Archive for October, 2011

Soulful Leadership in the Hood

In a first for the Occupy movement, Occupy Boston took to the ‘hood’ last night. Challenged by Jamarhl Crawford of the Blackstonian to show solidarity with people of color “who are the most affected by the conditions that Occupy Boston is protesting,” a crowd marched from the Occupy Boston encampment in the financial district to Dudley Square, the heart of Boston’s black community.  Crawford, pointing to the lack of diversity in the Occupy movement, called protesters to bring the “energy, momentum, and attention of Occupy Boston to the issues of people of color in Boston and beyond.”

After the march, hundreds gathered in Dudley Square to hear Crawford and a dozen other speakers address unemployment, foreclosures, violence, incarceration, police brutality, and a host of other issues.  The speakers, from ministers to schoolchildren, pointed to the disproportionate suffering of people of color in the current recession.  Black-owned businesses, for example, are twice as likely to be denied credit and the unemployment rate for blacks is roughly twice that of the unemployment rate for whites.   Residents of the neighborhood were challenged to shut down the local Bank of America branch (which has repeatedly refused loans to local businesses) by moving their money to small local banks (which have worked with local businesses to provide much-needed financing).

The crowd followed the rules of engagement set forth in the Blackstonian (“white people and other members of Occupy Boston will enter the community as SUPPORT ONLY” and “OB’ers will be under the direction and agenda of people/organizers of color”), held signs, and remained peaceful.

The event, an important first step, bridged a glaring gap in the Occupy movement. Organizers promised more to come.  Referring to the gathering, Pastor Paris Cherry of the Love Movement Ministries commented, “We are living the dream MLK was talking about, people from the suburbs and inner cities marching together for the betterment of the people.”

Soulful Leadership on Wall Street?

Now in its third week, the Occupy Wall Street movement gains momentum by the day. Last week, over 700 airline pilots marched with the protestors, Marines and soldiers joined in over the weekend, and thousands of union workers joined the protestors on Wall Street yesterday. Meanwhile, sister movements are cropping up across the country.

Occupy Wall Street Protest

Thousands take to the streets in New York City

While the group has been criticized for its lack of focus and “vague demands,” its message has proven to be galvanizing. People who have lost jobs and homes, while bankers have taken bonuses after taxpayer bailouts, understand the message instantly. Workers who have lost their health care, unemployed college graduates saddled with crippling loans, and parents who can barely keep a roof over their children’s heads, are all ready to express their anger toward CEOs who lay off thousands of workers and then receive bonuses as their reward.

While it is not yet clear what the participants will be able to accomplish, they deserve our attention. Remarkable for 1) its youthful base, 2) its ability to attract participants across the political spectrum, 3) the power of its message (“We are the 99% that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%”), 4) its commitment to building consensus in its daily meetings, and 5) its use of non-violent tactics, this movement commands respect.

Protestors are tired of bankers and corporations getting off scot-free while ordinary people pay the price. Protestors object to many actions of Wall Street in the past few years, such as the one exposed 15 months ago in the Time article, “How Goldman Trashed a Town.” In this case, as in many others, no aspect of the transaction was illegal (although a strong case could be made that many aspects of the transaction were unethical), so financiers were not held accountable for their actions, and ordinary towns and citizens paid.

Likening themselves to the “Arab spring” protestors, Occupy Wall Street organizers believe in the power of consistent, sustained, nonviolent presence. And they just may be right. They may be able to accomplish, outside the political system, what no one inside the political system has been able to accomplish. They may be the ones who can call our nation back to its soul in the midst of Wall Street greed and manipulation.

They are worth watching.