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Jumaane D. Williams

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An Open Letter to Occupy Wall Street

Posted: 10/03/2012 4:02 pm

Dear Occupy Wall Street (OWS),

Hope you enjoyed a well-deserved anniversary!

I have been a supporter of yours since the early days. In fact, I was the first elected official to publicly support the movement. In that vein, please accept this letter in the spirit with which it is offered, with great admiration and great concern.

I have been and continue to be inspired by anyone willing to stand up for inequality and all things unjust. OWS has embodied the anger that so many have been feeling for such a long time, anger that has festered within communities of more color for generations. Injustice, particularly greed and economic inequality that has fueled additional inequity, has been around a long time.

I love the fact that so many had decided that they had to do something. Since we are up against the people who have so much money and control, many times all we have are our bodies and mind. Not much that we now consider justice or liberty has ever come to be without harnessing the incredible collective power of both. Many say you haven't succeeded at anything, although I believe that those people set unrealistic goals for you and then act surprised when you didn't reach them. How can you be expected to solve the ingrained problems of financial inequities in just one year?

I congratulate you on what you did achieve. You changed the lexicon of the debate. You can't go many places around the world without people knowing what the 99 percent or one percent means. When Reverend Al Sharpton asked us to "occupy" our corners this summer to help stem the violence, we knew exactly what he meant. More locally, the so-called New York State millionaire's tax, though it left a lot to be desired, would not have passed if it were not for the existence of OWS. I have been awed by the mass turnout at events such as May Day, which united thousands in our streets. I was also impressed to see you deal with issues that organized societies deal with all the time, such as how to allow every voice on an issue without one interfering with another, as witnessed during the debate over the drummers at Zuccotti Park. You have handled these moments better than some governments.

With these accomplishments in mind, I hold some concerns; chiefly that the movement is selling itself short. OWS actions appear to be becoming a display of defiance for defiance's sake. Now, anyone who knows me knows that I believe civil disobedience related to unjust laws, policies and authority has a definite roll in achieving justice. It always has and it always will, and anyone who disagrees is rewriting history and erasing all of the gains this country has seen from women's suffrage to the eight-hour work day, from the first "occupy" at the White House as soldiers camped out pursuing the GI Bill to the entire Civil Rights movement. By contrast, you have engaged in some actions rooted in a cat-and-mouse game with the NYPD, seemingly for the sole purposes of antagonization just to prove you can. It may be the plans of a minority, but they may diminish the laudable causes that brought you into existence.

I hope you take some time to decide how the movement will move forward in a constructive manner. Occupy a new space? Get involved electorally? Actively work to reform policy? Far be it for me, an elected official, to tell you what must do. I do hope at a minimum these will be put into the bowl of suggestions from supporters who care about OWS and want desperately for you to succeed at enacting long-lasting change.

All the best and see you, I hope, next year.

 

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