Yesterday, something wonderful happened in America.
Yesterday was the day the American Civil Rights Movement merged their hopes and dreams with Occupy Wall Street.
Led by Dr. Ben Chavis, civil rights leaders announced the formation of Occupy the Dream, an organization to mobilize Americans around the vision of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who sought to wage war on poverty, unemployment and economic injustice. Dr. Chavis announced that the first major march of Occupy the Dream will take place on Martin Luther King Day, January 16, 2012 in Washington, D.C.
Dr. Jamal Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore with 10,000 members, joined Dr. Chavis at the National Press Club where they rallied their followers together with leading advocates of Occupy Wall Street.
Launching their movement, Dr. Bryant explained the crisis now facing many Americans in stark but eloquent terms:
Ladies and Gentlemen, in just a few days, about 200,000 of our sons and daughters will be returning back to the United States in a large way indicating the end of the war in the Middle East. Regrettably they are going to be coming to another war. It's not going to be a War on Terror as indicated by then-President Bush. It's not even going to be a War on Drugs implemented by Nancy Reagan or a War on Obesity by Michelle Obama - but they're going to be coming into a war on poverty - a war on poverty, unemployment and economic inequality and greed has in fact ravaged our nation down to its core.
Defining the merger of the movements explicitly, Dr. Chavis announced the historic coalition:
When Dr. King articulated the dream, it was inclusive. It is in our interests to build coalitions beyond ourselves. In fact, that is what the beauty of today represents. We are not trying to achieve economic equality and leave others in economic inequality. If you want justice, you've got to have justice for everybody. If you are for economic equality, you've got to have economic equality for everybody.
"I think this is a very important step toward the American Spring. . . . This American Spring is going to be a historic, transformative movement. It's going to be a moment in history that's going to change things in ways that they can't imagine. It's going to be a moment in history that dominates the year more than the presidential campaign does."
Although he was not present at the National Press Club, Russell Simmons has been instrumental in promoting the expansion of the Occupy Wall Street movement. From his offices in New York, Simmons issued the following statement:
It was Dr. King's dream that the civil rights community would come together with the unions and cultural icons, and they would produce a revolution that would promote economic equality in this country. I have been there to witness the energy and the courage and have been inspired by these young creative people who have a high aspiration for our country, who are politically astute and who are themselves inspired to make this country greater.
Dr. Benjamin Chavis is a veteran civil rights icon who served as an aide and acolyte to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. While working with the Commission for Racial Justice of the United Church of Christ, Dr. Chavis came into direct conflict with highly organized racists who opposed the desegregation of public schools in Wilmington, North Carolina. The clash resulted in the Wilmington Ten trial and imprisonment of ten civil rights workers who served substantial time in prison before they were exonerated in federal court.
Rising through the ranks of the civil rights movement to become Vice President of the National Council of Churches, Dr. Chavis went on to serve as Executive Director of the NAACP. In 1995, Dr. Chavis was appointed to the post of Executive Director of the Million Man March.
In recent years, Dr. Chavis has worked with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons to energize and activate the music industry and its huge audience around the cause of civil rights and economic justice.
An important episode in Dr. Chavis' life as a civil rights leader was novelized by the acclaimed author, Timothy Tyson, in his bestselling book, Blood Done Sign My Name. The movie starred Nate Parker in the role of the young Benjamin Chavis. Dr. Chavis has appeared in the film Belly, and in Spike Lee's, Get on the Bus, a fictional but compelling account of the Million Man March.
To that question, Dr. Chavis responded, "Absolutely."
Somehow, very tangibly, Occupy the Dream seems like a gigantic and brilliantly wrapped Christmas present to the 99%.