The March on Wall Street South was a resounding success. The streets of Charlotte, N.C., vibrated and shook on Sept. 2, as more than 2,500 people from across the South and the rest of the U.S. delivered a searing indictment to the banks and corporations headquartered in Charlotte, along with the pro-war, pro-Wall Street, two-party system whose job it is to serve the interests of finance capital over the people.
Charlotte, the second largest banking and financial center in the U.S. behind New York City, is home to Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Duke Energy, among many others. The demonstration raised a people’s agenda for jobs and justice directly to the shimmering doors of these corporate pillars, as well as to the Democratic Party as they prepared to convene their convention.
It was a truly historic demonstration on many fronts – the unprecedented level of unity that was built between many different struggles and groups, the mass political consciousness that was developed about the role of the banks and the two corporate parties in capitalist society, the direct confrontation with the most notoriously racist and hated among the banking institutions, and the foundation that was built to continue deepening the work around community struggles.
True nature of capitalist democracy
When it was announced more than a year ago that the Democratic National Convention would be held in Charlotte, organizers knew that they would be faced with some unique challenges in building these demonstrations, particularly in how to develop a multinational coalition and march.
While thereare differences in the program and the composition of the Republican and the Democratic parties, at the end of the day these two parties represent the same interests. They carry out the austerity programs of the big banks, wage imperialist wars, and ensure the continued dominance of the ruling class. Our challenge lies in how to expose this most effectively and elevate this consciousness in a mass way.
At a time when the Democrats are led by the first African-American president, and the convention was set to be held in the U.S. South, this question necessarily takes on much more gravity.
The South has the largest Black population in the U.S. and was built on a foundation of national oppression and racism that remains very deeply entrenched to this day. The restructuring of the capitalist economy taking place on a global scale is looking more and more to the South as a vital region to extract superprofits from the working class, and particularly from Black and Latino/a workers.
The South is also a bastion of right-to-work (for less) and numerous other anti-union laws. North Carolina is one of only two states in the country where it is illegal for public workers to collectively bargain, and has the lowest level of unionization in the country. Additionally, direct foreign capital investment has increased substantially in the region over the past decade.
Charlotte has grown to become the second largest financial and banking center in the country, earning the title, “Wall Street of the South.” It is home to some of the most notorious and hated big banks, which carry out racist foreclosure practices and are driving students deeper into debt, bankrolling the prison industry, encouraging the criminalization of immigrants and profiting off environmental destruction, to name a few of their crimes.
The coalition’s work elevated Charlotte and the South’s central role in the capitalist economy, at a time when that system is being dragged down by its irresolvable contradictions and introducing even more vicious austerity measures onto the backs of working people.
This approach provided a basis upon which to build multinational unity and elevate a thoroughly anti-capitalist program that put the blame squarely on those responsible for the crises being experienced by working and oppressed peoples — the banks, corporations and the political system that ensures their power — through the work to build the demonstrations.
Organizers also took a principled position early on to oppose racism, bigotry and all forms of oppression, and to defend Obama against any racist attacks being hurled from the right.
This overall approach to building the demonstrations allowed organizers to engage people around the concrete conditions of their everyday lives and expose the broader forces that have created these conditions — namely the banks, corporations and the two parties that work on their behalf.
To draw out these contradictions more, the Coalition to March on Wall Street South raised a program that spoke to the conditions and needs of working-class and oppressed people, bringing to light the clear differences between this peoples’ program and those of the Democratic and Republican parties.
The march was built under the banner of “Building People’s Power at the DNC.” This, along with drawing out the rich history of people’s struggles in the South throughout the work to build the protests, shows a clear alternative to the trap of capitalist democracy and a path forward for how to ultimately turn the tide.
Next steps: Build people’s power
“‘Powerful,’ ‘dynamic,’ ‘vibrant,’ ‘diverse,’ and ‘heartening’ are a few words that, at best, serve to inadequately describe what occurred here in Charlotte during the DNC as a result of the recent manifestation of people’s power,” Ayende Alcala, an organizer with the Coalition to March on Wall Street South and Occupy Charlotte, told WW. “From that wonderful collaborative effort, the momentum of building people’s power shall continue in many ways and forms. People’s Power Assemblies, in my humble opinion, represent the next great platform, expression and outgrowth of the ever growing momentum, and have the ability to serve as the next great catalyst for resurgence and movement.”
The alienation and frustration with the political system that so many feel is evident in communities throughout the country. The mantra of powerlessness is repeated to us over and over again throughout our lives. We are trained to individualize our struggles and deal with them in isolation, which contributes to the feelings of despair and hopelessness felt by many.
This is especially true in Charlotte, where the towers of the big banks and corporations loom over the city, enshrining their power and staring down on the rest of the city. The people are at their mercy, they seem to say, and without them the world as we know it would come crashing down.
Demonstrations like the March on Wall Street South are important to break through the isolation experienced in our communities, and show an alternative to the way we are taught to deal with our daily struggles — to view them as part of a larger system, come together with our neighbors and friends who are dealing with many of the same things, and get in the streets to build independent movements for people’s power that can one day eliminate the system that is at the root of our shared problems.
We learn through our experiences and through struggles. The lessons learned and taught through the March on Wall Street South mobilization were numerous. But perhaps one of the most important things was that it showed that it is the people who have the power. We are the ones who make history — not the banks, the corporations or the politicians. The possibilities of what we can achieve when we unite across all the social boundaries that are meant to divide us are endless.
Along the march, many of the folks who lined the streets to see the demonstration commented that this was the first time they had seen anything like this in Charlotte.
To continue to build upon the foundation that was laid by the March on Wall Street South, organizers are preparing to convene a People’s Power Assembly in Charlotte on Nov. 10, as similar assemblies are held across the country. Several meetings have already taken place to begin planning for this assembly. The call to build people’s power that was raised through the mobilization is being carried forward by many community leaders, who have taken the initiative to convene the assembly in Charlotte.
This mobilization was a step forward to building a movement that not only addresses the conditions in our communities today, but prepares us to take the power back from those bank towers that loom over Charlotte and every other city, and run society ourselves to meet all human needs, not for profit.
The writer was a main organizer for the March on Wall Street South.