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Occupy the Dream

Guest Columnist | , Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr. | 12/22/2011, 5:45 p.m.

The issue of income inequality in the United States demands our attention and social action. In particular in the African-American community, the economic inequities are so real and institutionalized; we are more and more aware of how the devastating impact of income inequality continues cause a downward spiral of the quality of life African-Americans and others who are entrapped in the deep mire of poverty, pain and hopelessness. The dream of The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is just as relevant today as we move into 2012 as it was back in 1963 at the March on Washington.

Dr. King's dream was the American dream of freedom, justice and equality for all. Yet, we all should be reminded that by the beginning of 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was very concerned and focused on the questions of poverty and systemic economic injustice. The Civil Rights Movement, with the historic coalition between the Black church, organized labor, liberal whites, Latinos, students and peace activists, and many others from a diversity of organizations, had reached a transformative stage in its evolution. The time had come to expose and challenge the diabolic connection between racial injustice and economic inequity.

The Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) under Dr. King's leadership boldly called for a "Poor People's Campaign" to plan a massive "occupation" of Washington, DC in 1968 to challenge the prevailing and pervasive stranglehold of economic injustice not only for Black people, for all of "God's children." Rev. Andrew Young, at that time, was one of Dr. King's most trusted assistants. With respect to the call for the Poor People's Campaign, Young stated, "We intended to arouse the conscience of the nation around the issues of poverty as we had challenged the nation to reject segregation. We hoped the process of training and mobilization would empower poor people in a new social movement that transcended race."

Today, in just a few months time since their initial demonstrations, the Occupy Wall Street movement has been successful in staging major non-violent civil disobedient protests from New York City to Los Angeles and throughout the United States around the issues of income inequality and economic injustice. But beyond the growing number and size of the Occupy Wall Street protests, their greatest accomplishment thus far has been the raising of awareness on a national level about the contradictions of present-day income inequities and injustice.

That is why I am so grateful for the vision and responsible outreach of Russell Simmons, Rev. Dr. Jamal Bryant, Zach McDaniels, Bishop John R. Bryant, Rev. Dr. Carroll A. Baltimore, Sr., and many other Black clergy leaders from across America who have affirmed, "Occupy the Dream" as ecumenical coalition of church leaders who are joining with the Occupy Wall Street movement to push for economic justice for all in the legacy of the dream of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We are part of the 99 percent who are challenging the one percent who increasingly control the wealth and future prosperity of the nation.

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