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Occupy Wall Street should be a moral, not political, movement

By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor
October 15, 2011 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Roland Martin: Saying protesters are in lockstep with Democrats is intellectual dishonesty
  • Candidates of both political parties should peaking to their desires, Martin says
  • Martin: The civil rights movement wasn't about electing candidates; neither is this one

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- Whenever there is an uprising among the people of this country in the form of protests and organized dissent, especially with a presidential election 13 months away, the discussion inevitably shifts to what it will mean for one of the nation's two political parties.

No matter how hard they've tried to suggest that they aren't partisan, the tea party is nothing more than a sub-group of the Republican Party. If there were a healthy number of tea party Democrats, then that would be true. But there isn't, so it's nonsensical to waste time not calling the tea party Republicans exactly what they are: tea party Republicans. From Day One the movement aligned itself with the GOP, and that is true today.

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

Yet the attempt by Fox News, conservative radio show hosts and the GOP presidential candidates to associate Occupy Wall Street protesters with the image of far-left radical hippies being in lockstep with the Democratic Party is wrong, shameful and pure intellectual dishonesty.

Being concerned about the nation's well-being, and the depths to which the big-monied interests are driving the nation's policies is not a partisan question; it is a moral one.

GOP presidential candidate wants to cheapen the discussion by suggesting Occupy Wall Street protesters hate capitalism. I sense they despise a nation that has come to be one in which Fortune 500 companies and big banks run ads talking about how great America is, but work hard to destroy America by shipping jobs overseas and engaging in shameful business practices that require the taxpayer to bail them out.

It's really simple, and insanely stupid, to examine the real anger of Occupy Wall Street as a bunch of young folks with nothing to do. If we recall March 2009 when the AIG bonuses came to light, every corner of this nation was angry with what we heard. Political ideology didn't matter. It was seen as a matter of right and wrong.

That's why the various leaders of Occupy Wall Street, no matter how local and decentralized, must look at their effort as not being a galvanizing force to put one party into office. Instead, it should be about candidates of both political parties, as well as independents, speaking to their needs and desires.

This tea party vs. Occupy Wall Street construct is a ridiculous one. From a media perspective, it's a cheap and easy narrative that, in the end, doesn't tell the full story.

As someone who is more enamored with studying the intricacies of the civil rights movement rather than memorizing key speeches of its leaders, what was clear from Day One was that it wasn't about getting a Democrat or Republican elected. It was always about ensuring full freedom and equality for African-Americans who were denied their rights as citizens.

At different points, Republicans and Democrats were allies of the civil rights movement, while at the same time some Republicans and Democrats were virulent opponents. It wasn't about party for civil rights leaders; it was about principle.

And that is exactly where we sit today. As I listen to the Occupy Wall Street protesters and watch as their protest spread across the country, similar to the lunch counter sit-ins that spread like wildfire across the South in 1960, the goals and ideals sound eerily familiar. While in the 1960s it was about race, the civil rights battlefront today is about class. It is about the widening gap between the rich and poor, and how the middle class is being pushed down to the poor, rather than being helped upward.

This struggle is the moral dilemma the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. frequently discussed. If folks would stop focusing on the last part of his "I Have A Dream" speech and read all of what he said at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom on Aug. 28, 1963, they would understand that.

So what if Russell Simmons, Kayne West and other celebrities have millions and are showing support for Occupy Wall Street? When Harry Belafonte, Dick Gregory, Sidney Poitier, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter, Paul and Mary, Charlton Heston, Mahalia Jackson and other celebrities attended the 1963 March, no one said how dare those individuals with big bank accounts stood in solidarity with those with no bank accounts. When it comes to fairness, your values matter more than your tax bracket.

If labor unions and politicians want to stand in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, that is a good thing. If individuals who work on or used to work on Wall Street want to show their support for the need to systemic changes to this system, more power to them. If self-identified Democrats and Republicans want to show their moral outrage, praise God.

Moral movements aren't supposed to be poisoned by politics. When they do, that's when their legitimacy is lost. If politicians want to use their voices in support, they should. But at no time should Occupy Wall Street be about getting one party elected to local, county, state and national office.

The time has come for men and women of conscience in this nation to stand up. It's vital that we elected individuals, regardless of party, who choose not to be an incestuous relationship with the rich in this country who are only about fattening their bottom lines while ignoring the plight of others.

As Dr. King said: "An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity."

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of Roland S. Martin.

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