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What the Occupy Movement Can Learn from HBCU Students

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OCCUPY WALL STREET
AP

A funny thing is taking place in occupy movements across the nation. The faces and voices of occupiers aren't the homeless, they aren't returning soldiers deprived of job opportunities, or disenfranchised minorities who start every journey for education, employment and opportunity well-behind the scratch line for access. The occupy movement is being mostly represented by fresh-faced, educated, middle-class white folks who aren't deprived and aren't victims of discrimination.

They're just broke.

They are as full of passion as they are devoid of organization and purpose, and in the approaching months of winter's cold and political hot stove talk, the movement will wither and be remembered for bluster, great YouTube footage and a rescinded Bank of America monthly ATM card service fee.

People who gave time and energy to mic-checks around the country will come away dissatisfied with a movement of people who lament what they do not have. And it will be a shame, because in the throes of their emotional discontent and its inevitable dissolution, HBCU students have been overshadowed in their recent work to continue a strong legacy of organized, disciplined and effective mobilization for more honorable goals than attempting to shame rich people and government.

Recently, Morgan State University in Baltimore and the Southern University Law Center in Baton Rouge commemorated the mobilization efforts of their students during the heyday of civil rights student activism. These celebrations came just months after students at Morehouse College, Spelman College, Clark Atlanta University and Howard University captured national headlines for advocacy against the execution of Troy Davis. Weeks prior, students at Wiley College in Texas prayed for peace on campus following a string of crimes while students at Paul Quinn College in Dallas advocated for the elimination of a regional food desert.

And recently, students from North Carolina A&T State University and Bennett College for Women in Greensboro championed increased participation in the municipal voting process.

Alumni and students of historically black colleges have always advocated for equity and comparable access, but not for the sake of concessions and sacrifices from others, which the occupy movements seem to be built upon. Where HBCU constituents have used civil protest to smooth the rough edges of democracy, occupants appear driven to reform capitalism, a losing proposition for all involved.

The occupy movement should take some cues from the HBCU mobilization playbook to survive the winter of their discontent. HBCU students were, and remain unafraid to speak out in the streets and into courtrooms at every level. The movement can't begin and end in blocked traffic and tent-filled plazas. Whenever possible, it should make its way into litigation against the banks and government officials most responsible for uneven or inauspicious opportunities for all Americans to build wealth.

The occupy movement must transform its positioning into political action. HBCU students built generations of civil rights success by grooming and supporting student members of the movement who grew up to become the alumni activists that became legislators at city, state and federal levels. Just as HBCUs have been a major part of the king-making political process in many urban and suburban areas, the occupy movement has shown the numbers to do the same. It only requires the desire.

Finally, the occupy movement must identify and promote stories that encapsulate its cause. In history, HBCUs claim the A&T 4, the Orangeburg Massacre, the Freedom Riders, the Tallahassee Bus Boycotts, Albany Boycotts and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as symbols of the struggle fought and in many ways won. Today, t-shirts carry the same urgency for a new generation of activists, proclaiming "I am not trash," "I am Troy Davis," and other messages that transcend individualistic goals.

The occupy movement? The message seems to be, 'Let's all sit here and show the world how crummy it is to be broke."

The occupy movement is a snap reaction to a long-standing problem of economic impropriety in this country. There's nothing illegal or universally immoral about the injustice they are rallying against, and it is everything that keeps this country among the global financial elite. More members of the occupy movement have or had the opportunity to join the hated one percent by race and ethnicity alone -- so they should forgive if the entire world can't get behind a movement that prides itself on being a leaderless collection of folks who are just plain fed up about missing opportunities they either didn't know about, or didn't care to take advantage of.

The occupy movement isn't about bringing the one percent down to penthouse lobby. It's about the 99 percent taking the ride up to the suite on the 25th floor; a proposition that by design and by wish, is doomed to falter.

HBCU students and alums know what its like to feel fed up, and know how to do something about it. And if they can't have the spotlight for their continuing and meaningful pursuits of justice, the least occupy movement members can do is emulate the past and present heroes at historically black colleges showing the world how to make protest a legitimate part of American prosperity.