Cornel West on Occupy Wall Street: It’s the Makings of a U.S. Autumn Responding to the Arab Spring
Cornel West, Democracy Now, Sept. 29, 2011
“It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We’re talking about a democratic awakening,” said Dr. Cornel West when he spoke with Democracy Now! host Amy Goodman during a visit Tuesday night to the Occupy Wall Street encampment. Some critics have expressed frustration at the protest’s lack of a clear and unified message. But the Princeton University professor emphasized that “you’re talking about raising political consciousness so it spills over all parts of the country, so people can begin to see what’s going on through a set of different lens, and then you begin to highlight what the more detailed demands would be.
Because in the end we’re really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution: A transfer of power from oligarchs to everyday people of all colors. And that is a step by step process.” Dr. West also called on President Obama to apologize for calling on members of the Congressional Black Caucus to “stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying” when unemployment among African Americans has reached record highs and two of five Black children live in poverty. This video features Amy Goodman’s interview with Dr. West, along with his address to Occupy Wall Street protesters.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what do you say to people about what’s happening with Occupy Wall Street, and what you feel, talking to people here, are the key issues here?
CORNEL WEST: Well, I think we’ve got to keep the momentum going because it’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands. We’re talking about a democratic awakening. We’re talking about raising political consciousness, so it spills over; all parts of the country so people can begin to see what’s going on through a different set of lens. And then you begin to highlight what the more detailed demands would be, because in the end we’re really talking about what Martin King would call a revolution; a transfer of power from oligarchs to every day people of all colors, and that is a step-by-step process. It’s a democratic process, it’s a non-violent process, but it is a revolution, because these oligarchs have been transferring wealth from poor and working people at a very intense rate in the last 30 years, and getting away with it, and then still smiling in our faces and telling us it’s our fault. That’s a lie, and this beautiful group is a testimony to that being a lie. When you get the makings of a U.S. autumn responding to the Arab Spring, and is growing and growing—-I hope it spills over to San Francisco and Chicago and Miami and Phoenix, Arizona, with our brown brothers and sisters, hits our poor white brothers and sisters in Appalachia—-so. it begins to coalesce. And I tell you, it is sublime to see all the different colors, all the different genders, all the different sexual orientations and different cultures, all together here in Liberty Plaza; there’s no doubt about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Does it surprise you, what you’re seeing right now?
CORNEL WEST: Well, not really. I knew there would be some moral outrage as a two party system begins to decay, and the mean-spiritedness of the Republicans moving more toward reactionary and quasi-fascist politics and the relative spinelessness of the Democratic Party, tied to oligarchs as well, but centrists, trying to hold off against the viscous right-wing politics of the Republican Party, but refusing to, in any way be progressive. And you heard broth Barack’s speech to the Black Caucus the other day. March with me, condescending, insulting—-
AMY GOODMAN: Take off your bedroom slippers.
CORNEL WEST: Disrespecting, stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying. I tell my brother; he got to understand the genius about Marley. He called his group the Wailers, not the whiners. The Wailers were persons who cry for help but against the context of catastrophe. When Wall Street cried out for help, they got billions of dollars. Working people, poor people are crying for help. Whining is a cry of self pity, of a sentimental disposition. That’s not what’s happening in poor America. That’s not what’s happening in working class America and that’s, certainly, not what’s happening in black America. It’s high unemployment rates, two out of five black kids in poverty, that’s not whining, that’s not complaining, that’s legitimate critiques and legitimate grievances out of a genuine grief. So that I ask the president to apologize. He needs to ask for forgiveness. You don’t talk to people that way; I don’t care what color they are when they’re suffering, not at all, you see. But, most importantly, here, people are straightening their backs up.