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IN PRAISE OF A MOVEMENT

 

 

By Mark Naison | With thanks to NewBlackMan

 

Thursday, November 24, 2011.

 

Many people in the media, as well as many citizens, complain that Occupy Wall Street has no leaders and no goals.   While Occupy Wall Street and its spinoffs around the nation have certainly not developed “leaders” who articulate its goals to the media or negotiate with public officials, it has already registered a formidable list of accomplishments for a movement this young.

 

Here is my list of some of the important things this movement has done, with more to come as it grows and matures:

 

1. Put the question of economic inequality in the center of national discourse for the first time since the 1960’s, even though such inequality has been growing dramatically for the last 20 years.  The vocabulary the movement has developed to describe this inequality “ the 1%  and the 99%” have become a permanent part of our political discourse and has focused great attention on how the mal distribution of wealth has undermined democracy and eroded the living standards of the great majority of Americans.

 

2. Called attention to the stifling impact of student loan debt on  young college, professional  and trade school graduates   who face the double whammy of a stagnant job market and crippling debt.  The attention given this issue inspired President Obama to marginally ease the loan burden of current recipients. In the future, it might well prompt a radical reconfiguration of the debt or a major program of loan forgiveness.

 

3. Created political pressures that prompted the postponement of a decision by President Obama to begin construction of the controversial Keystone XL natural gas pipeline.

 

4. Inspired  a wide variety of actions to prevent foreclosures and evictions and to bring relief to beleaguered home owners and tenants.

 

5. Put the undemocratic character of many education reform policies, particularly school closings, under much greater scrutiny, creating pressures on policy makers that will make these closings much more difficult to implement  without more consultation and input from parents, students, teachers and community members.

 

6. Given the labor movement a new vocabulary to challenge attacks on collective bargaining and union recognition, providing added ammunition to the successful campaign to defeat an anti-collective bargaining bill in the state of Ohio.

 

7.  Focused  attention on the issue of police brutality and the militarization of urban police forces in ways that reinforces longstanding complaints of police misconduct and abuse in Black and Latino communities.

 

This would be an impressive list of accomplishment for a movement that has lasted two years, but Occupy Wall Street has only been with us for two months.

 

***

 

Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham’s Urban Studies Program. He is the author of two books, Communists in Harlem During the Depression and White Boy: A Memoir. Naison is also co-director of the Bronx African American History Project (BAAHP). Research from the BAAHP will be published in a forthcoming collection of oral histories Before the Fires: An Oral History of African American Life From the 1930s to the 1960s.

 

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