I have heard some commentators refer to the Occupy Wall Street and other such efforts at the “US Autumn.” I have been reflecting on that phrasing. I assume they mean that this rising is taking place in the autumn but I still do not like the imagery. We are either looking at a “January Thaw” (with an eventual return to winter) or the beginnings of a “Spring”, let’s say, like March. Keep in mind that the Arab democratic uprisings, now known as the “Arab Spring,” started in January.
The ‘Occupy’ risings have taken the country by storm and while there are all sorts of reasons that one can be skeptical or have any number of criticisms, the bottom line is that the Occupy Together risings have demonstrated that resistance is not futile; resistance is essential.
They have also demonstrated that mass resistance can and does change the terms of the political discussion once that resistance begins to cascade.
The response by the political elites is not particularly surprising. The Republicans either do not know what to say or in some cases, e.g., Ron Paul followers, are trying to intervene in this movement and shift its focus rightward. Among the Democrats there are very mixed responses. President Obama has attempted to focus on what he sees as the legitimate grievances against Wall Street but, as he apparently said, not demonizing those who work on Wall Street. Some other Democrats have been a bit more forthright in their support. In most cases, however, the Democrats hope to capture this energy for the 2012 elections.
The focus on Wall Street is good symbolism, but these risings are about more than finance capital. They are about resistance to gross economic injustices. This is why the efforts by right-wing forces such as Ron Paul and the LaRouchites must be defeated and repudiated.
What has driven this country into a hole is a combination of the very workings of capitalism plus the dynamics connected to the policies of neo-liberalism that we have been experiencing since the beginning of the Reagan era. These policies have weakened the so-called safety net, driven down the standard of living of the average US working person, forced millions to rely on debt in order to survive, and destroyed cities, all of this having a disproportionate impact of people of color generally and African Americans in particular.
African Americans are participating in the ‘Occupy’ movement in varying numbers. This is good and we should increase our participation. But what we need to also do is to advance an economic agenda which is fundamentally anti-racist. In other words, time and again during economic crises we are told that a rising tide raises all boats and, therefore, that general economic improvements will help African Americans. While there is some truth to this, I think that we need to look at this differently. A focus on the people at the bottom, a focus on the structurally unemployed and our decaying cities, a campaign to truly root out poverty, these are all efforts that will push the boat up.
As African Americans we cannot count on anyone to advance this anti-racist economic justice movement but us. Once we get moving, we will win allies. When we wait for someone else to kick start the effort, well, we are often taken for a ride.