Occupy Movement and the Economy

Occupy All the Harlems, to Save Ourselves from the Dictatorship of Wall Street

By Glen Ford

Mr. Ford delivered a version of this speech to the founding meeting of Occupy Harlem, October 28, at St. Philips Church in Harlem. —Occupy Wall Street News

Power to the people!

Say it like you mean it, because most of us have not been acting in the spirit of All Power to the People for a very long time.

For decades, we have been acting under the illusion that we could empower Black people by sending Black elected officials to the city council and the state legislature—and finally putting one in the White House—only to find that their philosophy of politics was: All Power To Those Who Already Have Power.

All Power to the Banks, to the Real Estate Developers; All Power to the Plutocrats, and to the Pentagon. That’s what has become of our Black Power, in the hands of our Black elected officials.

All power to a President who uses his power to send $16 trillion dollars to Wall Street—and not just banks on Wall Street—but to banks in France, and Great Britain, and Belgium and Switzerland.

But not a dime to bail out Harlem, and all the Harlems of this country.

There comes a time of awakening. We are now in that time—although some Black folks are not yet awake. Our job is to wake our people up, so that we don’t sleep through this moment.

The young people that began this Occupation Movement less than two months ago are not “us,” but they have done all of us a great service. They have shouted out the name and address of the enemy—the enemy of all humanity. The enemy’s name is Finance Capital, and the address is Wall Street, and that is the truth.

But there are some who try to confuse our folks about this essential truth. They want to obscure the fact that Finance Capital is the greatest danger to everyone on this planet, from those of us sitting right here in this church, to the Black people of Libya who are being hunted down like animals, this very evening, by forces that the U.S. Government has empowered.

Finance Capital—Wall Street—wants to seize and corner every market and every resource in the world, from the land that we stand on here in Harlem, to the oil under the land, in Libya. We need to be focused on that central truth.

We need to stop listening to those who say we shouldn’t be associating with those white Occupation people; that those white kids don’t speak for us.

Well, that’s right. They don’t speak for us; we have to speak for ourselves. Their presence downtown is a challenge to us to speak up against a Wall Street that has done more damage to Black America than to anyone else in the country.

That is our obligation, and we must meet it. We owe that to the ancestors.

In 1847, Frederick Douglass published the first issue of his newspaper, the North Star. Douglass was a star of the mostly white-led Abolition Movement. The white abolitionists already had a newspaper. It was called The Liberator, run by William Lloyd Garrison, who was a friend and often an ally of Frederick Douglass.

Many of the white Abolitionists of the era were upset. Why did Frederick Douglass—who was only 29 years old at the time—think it was necessary to set up his own newspaper?

Douglass answered that question on the masthead of his new paper. He said: “The man who has suffered the wrong is the man to demand the redress—the man who is struck is the man to CRY OUT…!”

It was the slave and his nominally free brothers and sisters who were the primary victims of the slave system. Therefore, they must be first and loudest in CRYING OUT. They needed their own paper, for their own Black Abolitionist Movement.

Frederick Douglass did not split with the white Abolitionists. Instead, he created a center, a focus, for mobilizing free and slave Blacks to speak in their own voices for their own freedom—as defined by themselves. But he remained the closest comrade to every white abolitionist that fought for the cause—or died for it, like John Brown.

If Frederick Douglass were alive today, he would survey the political and economic scene and declare that Black people should be the first to CRY OUT against the rule of Wall Street, the rule of Finance Capital.

The foreclosure crisis was already wiping out Black homeowners by 2005, two years before the problem became general enough to be recognized as a national problem.

We were the first and worst victims of Wall Streets housing crimes, but our leaders did not CRY OUT—certainly not loud enough to make a difference. And because of that, Black household wealth was set back decades, long before the onset of the financial meltdown in the autumn of 2008.

Some of you should remember that candidate Barack Obama took the most pro-Wall Street position of all the Democratic candidates in early 2008. John Edwards called for a mandatory moratorium on home foreclosures. Hillary Clinton wanted a voluntary moratorium. But Barack Obama opposed any moratorium on foreclosures. He said “the markets” ought to work the problem out on their own.

He was working for Wall Street then, and he didn’t even have the job, yet. And he’s been working for them ever since. Just like Bill Clinton worked for Wall Street.

Black people were the FIRST to be STRUCK by Clinton’s policies. His NAFTA Treaty stole what was left of our good manufacturing jobs.

His Welfare Reform fell disproportionately on Black mothers and children.

He imprisoned more of us than any other president.

And when he left the White House, he made sure that the Glass-Steagall Act, which had been in place since the Great Depression, was repealed.

Bill Clinton set the stage for the Great Recession, and for the economic destruction of Black America. But we did not CRY OUT.

When Clinton’s political twin, Barack Obama, entered the White House with the same Clinton Wall Street crew, we did cry—with tears of joy.

Obama couldn’t even wait to get into the White House, before announcing—two weeks before he took the oath of office—that he would be putting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid and all the other programs of the New Deal and the Great Society “on the table” for dismemberment.

But we didn’t CRY OUT.

Instead, we allowed him to do his dance with the Republicans for almost three years, as our communities crumbled around us—or as we were gentrified out of our communities.

And now, some white kids are pointing the finger at Obama’s masters. They’re saying that Wall Street is the problem, that they control the whole political system, including Obama and his White House. Including Charlie Rangel and his fat cat benefactors. Including most of the traditional Black organizations, and the entire Black Misleadership Class. They’re all bought and paid for by Wall Street.

Yet, still there are some of us that say, What are those white kids talking about?

Quite simply, they’re talking about the dictatorship of Wall Street. What are you talking about?

Don’t worry about whether these white kids have our interests in mind. The question is: What do we have in mind. What are we going to do about the power of Wall Street?

What? Vote for Obama?

Obama is not thinking about Black people, because he’s confident he has us in his pocket. What he’s thinking about is how to get a billion campaign dollars from the finance capitalists—the same finance capitalists his government has given at least 16 billion dollars since coming into office. And he’ll get it, because a deal is a deal, and he long ago cut his deal. Black people were never a part of any deal—because we did not CRY OUT.

But it’s way past time for deals. No wheeling and dealing can save this system. The people’s job is to save themselves, and that can only happen through organizing for our economic and political defense.

So, we have decisions to make. We can seize the time, at what may be a momentous point in history—or we can dibble and quibble about what’s going on in other people’s minds downtown in Zuccotti Park.

We have to get our own minds right—and move something!

But, whatever we do—or don’t do—this system is on the way to collapse. The crises come with accelerating frequency and deepening severity.

I like to think of it as an old car. The transmission is gone, the wiring is shot, and the engine is about to throw a rod. We don’t know when this car is going to stop, but it will be sometime soon, and it won’t start up again.

But, it’s worse than that, because this car has a bomb in it. It’s called derivatives.

When the meltdown occurred in September of ’08, there were derivatives hovering over the world economy valued at 600- to 1,000-trillion dollars.

Today, under Obama, with all his bragging about his phony financial reform there are still at least 600-trillion dollars in derivatives looming over us.

They are in the process of imploding. And when they do, we had better be a hundred times more organized than we are now, and armed with a vision of the world that we want to build.

That must be our PREOCCUPATION, from this moment on.

Power to the People!

Glen Ford is Black Agenda Report’s executive editor and can be contacted at

Occupy Wall Street News, November 2, 2011 in Harlem