Wall Street has long been the home of the biggest threat to American Democracy. Now it has become home to what may be our best hope for rescuing it. For everyone who loves this country, for everyone whose heart is breaking for the growing ranks of the poor, for everyone who is seething at the unopposed demolition of America’s working and middle class: the time has come to get off the fence. A new generation has gone to the scene of the crimes committed against our future. The time has come for all people of good will to give our full-throated backing to the young people of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The young heroes on Wall Street today baffle the world because they have issued no demands. The villains of Wall Street had their demands — insisting upon a massive bailout for themselves in 2008, while they pocketed million dollar bonuses. The Wall Street protesters are not seeking a bailout for themselves; they are working to bail out democracy. The American experiment in self-governance is at a moment of crisis. The political system thus far has proven itself incapable of responding to a once in a lifetime economic calamity. With income inequality and unemployment at the highest rates since the Great Depression, it’s no wonder that almost 80 percent of the country thinks we’re on the wrong track. But the crisis of American Democracy did not start with the financial collapse. For at least 30 years, the system has been rigged by the wealthy and privileged to acquire more wealth and privilege. At this point, 400 families control more wealth than 180 million Americans. This great wealth divergence has resulted in an unjust and dangerous concentration of economic and political power in the hands of the few. It has pushed millions — especially the rising generation and communities of color — into the shadows of our society. The middle class continues to shrink, and the ranks of the poor have swelled. The political elite has failed to take the necessary steps to provide opportunity to the majority of Americans. A movement was born after Madison, Wisconsin, to oppose these injustices. It has now spread to every Congressional District. We call ourselves the American Dream Movement. We engaged 130,000 people to crowd-source our own jobs agenda — the Contract for the American Dream . In August, tens of thousands demonstrated for jobs in rallies across the nation. Next week in DC, we host our first national gathering: the Take Back The American Dream conference . The Occupation of Wall Street — and the occupations throughout the country — are expressions of the same spirit and dynamic. And these particular demonstrations, perhaps uniquely, contain the spark to grow into a movement that can be transformative. They are the first, small step in the creation of a movement that can restore American Democracy, and renew the American Dream. The hundreds of young people from all five boroughs that camp out every night, in the heart of the financial district, in the rain and the cold, at risk of arrest, are providing the inspiration to draw more and more out of the shadows and into the bright light of the public square. The occupation grows larger and more diverse every day. Young people, the majority of whom are under 25 and have never before engaged in activism, are managing the arduous task of a consensus rules meeting with no sound system. The nightly general assemblies are attracting crowds in the thousands to stand amongst a group of their peers and debate our path forward as a people. The occupation is a revival of a proud tradition of authentic, people-powered movements that have been dormant — and that we need now more than ever. It is building into the kind of massive public demonstrations — like those in Egypt, Madison, and Santiago — that can shake the foundation of a system of power that has lost sight of the public good. Now is our time to choose. Will we keep rewarding those whose financial manipulations have brought us to ruin? Or will we stand with those whose democratic innovations are breathing life into our finest ideals? Both groups are within blocks of each other in downtown Manhattan. For the past 30 years, the country has stood behind the titans on Wall Street and their values. We listened when they said that their banks were too big too fail. Today, there is only one thing that’s too big to fail: the dreams of this new generation, finding its voice in Liberty Park. All of America should now stand with them. Authored by Van Jones, President of Rebuild The Dream , and Max Berger, a youth organizer with the American Dream Movement.
Enough is enough. Ã‚Â Speaker Boehner’s decision last week to walk out in the middle of negotiations with President Obama was the last straw. Ã‚Â The time has come — at long last — for America’s super-majority to stand up against the extreme, hostage-taking tactics of the Tea Party minority in Congress. Ã‚Â Tea Party Republicans would rather shred America’s safety net and also risk tanking America’s economy than raise taxes one penny on their super-wealthy donors and corporate backers. Ã‚Â This Tuesday at noon, everyday Americans will finally have the chance to be heard, across America, at the local offices of every member of Congress. The American Dream movement — which includes dozens of organizations and thousands of individuals who are standing up for the middle class and working class families — is calling for emergency mobilizations across the country tomorrow. Ã‚Â We will thank many of our elected leaders, especially Leader Nancy Pelosi and the more than 70 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) who have stood