When I first made the decision to visit the Occupy Wall Street encampment, I was skeptical. What was this movement really saying? Could real change result from this protest? I walked down to Zuccotti Park with no real sense of what to expect.
Many are criticizing the fact that the complaints emanating from Occupy Wall Street are too varied. These cynics have raised the same questions I did before my first visit. However, what I-and now thousands of New Yorkers-have found at Zuccotti Park is an undeniable energy and spirit.
It comes from frustration over the direction our nation has taken and fear about the future we face. That energy and spirit, which we have seen explode into a worldwide movement, is the type of force that can drive real change.
I agree that there is a seemingly unending range of grievances, but is that not an expression of the breadth of issues we as a nation are now stacked up against? What is important is the common thread linking the myriad of signs these protestors hold up, from astronomical student loan debt to the senseless execution of Troy Davis to concern over our continued involvement in overseas military campaigns.
It all boils down to a void in American justice. Economic inequality is a serious crisis, and the cuts that the government makes are continually on the backs of the 99 percent. Apparently, there exists a different set of rules for the haves and the have-nots in this country, which is how so many in the middle and lower classes are in effect ignored by their representatives and abused by law enforcement. Corporate money has flooded our political system and the rules have been bent in Wall Street’s favor.
These conditions have sprouted the myriad of signs in Zuccotti Park-the more people who hear this message and see the energy and spirit at Occupy Wall Street, the more they show up in support.
This should also include those from our communities of color. The conditions I have listed affect our families and friends disparately more than the American norm. Black and Latino New Yorkers have a lot to add to this conversation, and events like last Saturday’s rally at the African Burial Ground National Monument are proof positive of the shared passion we have for the basic message of this movement. The People of Color Working Group at Occupy Wall Street is calling out for its brothers and sisters to join the cause, and I echo that call.
The protestors at Occupy Wall Street have laid the foundation for real change; what is needed now is the support from elected officials and others who can effect that change. The recently formed Demands Working Group has established a working list of suggested “asks,” including public financing for federal campaigns, immediate passage of the DREAM Act, a jobs plan and the elimination of corporate tax loopholes. These ideas are a great start, and as elected officials it is up to us to champion them and ensure the energy and spirit of Occupy Wall Street are not in vain.
Council Member Jumaane D. Williams represents the 45th Council District, which covers Flatbush, East Flatbush, Flatlands and parts of Midwood and Canarsie. He is the chair of the Oversight and Investigations Committee and the co-vice chair of the Black, Latino and Asian Caucus. He was first elected to office in 2009.