Occupiers Have to Convince the Other 99%
- 25 Oct 2011
- Written by Chris Hedges
GUEST WORDS - The occupation movement’s greatest challenge will be overcoming the deep distrust of white liberals by the poor and the working class, especially people of color.
Marginalized people of color have been organizing, protesting and suffering for years with little help or even acknowledgment from the white liberal class. With some justification, those who live in these marginalized communities often view this movement as one dominated by white sons and daughters of the middle class who began to decry police abuse and the lack of economic opportunities only after they and their families were affected.
This distrust is not the fault of the movement, which has instituted measures within its decision-making process to make sure marginalized voices are heard before white males. It is the fault of a bankrupt liberal class that for decades has abandoned the core issue of economic justice for the poor and the working class and busied itself with the vain and self-referential pursuits of multiculturalism and identity politics.
The civil rights movement, after all, achieved a legal victory, not an economic one. And for the bottom two-thirds of African-Americans, life is worse today than it was when Martin Luther King marched in Selma in 1965. King, like Malcolm X, understood that racial equality was impossible without economic justice.
The steady impoverishment of those in these marginal communities, part of the Faustian deal worked out between the Democratic Party and its corporate sponsors, has been accompanied by draconian forms of police control, from stop-and-frisk to militarized police raids to the establishment of our vast complex of prison gulags.
More African-American men, as Michelle Alexander [link] has pointed out, are in prison or jail or on probation or parole than were enslaved [link] in 1850, before the Civil War began. The corporate state keeps some two-thirds of poor people of color in the United States trapped in internal colonies—either in the impoverished inner city or behind bars.
And the abject failure on the part of the white liberal establishment to stand up for the rights of the poor, as well as its decision to throw its support behind Democratic politicians such as Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, who abet this institutionalized and economic racism, has left many in these marginal communities disdainful of protesters from the newly dispossessed white middle class.
“The black community and the community of color have been dealing with these issues for decades,” the Rev. Raymond Blanchette, an African-American preacher from Queens, said in Zuccotti Park in Manhattan one day last week as we closed our jackets against a chilly wind whipping down the canyons of the financial district.
“Now the white community around the country is beginning to see it and experience it firsthand. It’s pretty shocking to them. The African-American community and other communities of color are saying, ‘Welcome to the world I live in.’ That’s why you don’t see that many of those [nonwhite] faces here.
It’s like, OK, now you decided you are going to speak up because now you’re the one that’s affected by it. One of the reasons I’m here is because I see the viability of this movement. I want to bring those communities together.”
The power elite have desperately tried to tar the movement with a series of calumnies, branding protesters as hippies, anti-Semites, drug addicts, leftists, anarchists and communists. They have so far been unable to blunt the fundamental truth the movement imparts: We have undergone a corporate coup. It has to be reversed. But this truth has yet to resonate among those who for decades
have been betrayed and ignored by white liberals.
The decision by protesters from Occupy Wall Street to join Cornel West in Harlem last Saturday to protest the New York City Police Department’s stop-and-frisk policy was an important step in taking the message of the occupy movement to our impoverished internal colonies.
West, who led the protest outside the 28th Precinct at West 123rd Street and Frederick Douglass Boulevard and who was arrested along with about 30 others, was part of a crowd that chanted: “Stop-and-frisk don’t stop the crime. Stop-and-frisk is the crime.”
The power elite are frantically searching for the ideological weapon that will discredit the movement. But the clarity of the protests, the painful personal stories of dislocation that are the heart of its message, and, most important, the self-discipline, despite police provocation, which has kept these protests nonviolent have advanced the movement and discredited the forces of control.
The power elite, held together by the glue of force and fraud, are seeking ways to communicate in the only language they know they can master—unrestrained force. And as we enter the second month of demonstrations, the power elite fear that the core message and the calls for resistance, which resonate with a majority of Americans, will lead to a direct confrontation with the corporate state.
If the movement starts to pull hundreds of thousands of people together, if it leaps across class lines, as I saw during the peaceful revolutions in East Germany and Czechoslovakia, then the corporate state is probably finished. Our corporate overlords know this. And they are doing everything in their power to make sure this does not come to pass.
The divisions between the poor and the working class on the one hand and the white, liberal middle class on the other reach back to the Vietnam anti-war movement. The New Left in the 1960s was infused with the same deadly doses of hedonism that corrupted earlier 20th century counterculture movements such as the bohemians and the beats.
The antagonism between the New Left during the Vietnam War and the working class and the poor, whose sons were shipped to Vietnam while the sons of the white middle class were usually handed college deferments, was never bridged.
Working-class high schools, including many high schools with large numbers of African-Americans, sent 20 to 30 percent of their graduates to Vietnam every year while college graduates made up only 2 percent of all troops sent to Vietnam in 1965 and 1966. Anti-war activists were seen by those locked out of the white middle class as spoiled children of the rich who advocated free love, drug use, communism and social anarchy.
The unions and the white working class remained virulently anti-communist. They spoke in the language of militarism and the Cold War and were unsympathetic to the anti-war movement as well as the civil rights movement. When student activists protested at the AFL-CIO’s 1965 convention, chanting “Get out of Vietnam!” the delegates taunted them by shouting “Get a haircut.” AFL-CIO leader George Meany ordered the security to “clear the Kookies out of the gallery.”
United Automobile Workers President Walter Reuther, once the protesters were escorted out, announced that “protesters should be demonstrating against Hanoi and Peking … [who] are responsible for the war.” The convention passed a resolution that read: “The labor movement proclaim[s] to the world that the nation’s working men and women do support the Johnson administration in Vietnam.”
Those that constituted the hard-core New Left, groups like Students for a Democratic Society, found their inspiration in the liberation struggles in Vietnam and the Third World and figures such as Mao and Leon Trotsky rather than the labor movement, which they considered bought off by capitalism. They saw the working class as part of the problem.
Many came to embrace the cult of violence. The Black Panthers, the Nation of Islam and the Weather Underground Organization became as poisoned by this lust for blood, quest for ideological purity, crippling paranoia and internal repression as the state system they defied.
The bulk of the white protesters in the 1960s found their ideological roots not in the moral imperatives of King or Malcolm X but the disengagement championed earlier by beats such by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsburg and William Burroughs. It was a movement that, while it incorporated a healthy dose of disrespect for authority, focused on self-indulgent schemes for inner peace and fulfillment. (The rest of Chris Hedges here)
(Chris Hedges spent nearly two decades as a foreign correspondent in Central America, the Middle East, Africa and the Balkans. He has reported from more than 50 countries and has worked for The Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, The Dallas Morning News and The New York Times, for which he was a foreign correspondent for 15 years. This column was posted first at truthdig.org) -cw
Tags: Occupiers, Occupy Wall Street, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Democratic Party, liberals, conservatives
Vol 9 Issue 85
Pub: Oct 25, 2011