by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
The Occupy Wall Street movement has, to date, “been effective in warding off cooptation by Democratic Party fronts such as Rebuild The Dream and MoveOn.org.” But OWS’s recent alliance with Black clergy-based (and Russell Simmons-backed) Occupy The Dream raises serious questions in this election year. “It appears that Occupy Wall Street’s new Black affiliate is also in ‘lock-step’ with the corporate Democrat in the White House.”
Occupy Wall Street joins Occupy The Dream: Is It Cooptation, or Growing the Movement?
by BAR executive editor Glen Ford
“Is Obama to be absolved by clergymen wearing ‘Occupy’ buttons?
The Democratic Party may have entered the Occupy Wall Street movement through the “Black door,” in the form of Occupy The Dream, the Black ministers’ group led by former NAACP chief and Million Man March national director Dr. Benjamin Chavis and Baltimore mega-church pastor Rev. Jamal Bryant. Both are fervent supporters of President Obama.
Occupy The Dream’s National Steering Committee is made up entirely of clergy, as are its Members at Large, but its secular inspiration comes from media mogul (and credit card purveyor) Russell Simmons, who was a frequent visitor to Manhattan’s occupied Zuccotti Park. Simmons is co-chairman, with Dr. Chavis, of the Hip Hop Summit Action Network, whose website is now mainly dedicated to the Occupy The Dream project. It is through Simmons that the ministers hope to attract entertainers and athletes to Occupy The Dream events.
Occupy Wall Street organizer David DeGraw tied the knot with the Dream team at a Washington Press Club conference on December 14, invoking Dr. Martin Luther King’s Poor People’s campaign and the need to “penetrate deeper into the African American community.” Dr. Chavis said, “If Dr. King were alive today, he would be part of Occupy Wall Street,” and Rev. Bryant, pastor of Baltimore’s 10,000-member Empowerment Temple AME Church, pledged that Occupy The Dream will work “in lock-step” with OWS. The OWS/OTD alliance would begin, they announced, with a multi-city action at Federal Reserve Bank offices on MLK Day, January 16.
The very next Sunday, Rev. Bryant was at his pulpit exhorting his congregation to get out the vote for the president.
“Its secular inspiration comes from media mogul (and credit card purveyor) Russell Simmons.”
Dr. Chavis is also an active Obama booster. In his November 30 syndicated column for Black newspapers, titled “Brilliant First Lady Michelle Obama,” Chavis wrote:
“As we are about to enter into the heated national political debates and campaigns of the 2012 national election year, President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama will be under intense pressures to maneuver through what may be one of the most difficult periods of time to maintain resilience and hope.
“I am encouraged and optimistic, however, that President Obama will be reelected if millions of us do what we are supposed to do and that is go out and vote in record numbers 12 months from now.”
Chavis followed with an even more direct appeal:
“All of us should be responding by lending a helping hand, giving of our time, energy and money, and to make our own contributions to push forward for more progress to ensure the reelection of President Barack Obama. Let’s determine the future by how we act today.”
It appears that Occupy Wall Street’s new Black affiliate is also in “lock-step” with the corporate Democrat in the White House, whose administration has funneled trillions of dollars to Wall Street and greatly expanded U.S. theaters of war.
“The very next Sunday, Rev. Bryant was at his pulpit exhorting his congregation to get out the vote for the president.”
There is, however, a certain historical logic at work, here. Dr. Martin King’s Poor People’s Campaign, disrupted by his assassination, is seen by many as a prime inspiration for OWS. But of course, King’s persona and the whole saga of the Sixties has been methodically co-opted over the intervening decades, most directly by Black ministers claiming to be acting in furtherance of his “Dream” while selling their congregants’ votes to one or the other of the two Rich Men’s Parties. President Obama and his operatives have attempted to draw a straight line between Dr. King’s “Dream” and Obama’s own political ascent ever since his “coming home” speech at a Selma, Alabama, church in March of 2007, where the candidate assumed the mantle of Joshua and asserted that Blacks had already come “90 percent of the way” towards equality (with the transparent implication that his entrance to the White House would complete the process.)
Perhaps the most historically and politically corrupt poster of the 2008 campaign superimposed Obama’s head on Malcolm X’s body in the only known picture of Dr. King and Malcolm, shaking hands. So, there is nothing novel about labeling a 2012 Black church-based, pro-Obama electoral campaign as “Occupying the Dream.” Black ministers in campaign mode routinely depict Obama’s political troubles as indistinguishable from threats to “The Dream,” whose embodiment is ensconced in the White House. That’s simply common currency among Black preachers pushing for Obama.
“President Obama and his operatives have attempted to draw a straight line between Dr. King’s ‘Dream’ and Obama’s own political ascent.”
Russell Simmons brings bling to the mix. As the Occupy The Dream website states: “Teaming up with entertainers such as Bon Jovi, Jay-Z, Bruce Springsteen, and Kanye West, Dr. Bryant encourages citizens of every race, color and creed to join Occupy the Dream.” Simmons is a genius at transforming social capital into the spendable kind – which is why he has been courting OWS so diligently. He is now fully “inside” the movement, flanked and buttressed by loyal Obama Black clergy.
It is highly unlikely – damn near inconceivable – that Occupy The Dream will do anything that might embarrass this president. Its ministers can be expected to electioneer for Obama at every opportunity. Their January 16 actions are directed at the Federal Reserve, which is technically independent from the executive branch of government – although, in practice, the Fed has been Obama’s principal mechanism for bailing out the banks. Will the ministers pretend, next Monday, that the president is somehow removed from the Fed’s massive transfers of the people’s credit and cash to Wall Street over the past three years? Is Obama to be absolved by clergymen wearing “Occupy” buttons?
Far from tamping their Obama fervor, the OWS brand equips the “Dream” ministers (and Simmons’ entertainment assets) to accomplish a special mission: to insulate the president from the Occupy movement and the national conversation on economic equality – or, better yet, to make him appear to be part of the solution. If they so choose.
“Simmons is a genius at transforming social capital into the spendable kind – which is why he has been courting OWS so diligently.”
OWS has, to date, been effective in warding off cooptation by Democratic Party fronts such as Rebuild The Dream and MoveOn.org. But, it seems their antennas were not so finely attuned to the political structures of Black America: who the players are, and how the game is run. The Obama campaign may have found its niche on “the Black-hand side” of OWS.
At this late stage, there is no antidote to the potential cooptation, except to rev up the movement’s confrontation with the oligarchic powers-that-be – including Wall Street’s guy in the White House. Let’s see what happens if OWS demonstrators join with Occupy The Dream at Federal Reserve sites on January 16 carrying placards unequivocally implicating Obama in the Fed’s bailouts of the banksters, as Occupy demonstrators have done so often in the past. Will the Dream’s leadership be in “lock-step” with that? Maybe so – I’ve heard that miracles sometimes do happen.
In his December 30 newspaper column, Dr. Chavis offered these thoughts:
“2012 will be a test for the United States. There will be a political test in terms of how millions of people will vote for the future. There will also be an economic test between the 99% and the 1% on the issues of income inequality and economic justice.”
We do, indeed, face a test in 2012: Will the Democratic Party be enabled to swallow up the Left – as it does every four years – including the fragile and tentative structures of the Occupy Wall Street movement? And, will the Democrats enter through the Black door?
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at [email protected].