11/16/2011 03:09 pm ET Updated Jan 15, 2012

Open Letter to Mayor Michael Bloomberg of New York

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Dear Mayor Bloomberg:

I was awakened in the wee hours of this morning by texts and calls from friends and associates distraught that Occupy Wall Street protestors were being forcibly removed from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. Even more troubling is that you chose to make a mockery of the First Amendment of our United States Constitution by not only evicting the peaceful activists, but also by blocking media outlets from recording the police raid. This is America, Mr. Bloomberg, a nation that through much effort, tears, blood, and, yes, deaths, has evolved from a slaveholding country that also destroyed much of Native American culture, to one where women, people of color, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender community, the physically challenged, Jews, Muslims, White ethnics from places like Ireland and Italy, and so many others have been able to gain some measure of freedom and democracy. We are not the nation we ought to be, yet, but we are also not the nation we once were, either. We do that history, and ourselves, a great disservice when we in leadership positions resort to tactics used to deny freedom and democracy, in the old America of Jim Crow laws, in the old South Africa of apartheid.

As I watched the amateur video made of the raid online this morning, I got very choked up. I am a big supporter of Occupy Wall Street because it speaks directly to my history as a Black person in America. The occupation is nothing more than the bus boycotts, freedom rides, and sit-ins of the Civil Rights era. The nonviolent approach harkens back to the principles of Dr. King, borrowed, of course, from the great Indian leader Gandhi. The use of technology to spread the Occupy Wall Street messages is no different than how W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, and other visionaries used the media at their disposal in their day to communicate with the masses. So when we choose to walk down the path of repression, of removing and silencing those who would speak out, Mr. Mayor, we are saying that we are choosing to be on the wrong side of history. That we are choosing to be in bed with the devil, instead of on the side of God, of the noble promises of our America.

As I said, I am a supporter of the Occupy Wall Street movement, here in New York City, and across America. I have been a part of many rallies and marches the past two months. I have spent much time talking and listening to participants at Zuccotti Park, at planning meetings, and in private one-on-one sessions with some of the leadership. They are mostly good and decent Americans and I have not witnessed a movement like this since the anti-apartheid protests of the 1980s when I was a college student. It is the same energy, the same sense of purpose, and the same fire-in-belly belief that what they are doing is right. They are not anti-American. They are not anti-business. They are not anti-wealthy folks. They are not anti-police. They are not anti-you, Mr. Mayor. They, we, merely want to see our nation be a place where people, regardless of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, religion, or educational level can have an opportunity to have an opportunity; to not struggle to get or keep a job or career; to not struggle to pay for an education which should be our birthright; to not suffer through housing woes, including foreclosures; to not have to spend our entire lives in debt, broke, or broken spiritually and emotionally because of our finances.

But what message are we sending, Mayor Bloomberg, when we come like the thief in the night to remove people by extreme force? What message are we sending when we inhumanly destroy a community built to show what democracy can look like in our era? How condescending and nearsighted are we to state these people are dirty and unfocused, that they somehow are more of a public nuisance than certain banks and corporations that have wrecked the lives of so many Americans? How arrogant are we to assume, just because we may have a certain financial background, status, or title, to think we are above relearning lessons of democracy at various points in our American lives? And how can we ever again say it was not right for militaries in Middle Eastern and North African nations to crack down on the democracies there, then we turn around and do the same on our own shores, only months later, and to our own children, to our own people?

Mayor Bloomberg, you said on your weekly radio show, several weeks ago, that it was inevitable for Americans to take to the streets because of the state of our economy. But is the solution to beat these people back with batons and gloved fists, or is the solution to listen to their voices, hear their concerns, and figure out a way, together, for us as a people, all people, to transform America for these times and beyond?

I know somewhere in your person, Mayor Bloomberg, you have a soul and a moral conscience. You are going to have to ask yourself, billionaire or not, mayor of New York City or not, whose side you are on, because the Occupy Wall Street movement is here to stay, and will only get bigger and stronger when leaders like you attack the protestors, as you've done. Justice, Mr. Bloomberg, is not on the side of those who would misuse and abuse their power. Justice is, forever, on the side of those who would even sacrifice their own bodies because they believe so deeply in their cause. Those are the kind of people and the kind of Americans I stand with, Mayor Bloomberg. Those are the kind of people I know, from their tents, blankets, and makeshift occupied communities, will do for America exactly what those Civil Rights workers did with their shoes, overalls, songs of freedom, and voter registration cards a generation ago. And so it shall be, and so it shall be.

Kevin Powell

Kevin Powell is an activist, public speaker, and author or editor of 10 books. His 11th book, Barack Obama, Ronald Reagan, and The Ghost of Dr. King: And Other Blogs and Essays, will be published by in January 2012. You can reach him at, or follow him on Twitter @kevin_powell