's mayoral candidacy
Recently the Oakland Greens, a subgroup of the Alameda County Green Party, have gotten some negative attention over their nomination of Jason “Shake” Anderson for mayor of Oakland. Anderson was conspicuously involved in an effort to publicly smear Jaime Omar Yassin, a Latino-Arab Occupy Oakland activist, as a terrorist, drug smuggler, and undercover government agent. In an effort to address these concerns, party member Samsarah Morgan recently published a piece link on the Oakland Greens website titled, “Information and Clarification About our Mayoral Candidate,” in which she champions Anderson's candidacy while purporting to provide us with necessary clarifying information about the terrorism smear.
You can read Yassin's own account of those events here link, which includes a copy of the original document (also linked in Morgan's article), as well as a response to Morgan's piece by another Occupy activist here link . I am not writing to address the facts of the terrorism smear or its aftermath. I am writing this piece in response to the disturbing implication in Morgan's piece that Yassin (most of us call him Omar) is abusive and dangerous to women. I feel deeply touched by the allegation and I also think that I have something to say about it, as Omar has been my partner, co-organizer, and best friend for almost two years now.
Morgan writes: “There were increasing concerns in this group that [Omar] may be a government agent. This concern was magnified by repeated reports, mainly from women involved in OO, that this person was abusive to the point of inducing fear and the desire to not be even in the same room with him.” This quote is in the context of a paragraph explaining how Anderson and other members of the Occupy Oakland Media Committee came to publish a post-- “Occupational Awareness”-- linking Omar to a suspected terrorist named in a Department of Defense memorandum. According to Morgan, the reports of Omar's abusiveness to women lent urgency and weight to these concerns.
I think it's repugnant that Morgan seems to believe (or wants us to believe) that, if Omar has been verbally abusive to women, it's okay to propagate a racist, factually absurd, and dangerous rumor that he is a terrorist and a drug smuggler. If Omar were the most unapologetic misogynist the Left had ever seen, it would still be an act of violent bigotry to brand him as a terrorist in a country where Arabs and Muslims are routinely sent to prison for years because of mistaken identity. The personal and professional damage to Omar, whose name now comes up in google searches in association with this document, is incalculable. Bringing up Omar's alleged issues with women in the context of defending the man who, with no evidence, accused him of being a terrorist, is as much as saying that Omar merited the accusation because of his abusive behavior. In my mind, this skewed perspective discredits everything that Morgan goes on to say. By her lights, a person falsely accused of terrorism deserves no sympathy if they are also accused of verbally attacking women, but a person who spreads false accusations of terrorism is someone we should vote for for mayor.
Morgan says that women “reported” that Omar was “ abusive to the point of inducing fear and the desire to not be even in the same room with him.” I can't speak to these reports, which Morgan doesn't repeat, and in any case, I don't trust her gender analysis if she thinks it's a tool with which to smear Arabs. All I have to go on is my own direct experience organizing with Omar and spending time with him, some of which I'd like to share now, at least as a counterweight to Morgan's accusation.
I believe that we are all constantly struggling with internalized misogyny, racism, and classism, and that as we try to heal from this brokenness, most of us occasionally make mistakes, hurt each other, and throw our weight around. That said, Omar is the strongest feminist ally I've ever found in a cis-gendered heterosexual man, and he does more work on himself—on his internalized sexism, racism, and anti-blackness—than almost anyone else I know. He embraces feminine qualities and looks to women, especially queer women and women of color, as his political and intellectual heroes. He manages to communicate this to other men, including de-politicized men, in a way that isn't patronizing or judgmental but that invites them to his perspective in a very gracious way.
I first started working with Omar during the planning phases of the Lakeview Sit-In, the historic three-week occupation of Lakeview Elementary which began on June 15, 2012, about four months after the terrorism smear. Sitting through many long meetings with Omar, I grew to admire the way he carried himself. He listened closely and limited himself to one or two comments per meeting. He didn't clog up the proceedings with speeches—he listened to figure out what needed to be done, and then he quietly went and did it. He engaged respectfully and deferentially with his fellow committee members and bottomliners, fully half of whom were women. He devoted himself wholeheartedly to the occupation and went without sleep for days. He took on traditionally female-gendered work, like doing the dishes and cleaning. I don't think we could have lasted as long as we did, or had the impact as we had, if he hadn't been a part of the action. I saw him as an ally from the beginning, because of his behavior towards me and his other female co-organizers, and because the closure of black and brown public elementary schools is a feminist issue.
My trust and regard for him as an ally grew as we started dating and I got to know him better. About a month after Lakeview was shut down by the police, we co-founded (along with many others) the Biblioteca Popular Victor Martinez, an occupation of an abandoned library in the San Antonio district that evolved into a community garden on the grounds of the building that continues, unpermitted and bottomlined by neighbors, to this day.
In nearly two years of organizing at the Biblioteca, I have never seen Omar do or say anything that might be construed as threatening to women. At least three times, I have seen him intervene non-violently with Johns who were being physically or verbally abusive to sex workers, literally risking his life to stop gendered violence. He constantly lifts up the voices and participation of women in the neighborhood, and respectfully challenges our male co-organizers on their internalized sexism. His conscious efforts to make space for female organizers have helped make the Biblioteca a women and children-centered space.
Not only do I resent Morgan's accusation on my partner's behalf, I feel implicated in it because if he really is an abusive and dangerous person, it follows that I must be a traumatized, brainwashed victim of his abuse, or else so damaged by sexism that I enable his abusive behavior at the expense of other women because I just need male attention that much. I'm certainly struggling with oppressive dynamics that I have internalized, which is why I need strong allies like Omar. We come from different class and race backgrounds, and we discuss gender, race, and class openly. He backs me up when men try to bully or harass me, and he engages with sexism in our organizing environment so that I can focus on the work. He has helped me process the deeply violent misogynist body shaming I've been the target of since puberty. I feel inspired by the work he does on himself and with other men on gender.
I hope that anyone who has read Morgan's piece also considers my words, and remembers that, in our culture, Arab and Latino men are often stereotyped as sexist bullies. I felt it necessary to counter the damaging implication that Omar is a misogynist, but I also want to reiterate that nothing Samsarah Morgan says in her article “clarifies” the irresponsible bigotry of Shake's accusation, which needs no additional information or clarification—all you need to know about Jason Anderson is right there in "Occupational Awareness."