strong by the middle class, in the face of this madness. We will ask others to step up as champions and support the CPC letter . Ã‚Â And for those who are threatening our whole our economy to win tax breaks for millionaires, we will hold signs and stand outside their offices — using peaceful pressure to shame them into siding with the vast majority of Americans. Ã‚Â The stakes are clear: millions of people are now facing catastrophic economic harm, unless Americans stand up and force the GOP to relent in its reckless drive to destroy essential middle class programs. The GOP is holding the American Dream itself hostage. Ã‚Â If the Republicans carry out their threats, for the first time in history, the greatest nation on Earth will be in default on our obligations. Ã‚Â Defaulting on our debt would be a disaster for our nation — and for every single American. The jobs of half a million Americans would almost certainly disappear. Loans for college or homes could be almost impossible to get. We might have to stop sending Social Security and Medicare checks to people who need them. Our men and women in uniform could stop getting paychecks. Ã‚Â Worse: our great nation would lose its perfect credit rating. That would add billions of dollars to our deficit because other countries would charge us more interest on our loans. Ã‚Â This is literally insane. And if you are shocked, appalled and outraged, you are not alone. The vast majority of Americans are opposed to the both the goals and the tactics of the Tea Party minority in Congress. Ã‚Â Ordinary Republicans know that the Tea Party is dead wrong. Ã‚Â That number includes the majority of REPUBLICANS. Even David Stockman, who was one of the chief architects of Reaganomics, has said that America will need tax increases. The Economist magazine agrees with him; so does David Brooks. No surprise there: so do 55 percent of all Republicans. That’s right, the majority of all Republicans think the Tea Party minority has gone too far. Ã‚Â The Tea Party position is so crazy and extreme that its caucus literally would have to throw out Ronald Reagan (who raised the debt ceiling 18 times), for being too liberal on the question of taxes. Ã‚Â People that extreme should have no moral or political standing to threaten America; they should attempt to impose their bizarre worldview on the rest of us. But that is exactly what they are doing. Ã‚Â The idea of a working democracy is now at risk. Ã‚Â It is time for DC to listen to the voices of regular people, again. Two-thirds of Americans want a budget deal to include getting rid of special tax breaks for millionaires and big corporations. Two-thirds of us believe Republicans in Congress have acted irresponsibly in pushing us toward a default crisis. Ã‚Â Americans know that no single political party has 100 percent of the power in our country, so no single party can have things 100 percent its way. At a certain point, everyone must put the needs of one’s country above the preferences of one’s party. Ã‚Â The Tea Party minority is perhaps the first faction in American history to seize complete control of a political party — and then act with complete and utter disregard for those basic American political traditions. Ã‚Â To get their way, they are willing to hold the American Dream itself hostage — putting an economic gun to all of our heads and jeopardizing the financial future of 310 million people. Ã‚Â Since the Cold War, no foreign enemy has ever posed this kind of threat to America. No foreign power could possibly do the kind of damage that the Tea Party minority is threatening to inflict on the American people. Ã‚Â Hands off Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare Ã‚Â Leaders like former Speaker Rep. Nancy Pelosi and Sen. Bernie Sanders have set a fine example in standing up to this nonsense. So have Congressional Progressive Caucus chairs Rep. Keith Ellison and Rep. RaÃƒÂºl Grijalva. Ã‚Â They should not stand alone. Ã‚Â Our democracy has been hijacked by a small group of extremists. The American Dream is in peril. It is time for the super-majority of Americans to be superheroes and rescue our economic future. Ã‚Â I will see you on Tuesday.
By Bakari Kitwana and Hakim Hasan The overwhelming social transformation rendered in the 1950s and 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement is a milestone in American history of such magnitude that it assumes a mythological quality, almost willing us to define the future in its image. But our own post-civil rights movement era requires us to reframe what â€œcivil rightsâ€ actually means. Changes in the way many Americans have come to think of the role of government, the overwhelming influence of corporate media, the disproportionate influence of Americaâ€™s super rich, and todayâ€™s activistsâ€™ focus on human rights and social justice rather than simply civil rights make the question of civil rights leaders almost passÃ©. Old standards of measures of civil rights successâ€”mass movements and legislation for exampleâ€”no longer apply. Given the new reality the more accurate question is this: What individuals and organizations were essential in helping move the needle on the most important civil rights issues of this, the 21st century? 15. Majora Carter is the 2005 MacArthur genius who in 2001 started Sustainable South Bronx, an organization dedicated to environmentalism and the creation of Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training, a highly successful green jobs training and placement program. In 2008 she formed the Majora Carter Group [Facebook Page] , LLC and serves as its president. In her current capacity, aside from being a highly sought speaker, she now advises companies, cities, and universities on environmental and business issues. 