"Interrupting The Cycle Of Oppression: The Role Of Allies As Agents Of Change"
By Andrea Ayvazian
Occupy Movement Websites
Ayvazian's article is very much tied to the Occupy Movement in that every person who has chosen to take part in it is acting as an ally in some way. The main objectives of the movement are to fight against greed, government corruption, unemployment, and economic inequality. However, not everyone who is participating in the movement is directly suffering from these things. Many of the Occupy activists are just people who understand the problems and believe that we need to change them, whether or not it will have an effect on their lives:
"On September 17th, men and women of all races, backgrounds, political and religious beliefs, began to organize in nonviolent protest" ("Occupy Together").
Ayvazian defines an ally as someone from a dominant group in our society who chooses to fight for the rights and benefits of the oppressed group. In other words, the goals of an ally do not bring about any direct advantage to the ally. Ayvazian explains that for every form of oppression, there is a dominant group that receives an unearned privilege and a targeted group that is denied that privilege.
This reminded me a lot of Allan Johnson's article in which he describes how the lives of the advantaged and the disadvantaged are closely connected and intertwined because one allows the other to happen. One group is privileged at the expense of another group. Therefore, he explains that the dominant groups cannot just pass off the problems of the oppressed groups as something that does not belong to them. Johnson argues that the systems of privilege and oppression affect everyone:
"There is no way that a problem of difference can involve just one group of people...there is no way to separate the problem of not being white from being white. This means privilege is always a problem for people who don't have it and for people who do, because privilege is always in relation to others" (Johnson 10).
Ayvazian emphasizes the fact that being in a dominant (i.e. privileged) group, is what gives a person the opportunity to become an ally. She explains that oppression and even violence are often unable to be reduced until people from the dominant groups come together to fight against it. She gives an example of women who are physically abused by men and how counseling, restraining orders, and even fighting back do not make any strong or lasting changes in the men's behavior. However, when men come together in support groups to talk about and fight against men's violence against women, the problems are greatly reduced. Ayvazian strongly encourages members of dominant groups to speak to other members of that group about ending oppression and violence.
This relates very well to Johnson's insistence that members of dominant groups are the ones who are responsible for fighting against oppression. He argues that the oppressed groups do not have enough power in our society to make change and therefore, they need the help of those with privilege and power:
"But these groups can't do it on their own, because they don't have the power to change entrenched systems of privilege by themselves. If they could do that, there wouldn't be a problem in the first place. The simple truth is that the trouble we're in can't be solved unless people who are heterosexual or male or Anglo or white or economically comfortable feel obligated to make the problem of privilege their problem and to do something about it" (Johnson 10).
Ayvazian would definitely consider Johnson to be an ally because he is a white, straight, middle-class male, who is fighting for equality within the realms of gender, race, class, and sexual orientation. He is not oppressed in any of these groups, however he believes strongly enough in the need for equality that he puts in a great effort to fight for it.
Both Ayvazian and Johnson believe that if one is lucky enough to be part of a dominant group, one must use the privilege and power that this brings in order to take risks, be proactive, and fight against oppression. This is what makes someone a true ally.