Each generation must, out of relative obscurity, discover its mission, fulfill it, or betray it. — Frantz Fanon
It is said that Louis XVI, at the end of the day the Bastille fell, wrote in his diary, “Nothing happened today.” People rarely understand or even notice great historical transitions as they take place. Revolutions of belief are even more elusive, because they take place in people’s minds. You don’t always know what’s going on, even when it is your own mind that has been the scene of the upheaval. It’s quite possible, for example, to move from seeing science as absolute and final truth to seeing it as an ever-changing body of ideas — a big time shift — without losing all confidence in the scientific facts: for all practical purposes, light remains 186,000 miles per second, gravity will still splatter yo ass if you jump from a high-rise, and ontogeny goes right on recapitulating phylogeny. It’s equally possible to move from seeing religion as timeless truth to seeing it as the product of a certain culture and still happily worship at your church or temple.
People all over the world are now making such shifts in belief — or more precisely — making shifts in belief about beliefs. And this is what’s happening at the #OccupyWallStreet (OWS) site.
The first time I visited OWS, I was immediately impressed by the qualitative feel. It’s very difficult to articulate, but the way I explain it is that OWS is not merely a “protest” in the sense of a reenactment of political protests. There’s more happening there. True libertatory movements are preceded by a collective consciousness-raising. It is a process in which old accepted ideas and dogma are questioned; a process that develops a new language, a new perspective with which to deal with contemporary issues. And, more than anything else, this liberatory, evolving, clearly evident at OWS, is what’s most important.
Freedom, transformation, positive social change doesn’t spring from a set of demands or goals. It isn’t envisioned solely from an oppositional stance (merely being against something). It comes from a process that facilitates the collective mindset transition to a new way of thinking that can then lead to a new conceptualization. The base of OWS has been around for some time now. We are an emerging group of people, global in scope, struggling to transcend nationality, race, and contemporary culture, and connected by shared values. We are the sons and daughters of those who have participated in the social and consciousness movements that have emerged since the ’50s: the civil rights movement, the environmental movement, the women’s movement, the jobs and social justice movements, the peace movement, the organic food and alternative health care movements, the new spirituality and self growth movements, etc.
Simply put, the same mindset causing the problem cannot be used to effect a solution to that problem. And at OWS we are engaging this process of change and reconceptualization. I like to think of OWS as a collective affirmation of the ideals and vision of society so many of us had been trying to grasp individually. One of the first signs I saw at OWS stated: “For the first time I feel like I’m home.” And if you aren’t here (or at a similar event) it’s hard to grasp that feeling, but it’s palpable.
People say that there are no OWS leaders, no coherent message, or clear set of demands. I, for one, hope that there’ll never be “leaders” in the old sense of the idea. I would like to think the process is the guiding principle, and, borrowing from the 12-step movement, I would rather see “trusted servants” rather than leaders. The demands, the goals, the messaging — that will be part of the outgrowth of the process of critical thinking. If you really need a meta message, what better message than that a just and civil society cannot exist when 1 per cent of the population holds the other 99 per cent in thrall?
My father, a “community organizer” before there was such a phrase and before it was professionalized, would often tell me that if mainstream America had a cold that meant our community had pneumonia. It’s a common realization in the Puerto Rican and African American communities I was raised. When the shit hits the fan, we are disproportionately affected.
As I join the thousands who’ve decided that Wall Street should be confronted for the crimes that have been committed against the people, I feel somewhat saddened that I don’t see more Latin@s, African Americans, and other people of color because there are a long list of reasons that all of us should be concerned, disappointed, and angry about what Wall Street has done to our country.
The real wage of the average American worker has remained stagnant (and in recent years decreased), while the gap between the rich and the poor has risen to levels that not seen since the Gilded Age. We live under the preposterous delusion that those who caused the financial crisis should be the only ones to receive assistance. Labor unions have been decimated, and while the joblessness problems persist, corporations are sitting on trillions in capital that could be used to hire American workers.
The African American and Latin@ communities have every reason to be on the front lines in this battle. Black unemployment has skyrocketed to near record levels and nearly half of all black children are living below the poverty line. Black and Latin@ wealth has continued to shrink, as the burst of the real estate bubble left many of us either homeless or upside down in their mortgages.
Most egregiously, Black families have been destroyed by the prison industrial complex, where Wall Street firms earn billions each year from slave labor. A half century ago — before the Civil Rights Movement, before the War on Poverty — blacks in the United States were imprisoned at roughly four times the rate of whites. Today, a generation after the civil rights gains, African Americans are incarcerated at seven times the rate of whites. Along the margins of society imprisonment is the norm, not the exception. There are the million-dollar blocks: city blocks documented by social scientists in which the state spends at least $1 million incarcerating residents of that block. One out of every six African American men has spent time in prison, one out of every thirteen Latinos. Millions of people of color have lost their right to vote. For many of us, reform doesn’t really make sense. The system as it is now, is not so much as “broken” but “rigged” to prey on the vast masses of us with the black and brown faces at the bottom of the well.
We have reason to be angry and OWS is our chance to join with those who dare challenge the pimps who profit from the devastation of our youth and subsequent creation of a New Jim Crow. And it’s not like our leaders are anxious to help us. Today instead of a Martin Luther King we have shuckin’ and jivin’ Herman “Git a Job!” Cain and the “moderate” Barack Obama; instead of a Cesar Chavez we’re left with come mierdas (shit eaters) such as Linda Chavez. Today instead of the Young Lords and the Black Panthers, we’re left with the NACCP, which took millions from Wells Fargo, a bank accused of targeting communities of color with predatory lending practices. We cannot afford to wait for a leader to unchain us from our shackles, we must do that ourselves.
No matter how you look at it, or whatever criticisms you have (valid or not), the #OccupyWallStreet movement belongs to all of us. We — Blacks, Latin@s, indigenous people, Asians, and other people of color — we need to seize the moment with our brother and sisters at OWS and put it all on the line because we’ve fallen asleep and we have lost and have so much to lose.
If Dr. King or Cesar Chavez were alive today, they would be right down on Wall Street with the protesters, demanding justice, freedom and equality. In fact, if you look into the eyes of those who’ve become inspired to resurrect the spirit of conscientious activism in America, you can see that Dr. King’s dream is alive down on Wall Street right now.
My name is Eddie and I’m in recovery from civilization…