There are a lot of reasons for Central Brooklynites to not get involved in the Occupy Wall Street protest that has been building over the past few weeks: There’s a frustrating lack of specific goals; it’s a alienating when most of the occupiers are a little whiter and more hippie-like than the average Central Brooklynite; economic inequality is hardly a new concept for most of us; and tell me again why I should volunteer to sleep on a park bench?
But that’s precisely why we should support them. Because OWS protestors are willing to put their bodies on the line, mix it up with the police, and potentially leave room for their demands to be shaped by the very communities that have been hit hardest by the recession and are most justified in being fed up with Wall Street shenanigans. As New York City’s ground zero for the kind of predatory practices that exemplified corporate criminality, we in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights and the surrounding area need to recognize that, whether they know it or not, the Occupy Wall Street protestors are there for us.
OWS is integrally tied to Central Brooklyn’s economic justice legacy. In just the last twenty years alone, for instance, a generation of advocates have been writing about and fighting against Wall Street’s abuse of Central Brooklynites and other communities. Many of us started as anti-discrimination crusaders who fought bank redlining. Then, when financial institutions caught on to how much money could be made on the backs of low-income and working class people, we launched a struggle against subprime mortgage lending, tax refund loans, rent-to-own scams and other nefarious practices concentrated in neighborhoods of color.
More specifically, as early as 2006, when I worked for the Neighborhood Economic Development Advocacy Project and then the Drum Major Institute for Public Policy, I was just one of many in the economic justice field who warned about the impending mortgage crisis and the financial meltdown. We met with countless bankers, federal and New York State bank regulators, members of Congress, and local elected officials. We documented and complained about dangerous bank consolidations, the erosion of fair banking standards and enforcement, exotic loan products, deceptive marketing, vicious debt collection practices, and unconscionable Wall Street bonuses. Arguably, no New York community was targeted by this activity more than Central Brooklyn.
And as the economy tanked, we had to sit and watch these band of marauders get rewarded for their actions with our bailout tax dollars, while homeowners in foreclosure and in need of relief were treated to lectures on financial responsibility and the need to protect “job creators.”
If we in Central Brooklyn can’t line up with the Occupy Wall Street protestors to put a collective, correctional foot up the ass of America’s unequal, unscrupulous, and often times unholy financial services industry and that of its political enablers, then we will have failed generations of civil rights protestors and champions who came before us.
We can start getting involved today. At 4:30 p.m. there’s a march starting at The African Burial Grounds on Duane and Center St. and marching to Zuccotti Park/Liberty Square. Union leaders and progressive forces from across the city will be part of it. So should Central Brooklyn.