By Roland S. Martin
“An unconditional right to say what one pleases about public affairs is what I consider to be the minimum guarantee of the First Amendment.” — U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo L. Black, New York Times Company vs. Sullivan, 1964
It’s downright disgusting to listen to conservative and Republican lawmakers, presidential candidates, business owners and media commentators use such vitriol to describe the Occupy Wall Street protesters as being un-American individuals hell-bent on destroying America.
How in the world can anyone even form his lips to say such a thing when this very country was founded on the basis of dissent? Self-appointed rodeo clown Glenn Beck castigates the Occupy Wall Street protesters, but he’s always running off at the mouth about the Founding Fathers and how brilliant they were.
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Without dissent and protest, there is no United States of America! It’s as if these folks never picked up a history book to understand how this nation was formed. The very notion of a United States started with someone saying, writing and screaming, “Enough is enough!” More and more early settlers became enraged with the heavy-handed actions of the British, and that’s what put us on the path to the American Revolution.
Do any of these so-called strict constructionists even read the very U.S. Constitution they love to wave in the faces of their critics? Every American — no matter if you’re young or old; rich or poor; a red-state or a blue-state resident; black, white, Asian, Hispanic or Native American — has the freedom to assemble and the freedom to speak, which is what’s at the heart of these protests.
In this same space, I’ve praised the tea party folks for not sitting around and complaining. Instead, they organized and mobilized to affect political discourse in the Republican Party, and they’ve definitely had their voices heard. I may disagree with a number of things the tea party advocates, but there is no way I would condemn them for their advocacy. As Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas said, “The right to revolt has sources deep in our history.”
It’s increasingly clear, however, that some Americans love to talk a good game about protests yet hate when someone who opposes their views decides to stand up and be heard.
Remember all of those political voices that championed the people of Iran taking to the streets to protest? How about Tunisia? Egypt? Libya? Bahrain? What would this world be without protest?
We would have never seen freedom in Eastern Europe were it not without the people there, in the words of civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, being “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” Praise God that the children of South Africa, led by the African National Congress, didn’t ignore the calls of history. If so, Nelson Mandela would be dying in jail and freedom would have never ended Apartheid.
The U.S. would not have been forced to make reality the very principles cited in the Declaration of Independence and treat every human being as equals were it not for the Civil Rights Movement.
Those brave men, women and children chose not to accept the status quo, and this nation — and, yes, the world — is much better off because they did.
As a supporter of Occupy Wall Street, I understand fully the sentiment being expressed: Massive corporate greed has devastated the wages of the common worker, and the pay of a horde on Wall Street has gone into the stratosphere while creating nothing tangible. It’s immoral and obscene.
Wall Street and its protectors in Washington, D.C. — Democrat and Republican alike — say nothing is wrong with making a profit. That is absolutely true. But what is shameful and outlandish is to watch the American taxpayer save the jobs (and big bonuses) of these financial miscreants only to see those very same executives jack up fees left and right. Without the American people, they would have had to pack up their belongings and hit the pavement. Instead, they refuse to work with homeowners struggling to meet the big mortgage payments that Wall Street helped underwrite and then sell in exotic transactions that wrecked this nation’s financial infrastructure.
Conservatives call this an assault on capitalism. No, Occupy Wall Street is about trying to bring some decency and honesty back to an industry that used to have some. Instead, what we have today are literal financial pirates trying to take the largest booty they can find. They don’t care about the long-term health of this country. It’s all about the next quarterly earnings reports and their massive year-end bonuses.
And what happens when Elizabeth Warren pushes the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington, D.C.? Wall Street and its well-financed lobbyists descend on Capitol Hill with a fury, doing all they can to prevent an agency from protecting the American taxpayer. Right now, Republicans in the U.S. Senate have vowed to never allow a vote on the confirmation of Richard Cordray, whom President Barack Obama chose to head the agency, because the GOP and Wall Street despised Warren.
The fight in which Occupy Wall Street is engaged is nothing short of a battle for the soul of this nation. Are we going to continue to allow ourselves to be held hostage by the big banks? Will we continue to allow them to trample over us with their too-big-to-fail attitude?
No, no, and hell no! It’s time to bring these Goliaths to their knees by any means necessary. That means the young and righteous Davids must protest; march; sit in; work the halls of Congress and state capitals nationwide; and make it clear that as long as Wall Street, its lobbyists and its political protectors continue to mistreat the common man and woman, they shall be our mortal enemy.
Now is not the time to dismiss the protesters as a bunch of lefty college students with no guidance, no substance and no mission. Instead of listening to politicians pimp the next generation, these folks are saying, in the words of the founders of the nation’s first black newspaper, Freedom’s Journal, “We wish to plead our own cause; too long have others spoken for us.”
Roland S. Martin is an award-winning CNN analyst and author of the book “The First: President Barack Obama’s Road to the White House as Originally Reported by Roland S. Martin.” Please visit his website at RolandSMartin.com. To find out more about Roland S. Martin and read his past columns, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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