This week I plan to head to New York City to join scores of American citizens who’ve decided that Wall Street should be confronted for the financial crimes that have been committed against the American people. It is an awkward reunion for me as a Finance Professor, since I have hundreds of former students who’ve gone on to make millions as Wall Street employees. So, perhaps it is because of my intimate understanding of the gospel of finance that I can also see the dangers of creating a society that has come to believe that making money is the trump card that justifies nearly all sins against humanity. Almost like the doctor who can tell when the patient has become addicted to the drug that was originally designed to heal him.
There are a long list of reasons that all of us should be concerned, disappointed and even angry about what Wall Street has done to our country. The real wage of the average American worker has remained stagnant, while the gap between the rich and poor has risen to levels that are unsustainable in nearly any civilized society. We live under the illogical reality that those who caused the financial crisis by taking unnecessary risks were the first ones to be bailed out by politicians who are enslaved by campaign contributions and lobbying groups. Labor unions have been undermined throughout the nation, and while the joblessness problems persist, corporations are sitting on trillions in capital that could be used to hire American workers.
I am honored to be an American when I see that thousands of us have simply taken our country back from those who’ve denied their responsibility to properly regulate the power of capitalism in our society. Free enterprise can be a wonderful thing, but when capitalism is not properly controlled, it can become as deadly as an economic forest fire.
The African American community has every reason to be on the front lines in this battle for our nation’s economic soul. Black unemployment has skyrocketed to levels that haven’t been seen since Michael Jackson released Thriller. Nearly half (40%) of all Black children are living below the poverty line. Black wealth has continued to shrink, as the burst of the real estate bubble left many African Americans either homeless or upside down in their mortgages. Black families have been destroyed by the prison industrial complex, where Wall Street firms earn billions each year from slave labor. Last, but not least, several Wall Street banks deliberately targeted Black and brown communities for predatory loans that put grandma out of the house she lived in since Malcolm X was alive.
Yes, we have reason to be very, very upset. It is in part because my grandmother was one of the people who lost her home due to predatory lending that I plan to join my brothers and sisters (of all races) in their decision to occupy Wall Street. This is our chance to confront the economic bullies who’ve worked to politically castrate nearly every politician in Washington, and also those unpatriotic enough to allow the country to sink into the financial abyss.
I wish I could say that major civil rights organizations would join us in this fight. But I am reminded of the decision by the NAACP to take millions of dollars from Wells Fargo, a bank accused of predatory lending. This is not to say that they won’t join the battle, but it does say that biting the hand that feeds you isn’t exactly the key to economic prosperity. This might be a lesson to all of us that in spite of the fact that we all need money to survive, we must be careful about making ourselves dependent upon a resource that is controlled by the descendants of our historical oppressors.
No matter how you slice it, the Occupy Wall Street movement belongs to the people. By seizing the moment and putting it all on the line, we have an opportunity to help fulfill the long lost dream of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. If Dr. King were alive today, he wouldn’t be asking Washington bureaucrats to give him a multi-million dollar monument funded by corporate America. Instead, he’d be right down on Wall Street with the protesters, demanding justice, freedom and equality for the American people. In fact, if you look into the eyes of those who’ve become inspired to resurrect the spirit of conscientious activism in America, you can see that Dr. King’s spirit is down on Wall Street right now.
Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Finance Professor at Syracuse University and author of the book, “Black American Money: How Black Power can Thrive in a Capitalist Society.” To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.