14. Van Jones [Facebook Page] â€”who cut his teeth as a grassroots activist using hip-hop as a tool to engage youth in social change around issues like police brutality, education, and incarceration via his organization, the Ella Baker Center for Human Rightsâ€”turned his attention to green jobs as a way of alleviating dual issues of Americaâ€™s environmental neglect and chronic joblessness in urban America and beyond. In 2008 he authored The Green Collar Economy . As White House Advisor on green jobs, he brought to America a plan for job creation at a time when business and political leaders have been otherwise stumped on how to do so. Within months of his appointment, conservative attacks led to his resignation and his return to the front lines of grassroots green jobs activism. 13. George Soros and Bill & Melinda Gates. Bill and Melinda Gates [Facebook Page] have raised the clarion call about disparities in health policy and provisions in developing countries. Likewise, George Soros [Facebook Page] , founder of the Open Society Foundations , according to The Chronicle of Philanthropy gave $332 million to his Open Society Institute in 2010, an organization that promotes education and democracy initiatives around the world. 12. Rosa Clemente. Hip-Hop political action groups have served as a catalyst of youth political involvement in electoral politics culminating in expanding the 18-29 youth vote from 40 percent participation in 2000 to 52 percent in 2008.Â By 2008, when Cynthia McKinney became the Green Partyâ€™s presidential candidate, such was the influence of hip-hop organizing that McKinney chose hip-hop activist Rosa Clemente [Facebook Page] as her running mate. Clemente emerged in 2003 among a number of young activists who took the model of local hip-hop political activism to the national level and made political participation, as well as good old fashion grassroots activism, made sexy for a new generation. Organizations like The League of Young Voters, Hip-Hop Congress, the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network, The Malcolm X Grassroots Movement and The National Hip-Hop Political Convention were a catalyst for youth around the country. In June 2004, over 4000 young people from 30 states attend The National Hip-Hop Political Convention (which Clemente co-founded) in Newark, New Jersey, to create and endorse a political agenda for the hip-hop generation. Hip-Hop Caucus, headed by Reverend Lennox Yearwood, would follow with a grassroots appeal to youth poor and working class youth in 2008. RELATED: Top 20 Black Radio Jocks Of All-Time RELATED: 10 Greatest HBCU Basketball Players Of All-Time 11. Black Public Intellectuals . Public intellectualism has been seen as a gift and a curse. They are the talking heads that weigh in as experts reading the tea leaves of Black America for national media. From Ivy League-branded Cornel West , Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Michael Eric Dyson to activist-authors Alice Walker and many others in between, such as Boyce Watkins , Melissa Harris-Perry , and Tricia Rose , these are the voices of sanity that provide a counter-balance to the near white-out of Black hosts on network and cable news shows. They may not always consult us, but given the dearth of Black-controlled television media outlets, more often than not they provide voice to human rights and social justice issues of our time. 10. James Rucker. ColorofChange.com is a web-based advocacy group that James Rucker co-founded with Van Jones in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. RuckerÂ Â had previously held several positions with the grassroots advocacy group MoveOn.org. COC has used social networking to address important issues from the Jena Six to lobbying companies not to advertise on Glenn Beckâ€™s Fox News show because of his unsubstantiated remarks that President Obama â€œhates whites.â€ 9. Farhana Khera , founder ofÂ Muslim Advocates . Muslim Advocates came into existence after 9-11 and the now infamous Patriot Act, which instantaneously curtailed many of the freedoms we take for granted. Focused on religious and racial profiling, the work of Muslim Advocates in many ways signals the expansion of the traditional civil rights movement â€“ the broadening of issues and responses to them beyond the black/white divide. Muslim Advocates and the NAACP recently joined forces and sent a letter to Eric Holder, the Attorney General, requesting a full investigation of a FBI raid that resulted in the shooting death of Imam Luqman Ameen Abdullah in Michigan. Like Muslim Advocates, The ACLU has been at the forefront of fighting these issues. Over the decade, the ACLU has issued reports that document this work like last yearâ€™s â€œSanctioned: Racial Profiling Since 9/11.â€ The ACLU was also part of a coalition that filed a class action suit that challenged SB 1070, Arizonaâ€™s notorious racial profiling law in 2010. 8. Trail of Dreams. In Jan 2010 four undocumented former students at Miami Dade University (Gaby Pacheco, Juan Rodriguez, Felipe Matos and Carlos Roa), led a 1500 mile march entitled â€œ Trail of Dreams â€ from Miami to DC, inspiring similar students across the country. Immigration reform is still a major legislation issue in the U.S. that impacts the lives of approximately 11 million illegal immigrants in the nation. The Dream Act, a legislative proposal that has been a political football since 2001, would grant permanent citizenship rights to eligible undocumented students. On March 21, 2010, thousands of immigrants and their allies marched in Washington, D.C. in a show of solidarity to raise awareness about the plight of illegal immigrants as part of the Dream activist movement. Similar demonstrations were held in cities throughout the nation. 