Black Voices for Economic Justice have every reason and right to be heard. The fact that white protesters initiated and have led Occupy Wall Street should not be a deterrent to Black engagement. We should view the current conflagration as an opening to raise our specific issues and demands, as we add our voices to the growing amorphous movement to confront and change America’s capitalist political economy as symbolized by Wall Street. As a people whose leaders and organizations have often been the conscience of the nation and the vanguard of major social movements, Africans in America should seize every opportunity to expose the hypocrisy and contradictions of an unjust system as we struggle to create a just and humane society. The challenge is to find our own voice to express issues of particular interest to Black people within the context of the broader struggle for reform and transformation.
By organizing Black Voices for Peace and Justice, our late beloved Brother Damu Smith developed a principled and creative avenue to meet this challenge. Damu recognized that issues of concern to Black people may be ignored or avoided as “divisive” even among White liberals and progressive. He also recognized that Blacks might not be equitably included in the planning and leadership of protests and demonstrations initiated by Whites. As opposition to the War in Iraq grew, Damu organized Black Voices for Peace and Justice to ensure that the push to end the war would relate to the urgent need for resources to address the ongoing crises in Black America. Rather than dismiss the anti-war movement as a “white” initiative, Damu created a vehicle for Black people to add their voices to a just struggle while simultaneously insisting that Black issues be addressed. In one memorable instance Black Voices for Peace organized a parallel march through Black neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. that called attention to Black issues. After completing the route through the Black neighborhoods, the March merged with a massive anti-war demonstration across from the White House where Damu was one of the speakers.
We should adopt a similar approach as it relates to Occupy Wall Street. First, as an expression of solidarity and acknowledgment of the harm inflicted on Black people by Wall Street, we should encourage Black people to attend “Occupy” protests in New York and cities across the country. A number of Black leaders, activists and organizers have already made a conscious commitment to visit Occupy sites to express support for rallies and demonstrations. Equally important, however, in New York and around the country, Black leaders, activists and organizers should mobilize broad-based coalitions of Black people to conduct parallel marches and/or have organized Black contingents within Occupy protests. This is important because Blacks must utilize the media glare of the moment to shine a light on specific issues and concerns of importance to Black people.
Since Bank foreclosures have disproportionately devastated Black families and communities as a result of the sub-prime mortgage scam and the onslaught of the Great Recession, Black Voices for Economic Justice should demand a Moratorium on Home Foreclosures and a massive federal and bank industry sponsored program to “Bail Out Homeowners.” We should demand that the Attorney General investigate and prosecute the criminals whose reckless behavior created the crises – Jail the Criminals on Wall Street. We should demand that the banks most responsible for perpetrating the sub-prime mortgage scam on Black people create Investment Funds to provide grants and low interest loans for business/economic development in Black neighborhoods – Rebuild Black Neighborhoods. We should demand a “Bailout for Students” burdened by loans to pay for the escalating cost of a college education. Black voices should be heard loud and clear demanding a Massive Jobs program to immediately put at least 2 million people to work hired directly by the federal government to perform public sector jobs (something similar to Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act) – with an emphasis on targeting neighborhoods/communities with the highest levels of joblessness. And, Black voices should also be sounding the clarion call for a Millionaire’s Tax to finance the jobs bill and compel Wall Street to shoulder major responsibility for helping Americans to heal from wounds inflicted by the injurious behavior of the “Robber Barons.”
This is not a time for people of African descent to sit on the sidelines. Black folks who have lost their homes to foreclosure or are underwater because of the sub-prime mortgage scam, Black students who are drowning in debt from student loans and the Black joblessness should mount parallel but supportive “Occupy” marches and rallies all across the nation. Africans in America should heed the admonition of the Gary Black Political Agenda; our voices must be heard “because it is our people who are most deeply hurt and ravaged by the present systems of society.” Black Voices for Economic Justice should gear up to Occupy Wall Street and march on ballot boxes with a vengeance in 2012 to vigorously advance an agenda for reform and fundamental change!
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.