By Roland S. Martin
Whenever there is an uprising among the people of this country in the form of protest and organized dissent — especially with a presidential election 13 months away — the discussion inevitably shifts to what will it all mean for one of the nation’s two political parties.
No matter how hard its representatives have tried to suggest that it isn’t partisan, the tea party is nothing more than a sub-group of the Republican Party. If there were a healthy number of tea-party Democrats, then it would be true that the faction is non-partisan. But there isn’t, so it’s nonsensical to waste time not calling the tea-party Republicans exactly what they are: tea-party Republicans. From day one, the tea party aligned itself with the GOP, and that remains true today.
Yet, the attempt by Fox News, conservative radio show hosts and the GOP presidential candidates to associate Occupy Wall Street protesters with the image of far-leftist radical hippies marching in lockstep with the Democratic Party is wrong, shameful and pure intellectual dishonesty.
Being concerned about the nation’s well-being and the depths to which big-money interests are driving the nation’s policies is not a partisan question; it is a moral one. GOP presidential candidates want to cheapen the discussion by suggesting that Occupy Wall Street protesters hate capitalism. I sense they despise a nation that has come to be one wherein Fortune 500 companies and big banks run ads about how great America is but work hard to destroy America by shipping jobs overseas and engaging in shameful business practices that require the taxpayer to bail them out.
It’s real simple — and insanely stupid — to examine the true anger of Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of young folks with nothing to do. If we recall March 2009, when the AIG bonuses came to light, folks in every corner of this nation were angry at what they heard. Political ideology didn’t matter. It was seen as a matter of right and wrong.
That’s why the various leaders of Occupy Wall Street, no matter how local and de-centralized, must look at their effort as not one whose aim is to galvanize and put one party into office. Instead, the movement should be about candidates of both political parties, as well as independents, speaking to the American people’s needs and desires.
This tea-party-versus-Occupy-Wall-Street construct is a ridiculous one. From a media perspective, it’s a cheap and easy narrative, but in the end, it doesn’t tell the full story.
As someone who is more enamored with studying the intricacies of the civil rights movement rather than memorizing key speeches of its leaders, what was clear to me was that the civil rights movement wasn’t about getting a Democrat or Republican elected; it was always about ensuring full freedom and equality for African Americans who were denied their rights as citizens.
At different points, Republicans and Democrats were allies of the civil rights movement, while at the same time, some Republicans and Democrats were virulent opponents.
It wasn’t about party for civil rights leaders; it was about principle.
And that’s exactly where we sit today. As I listen to the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and watch as their protests proliferate across the country just like the lunch-counter sit-ins that spread like wildfire across the south in 1960, I notice that the goals and ideals sound eerily familiar. While in the ’60s, it was about race, the civil rights battlefront today is about class. It’s about the widening gap between the rich and poor and how the middle class is being pushed down into poverty rather than being helped upwards.
This struggle is the moral dilemma the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. frequently discussed. If folks would stop focusing on the last part of his “I Have a Dream” speech and read all of what he said at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, they would understand that.
So what if Russell Simmons, Kayne West and other celebrities have millions and are showing support for Occupy Wall Street? When Harry Belafonte; Dick Gregory; Sidney Poitier; Bob Dylan; Joan Baez; Peter, Paul and Mary; Charlton Heston; Mahalia Jackson and other celebrities attended the 1963 march, no one said, “How dare those individuals with big bank accounts stand in solidarity with those with no bank accounts?” When it comes to fairness, your values matter more than your tax bracket.
If labor unions and politicians want to stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, that’s a good thing. If individuals who work on or used to work on Wall Street want to show their support for the need for systemic changes to this system, more power to them. If self-identified Democrats and Republicans want to show their moral outrage, praise God.
Moral movements aren’t supposed to be poisoned by politics. When that happens, the legitimacy is lost. If politicians want to use their voices in support, they should. But at no time should Occupy Wall Street be about getting one party elected to local, county, state and national office.
The time has come for men and women of conscience in this nation to stand up. It’s vital that we select individuals, regardless of party, who choose not to form an incestuous relationship with the rich, who are only about fattening their bottom lines while ignoring the plight of others.
As Dr. King said, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.”
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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