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A youth’s view from Durham to Wall Street

Published Nov 2, 2011 9:54 PM

Lamont Lilly, New York City, Oct. 8.
WW photo: Rachel Duell

The scene was a perfect storm of organized chaos. Here were the young and old, students and workers, immigrants and oppressed, all addressing the failures of capitalism’s current worldwide crisis, outlining the destructive forces of global banking systems and highlighting the lack of communal values in a place that loves to cry patriotism.

Right-wing, conservative press would have you to believe that the only “fanatics” there were Ivy League, white, college kids — the privileged and idle-minded, or simply a cadre of recent graduates who have yet to find jobs after completing master’s degrees. But that wasn’t true at all. The idea of occupying Wall Street may have begun as a young, white thing, but by the time we arrived on the evening of Oct.8, there were participants of all nations, all races and all ages — raising a range of pertinent issues.

There were Haitians from the Bronx who had marched across the George Washington Bridge earlier that day in a show of solidarity. There were domestic and sanitation workers from Queens. There were the unions and labor organizations from all over the country — working-class adults who currently live the effects of capitalism from the front lines; blue-collar folks whose wages have been decimated by the manipulation of global markets, international corporatism and “Third World” exploitation. For this one night, I was living what democracy really looks like: the common masses united in a single front.

Creatively illustrated cardboard was everywhere. Homemade signs and justice banners waited on deck for live action. While some were large and others were small, all were quite grand in stature, bearing sharp demands and philosophical ideals such as “Books not Bombs” and “Stop the War on the Poor.” It was a true Who’s Who of change slogans. There were also posters of Troy Davis and Mumia Abu-Jamal. However, nearly everyone possessed an anti-capitalist placard of some sort. The LGBTQ community was also in full-effect, but that was merely the surface.

There, within this tightly restricted park-ground, was everything a revolutionary would need for a couple of months; that is, aside from a public restroom. There were mass water dispensers and community chow lines, a first aid station equipped with medics, and an immense library for learning and entertainment. There were sleeping bags, tents and thinly padded nap mats for rest and relaxation. There was art and music, love and hope. There was one common cause and one loud voice: The People. No lobbyists or politicians were allowed. No bureaucrats or corporate bourgeoisie were welcomed.

Sure, to some it was a festival. While walking around attempting to find a place to post my belongings, I ran across what appeared to be an old makeshift reggae band — four middle-aged white men with golden-locked hair and long beards, sitting on the ground with their guitars, fumbling through Bob Marley’s, “Redemption Song.” I jumped in, considering they only knew half the words to one of my personal favorites. There I was, howling to the top of my lungs with four strangers. We were 30 yards from the Occupy Wall Street drummers.

However, on the north end there were serious politics being discussed. I was completely awed by their covert development of order and social structure. Formally entitled The General Assembly, there were 500 or so people tightly interwoven in a scattered circle, Indian style. There were no microphones. Yet, all could be heard via the systematic rippling effect where each phrase was repeated backwards, twice. There was no President or Speaker of the House to go through in order to be heard — no political red tape to be understood. Here, any man, woman or child who wanted to address the masses was permitted to do so by simply waiting behind “the podium,” (a small group of steep, opal-shaped steps perpendicular from the street).

During the Assembly, it was clear that a wide array of interests were there in attendance. However, I don’t recall one time there being any certain individual or targeted companies mentioned. It wasn’t about hate or animosity, at least not that particular night. It encompassed more of a rallying of sociopolitical thought, a brewing of further direction — a galvanization based on commonality and mutual strands of oppression. Spirits were high and emotions were free. For those who’ve grown up in the Black Church, it was the embodiment of a Pentecostal Worship Service, a Holy Ghost hour, primarily reserved for human rights activists, anti-capitalists and concerned citizens at-large. Of course Dr. King would have supported the Occupy Movement. These were some of the same issues Dr. King advocated for through his Poor People’s Campaign in the spring of 1968 — through his efforts with the sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn.

Purpose and the point

What the general public or your casual Fox News consumer has failed to understand is the power of struggle and its catalytic ability to unite the oppressed and disenfranchised. These whirlwinds of local protests sprouting across the country aren’t simply about disproportionate tax benefits, financial inequality and corporate greed. It’s far bigger than just the “rich and poor.” The complexities of the issues are much more intertwined than that. This is about the mismanagement of human capital — the manipulation of the common masses worldwide. This is about the audacity of the “haves” who obviously don’t give a damn, who could care less whether your home was foreclosed last year or not, or whether your daughter had a decent meal at her public school today. The 1 percent aren’t concerned with racism, sexism and homophobia. Worker’s rights don’t affect them. Social class is nonexistent from the elite’s perspective. Homeless veterans are “no such thing,” while universal health care is considered a “waste of money.” But really, what else should we expect from a socioeconomic system that breeds such chiseled individualism? It’s me, me, me, with an emphasis on “I.”

However, there’s something uniquely rugged about this generation. We were the “Crack Babies,” the children of Ronald Reagan. Growing up in the 1980s, we witnessed firsthand how greed drives poverty, and in turn, how poverty perpetuates crime. We understand fully that within our current social fabric, someone’s always going to lose. We are the Prison Industrial Complex! And we’re the same ones who keep being told educational funds have run dry. Yet, we operate under the guise of a government that somehow finds scores of resources for military occupations.

This isn’t about demands, folks. The Occupy phenomenon is really about the People reclaiming our own destiny, producing our own change from the ground up. “Occupying” is about the connection of all oppressed people. Ultimately, what we desire is something better than the flesh-eating machine we’ve been feeding since Reaganomics. It’s been eating us from the inside out for three decades now, patiently preying upon the same proletariat and underclass that helped to build and stabilize it.

Some have deemed the Occupy Movement, a leaderless struggle, but that’s the whole point. We’re all leaders and should be respected as such — not lied to, cheated on and outright deceived by state-sponsored pimps swindling billions from the few crumbs we do have. Well, “We the People” have decided it’s time to represent ourselves, whether it’s Raleigh or Wall Street. We’re tired of being wage slaves. We’re tired of our jobs skipping town for open borders and vast NAFTA experiments. We’re also tired of a justice system that bears no resemblance to justice, at least not from Oscar Grant’s perspective. Yet, Republicans and Democrats alike wonder why the People are taking to the street. Probably because that’s the one place they never come. Power to the People! Power to the Streets!

The writer is a member of the Durham, N.C. Workers World Party branch.