I will be the first to admit that the OWS protestors have a point, at least as far as I can tell. Americans of all colors and political orientations are disgusted with crony capitalism, with the fact that taxpayer money, through government bailouts, found its way into generous bonuses for wealthy executives. I also count myself among the many Americans who are distressed by stark income inequalities, although I realize that these numbers are more complicated than statistics alone reveal. So if I thought the OWS protestors were really utilizing the Civil Rights Movement’s tactics to remedy corrupt government-business relationship and the wealth gap, I’d be wishing them the best of luck.
But that is not what I see at all in the OWS movement. The spirit of anarchy concerns me the most and an unbridled sense of entitlement. As the weeks have worn on, the protestors’ disregard for the law and the wellbeing of those their activities affect has become obvious. Associated Press and ABC News reports tell of rapes at the encampments, including a fourteen-year-old at OWS Dallas. The number of arrests for drunkenness, public urination and defecation and lewd behavior are too many to recount here. Protestors fought with police in Zuccotti Park for hours before finally being forced to evacuate and on their way out threatened school children as young as four. They left behind acres of trash and the stench of human waste.
Now let’s think back to the 1963 March on Washington which gathered 250,000 protestors—an almost unprecedented number for the time. They marched down Constitution and Independence avenues beginning at 11:00 AM and concluded the day by listening to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The I Have a Dream speech ended at 4:20 PM, ten minutes ahead of schedule. The protestors were completely peaceful and orderly, and no police intervention was necessary.
Today’s generation may forget that the nation’s sympathies were by no means galvanized on the side of the protestors in 1963. Organizers of the March knew that if behavior at their event was anything short of exemplary, their cause would be irrevocably damaged. Their goal was to persuade others, not merely vent their emotions publicly. It is impossible to imagine any of them contributing to the filth and depravity left behind in Zuccotti Park by OWS.
Whatever you want to say about the OWS grievances, there is no doubt that most Americans are materially much better off than the average African American was during the Jim Crow era. Yet those African Americans that marched on Washington, along with all who stood in solidarity, conducted themselves with dignity and grace. Like many other blacks that grew up during the Civil Rights era, I was taught that my conduct represented my entire race to the world. I knew that I had to study harder, work harder and live “above reproach” in order to gain acceptance in a white-dominated world. And my parents accepted no excuses for doing anything less. This may or may not have been “fair,” but it was an attitude that propelled me to success.
And what about the “99 percent” for whom OWS claims to be fighting? I’ll make it easier: let’s look at the bottom 15 percent: those the US Census deems “poor.” According to a detailed study of US Census data released by the Heritage Foundation in September of this year, the majority of poor Americans have air conditioning, cable TV, a car, and multiple color televisions. At least half have computers and one-third have wide-screen plasma TVs. Conversely, in 1960, only 12 percent of homes were air-conditioned and many homes lacked conveniences we take for granted like running water and refrigerators.
This progress, in spite of the current economy, is great news. It also provides a bit of perspective on what we should be fighting for. I believe our nation still has much ground to cover when it comes to lifting the poor out of poverty and closing the gap between many minority groups and the rest of society. However the OWS protestors have done nothing to win me to their cause. If they were serious, they would stop comparing themselves to Civil Rights activists of the past and learn from them instead. If anything, OWS has convinced me that their uncivilized behavior is a large part of what is holding the “99 percent” back.
Bishop Harry Jackson is chairman of the High Impact Leadership Coalition and senior pastor of Hope Christian Church in Beltsville, MD, and co-authored, Personal Faith, Public Policy [FrontLine; March 2008] with Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council.