7. Jimmy Carter won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002 , and over the years has increasingly questioned Americaâ€™s role as a superpower and foreign policy initiatives. His frank talk about the critical issue of Israel as it relates to the Palestinian question is exemplified in his book Palestine: Peace Not Apartheid. Carter has also been at the forefront of the need for election oversight in any democracy, including the U.S. and beyond, via his Atlanta-based The Carter Center. 6.Â Randall Robinson is the founder of TransAfrica Forum. He has been one of the singular voices and critiques of American foreign policy at the height of apartheid in South Africa, the overthrow of Jean Bertrand-Aristide in Haiti, and the economic policies that thwarted the growth of economies in the Caribbean. Robinsonâ€™ s 2001 book The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks brought the question of reparations to African Americans for slavery to the fore of national discussion. 5. Cynthia McKinney is a former six-term member of Congress from Georgia. She was the 2008 presidential candidate for the Green Party. McKinney garnered national attention as a legislator for her outspoken views on the war in Iraq, 9/11, military appropriations and the Bush administrationâ€™s reaction to Hurricane Katrina, which left thousands of people homeless. Likewise, as legislators more and more seem focused on issues beyond traditional civil rights concerns, Maxine Waters, (who voted against the Iraq War Resolution), former Senator Russ Feingold (the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act). John ConyersÂ (who recently proposed legislation against religious intolerance against Muslims) and Ohioâ€™s Dennis Kucinich and former Representative from Florida Alan Grayson are a handful of national lawmakers who remain on the right side of the issues. 4. Craig Watkins/ Innocence Project /Human Rights Watch. One of the major issues civil rights issues of our time is the incarceration of disproportionate numbers of Black and Latino men (over 1 million of the current 2 million plus populating Americaâ€™s prisons). The InnocenceÂ Project , co-founded by Attorney Peter Neufeld and Attorney Barry Scheck of â€œTrial of the Century Fame,â€ has been at the forefront of demanding DNA evidence be used to exonerate those wrongfully imprisoned. Dallas County District Attorney Craig Watkins, the only African American DA in the state of Texas was elected in 2007. Since then heâ€™s partnered with the Innocence Project to overturn over 20 wrongful convictions. Alongside The Innocence Project, Human Rights Watch has brought necessary attention to U.S. policy regarding disproportionate targeting of Black men for long prison sentences. Its 2008 report, â€œTargeting Blacks,â€ documents racial disparities among drug offenders sent to prison. 3. Jena Six. For those nostalgic about the civil rights era mass mobilizations, the community wave of resistance to the Jena Six trial in Jena, Louisiana was notable.Â In 2007, famed civil rights leaders, Rev. Al Sharpton, and Rev. Jesse Jackson, led an estimated 50,000 people who came from all over the nation to protest inequality in the criminal system in Louisiana. Six black teenagers called the â€œJena Sixâ€ were charged with attempted second-degree murder for beating a white classmate at Jena High School in 2006. The charge highlighted the acute racism in the justice system.Â Days before the protest march in Jena, the charges against the teenagers were dropped. 2. Rev. Al Sharpton , founder of the National Action Network , has evolved into sharing a role once dominated solely by Jesse Jackson, that of national civil rights spokesperson. In 2004, he borrowed from Jesse Jacksonâ€™s playbook of 1984 and 1988, when he ran unsuccessfully as a Democratic for president. Has been outspoken on issue of police brutality, and in 2008 led a series of protests in New York City in response to the acquittal of officers in the police shooting death of Sean Bell. In 2010 his National Action Network teamed up with the NAACP to lead the Reclaim the Dream March on the 47th anniversary of the March on Washington. In 2001 he was jailed for his participation in protests of US military bombing exercises on Puerto Rican island of Vieques. In 2000 he organized the Redeem the Dream March on the anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington to protest police brutality, drawing an estimated crowd of 100,000. 1. Barack Obama. The election of Barack Obama represents in some ways the culmination of the civil rights dream, described by Dr. Martin Luther Kingâ€™s 1963 March on Washington â€œI Have a Dreamâ€ speech. Can Black people be embraced for the content of their character rather than the color of their skin? Obamaâ€™s success at securing the highest office in the land signaled a significant if not a definitive â€œyes,â€ an idea embraced by both the left (Rep. James Clyburn) and the right (Bill Bennett). Forty-three percent of white Americans voted for Obama (not quite a majority). As president, Obamaâ€™s positions on jobs, healthcare, womenâ€™s rights, education, etc., all lean into a civil rights agenda. But his tendency to cave in to a moneyed elite concerns leaves his critics unconvinced. RELATED: Civil Rights Leader Benjamin Hooks to be buried in Memphis Black leaders are furious over Glenn Beckâ€™s MLK rally Check out our galle ry â€¦