There are some who argue that crafting a specific set of goals or demands on corporations or the government would sap the movement of its creativity, vitality and energy by creating divisions among the protesters – who may have differing views on specific goals or policy recommendations. It may be that the myriad issues encapsulated in “Occupy Wall Street” will be sufficient to produce an unspecified positive outcome. The mass protests in Arab Spring, which apparently inspired the “leaderless” revolt against Wall Street, had a broad objective -- ridding their nations of tyrants/despots and working to create more democratic societies. The prolonged hunger strike by Gandhi protégé Anna Hazare in India that provoked mass movement in the streets was directed at corruption in the government. It resulted in the passage of an anti-corruption bill by the Indian Parliament. The March on Washington produced the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Selma to Montgomery March led to the adoption of the historic Voting Rights Act of 1965. Hoovervilles and protests in the streets by armies of the unemployed helped to create the political space for Franklin D. Roosevelt to launch ambitious public works programs that put millions of people to work as part of the New Deal.
I’m not certain that anger and outrage without a message and agenda will ultimately transform Wall Street or break the gridlock in Washington that is tantamount to fiddling while countless millions suffer. Perhaps labor or other organized progressive forces, including the Progressive Caucus in the Congress, will leverage the mass movement in the streets to outline a short term agenda for jobs and justice that will put millions of people back to work, provide massive relief for the victims of mortgage foreclosures and beat back the attempt of reactionaries to stifle the regulation of Wall Street.
The unemployed/jobless, the legions whose homes are underwater or have been foreclosed because of the sub-prime mortgage scam and students whose career paths are in jeopardy because of mounting debt from college loans or escalating tuition costs, the affected and disaffected of all races and ethnicities should be flocking to the Occupy Wall Street sites in droves. But, there is also a special need for Black people to seize upon the momentum created by Occupy Wall Street to identify with and mobilize our forces to add fuel to the fire. The Great Recession precipitated by the unconscionable behavior of Wall Street did not just ruin the lives of White people; it was an equal opportunity destroyer that disproportionately wreaked havoc on Black people and Black communities. Already plagued by a wealth gap that has persisted for generations, the sub-prime mortgage scam that targeted Black consumers wiped out billions of dollars in wealth, liquidating decades of gains by the Black middle class. George Fraser, President/CEO of FraserNet, estimates that it may take a century to recoup the wealth lost by Black America as a consequence of a scam that preyed on victims yearning to realize the “American dream.”
As Vernon Jordan, former President of the National Urban League once put it, “when White America gets a cold, Black America gets pneumonia.” Nothing is more illustrative of this dictum than the Great Recession. Most political economists concede that the employment rate in Black America is at least twice the official rate of 9.1% and perhaps triple when one takes into account the unemployed who have simply given up the search for work. By some estimates 40-50% of Black youth/young people between the ages of 16-30 are jobless! Moreover, the dramatic rise in poverty attributed to the Great Recession has disproportionately impacted Black people. White America is experiencing a Great Recession – Black America is in the throes of a debilitating social and economic Depression borne of decades of benign and blatant neglect, exacerbated by racist and criminal behavior of the barracudas on Wall Street.
Dr. Ron Daniels is President of the Institute of the Black World 21st Century and Distinguished Lecturer at York College City University of New York. His articles and essays also appear on the IBW website www.ibw21.org and www.northstarnews.com.
This is the second installment of Dr. Daniels' commentary on the Occupy Wall Street movement.