As a person who cares deeply about Occupy Wall Street, I have to honor their year-long effort and educate my long-time friend, Jay-Z. This weekend, he was interviewed by the New York Times where he discusses OWS, where he was quoted as saying “I’m not going to a park and picnic, I have no idea what to do, I don’t know what the fight is about. What do we want, do you know?” If he understood it and endorsed the movement, it would make a big difference to poor people. As the same man that said he would pay more taxes if it helped educate more children and create affordable healthcare, Jay-Z’s words matter. He was honest enough to say that he didn’t understand it. A lot of Americans don’t. He was also honest enough to recognize that there are some in the 1 percent who “deceiving” and “robbing,” so I know in his heart he gets it. I know he is a compassionate person who cares about the poor, so I’m certain if I had two more minutes with him, I could change his mind.
I went to Zuccotti Park, the home-base of the Occupy Wall Street movement, almost everyday for months. I listened to the young people talk about their 99 problems. The 99 percent. Healthcare reform. Prison industrial complex. The war machine. Bad schools. Lack of access to affordable higher education. Genetically modified food. Gay rights. Immigration reform. Crumbling housing projects. Climate change. Everyday, there was a new protester with a new sign, fighting for the rights of the under-served. There was never an official agenda or media-friendly talking points. Zuccotti Park and the Occupy camps that sprung up around the country were places for any and every person to come and share ideas about how to better perfect our union. Our democracy.
I would agree that for many it was hard to understand the purpose of the movement if you did not attend any of the General Assemblies, or march hand-in-hand with the millions of protesters around the country. The months during the height of the beginning of the movement were unlike anything we had seen before in our nation. A protest led by no one, but always led by leaders. Organized through social media, yet no organization at the forefront. This was a true people’s campaign.
If we look back at the accomplishments thus far of Occupy Wall Street, there are many. For one, the national conversation that preceded September 17th, 2011 was dominated by a manufactured political fight in Washington to raise the debt ceiling and avoid a credit default. Within the first weeks of OWS, the conversation had been changed to the real issue that is eroding America; economic inequality, a topic that hasn’t been discussed for decades. Within the first few months of OWS, the conversation evolved into an examination of how Wall Street’s money has destroyed our political system and took control of our democracy. The prison industrial complex, lower taxes for the rich, the outsourcing of jobs, Wall Street running rampant, poisonous foods for our children, even some wars and almost everything that disempowers the poor, is a result of money passing from lobbyists and corporations to our politicians. And that is what Occupy Wall Street is fighting against. It is a sad state that the politicians work for the people who pay them, not for the people who elect them. That is not democracy.
If you look at the current Presidential election, Money Mitt Romney and his buddies are spending 12 times that of President Obama in special interest money and/or Super PACs. Money Mitt is clearly being manipulated by big corporations and folks who can write $10 million checks. The man changes his position every three days. When the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Citizen’s United, our democracy sign was placed on the front lawn with big red letters: FOR SALE! I am encouraged by President Obama’s support of using a Constitutional Amendment as an option to return our democracy back to the people. This will be his legacy issue. I am sure of that. And without the pressure of Occupy Wall Street, this conversation might never have happened.
So, Jay, here’s the deal. You’re rich and I’m rich. But, today it’s close to impossible to be you or me and get out of Marcy Projects or Hollis, Queens without changing our government to have our politicians work for the people who elect them and not the special interests and corporations that pay them. Because we know that these special interests are nothing special at all. In fact, they spend millions of dollars destroying the fabric of the black community and make billions of dollars in return. For example, the prison lobby paid politicians to create a so-called “War On Drugs” that resulted in a prison economy that disproportionately locks up black and brown people, including many of your friends and mine. They took drug-infected, diseased people, locked them up, educated them in criminal behavior and dumped them back into our community, thus producing a jail culture for our streets. There are more black people under correctional control (prison, jail, parole, probation) today, than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War. This is just one issue that has been bought and sold. If we have to occupy Wall Street or occupy All Streets to change the course of direction of this nation, then we must. We must take our democracy off the market and let the world know that it is no longer for sale! Mic check!