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Cornel West on Occupy Wall Street: It’s the Makings of a U.S. Autumn Responding to the Arab Spring

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"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 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 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?

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. 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 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 everyday 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 it’s 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—it’s 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 the 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 a Democratic Party, tied to oligarchs, as well, but centrist in 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 Brother Barack’s speech to the Black Caucus the other day.

AMY GOODMAN: "March with me."

CORNEL WEST: Offensive, condescending, insulting.

AMY GOODMAN: "Take off your bedroom slippers."

CORNEL WEST: Disrespecting. "Stop complaining, stop grumbling, stop crying." I tell my brother, you got to understand the genius of Bob Marley. He called his group the Wailers, not the Whiners. The Wailers were persons who cry for help against the context of catastrophe. When Wall Street cried out for help, they got billions of dollars. Working people, working, 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 certainly is not what’s happening in black America. It’s high unemployment rates. Two out of five of 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.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Mic check. Mic check. Mic check. We are going to be starting our general assembly. We would like to start with some words from Cornel West.

CORNEL WEST: There is a sweet spirit in this place. I hope you can feel the love and inspiration of those Sly Stone called "everyday people" who take a stand with great courage and compassion, because we oppose the greed of Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who squeeze the democratic juices out of this country and other places around the world.

I am so blessed to be here. You got me spiritually breakdancing on the way here, because when you bring folk together of all colors and all cultures and all genders and all sexual orientations, the elites will tremble in their boots. Yeah!

And we will send a message that this is the U.S. fall responding to the Arab Spring. It is going to hit Chicago and Los Angeles and Phoenix, Arizona, and A-Town itself, moving on to Detroit. We gonna hit Appalachia. We gonna hit the reservations with our red brothers and sisters. And Martin Luther King, Jr., will smile from the grave and say we moving step by step for what he called a revolution. And don’t be afraid to say "revolution," because we want a transfer of power from the oligarchs to ordinary citizens, beginning with the poor children of all colors and the orphans and the widows and the elderly and the working folk, that we connect the prison-industrial complex with the military-industrial complex, with the Wall Street-oligarchy complex and the corporate media multiplex.

So I want to thank you, and it’s a blessing to be a small part of this magnificent gathering. This is the general assembly consecrated by your witness and your body and your mind. Yeah! God bless you! God bless you! God bless you!


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