Belafonte Supports Occupy Wall Street
The singer and activist points out the parallels to the civil rights movement.
TR: How does it look like Occupy Wall Street is doing?
HB: I think they're doing quite well, but I think they also have things coming at them that nobody ever had coming at them before.
TR: What are the big differences you see between the civil rights movement of the 1950s and '60s that you were so heavily involved in and what's going on now?
HB: I think that at the moment there is a dichotomy here. Most of what the Occupy Wall Street movement is about appears to be a group that has become very unhappy with their middle-class existence, as one of the young people in the movement itself, one of its organizers, said. All right, so now we say to the poor, "We have just now been kicked out by the rich. Can you now let us in?" And then the poor looks at them and says, "Well, where were you when we were kicked out?" And then the question is, "Where are you going now that has relevance to what we've been experiencing for these centuries or these decades?"
It's an interesting crossroads because most of this current manifestation appears to be a class interest, but if you talk to the young people engaged in it, they've gone beyond that. But a lot of black people and a lot of people from the Latin community still think that, well, you know, this is like their thing -- now they're hurting, so now they need us.
Interestingly enough, there have been no delineations within the Wall Street Occupation movement. It hasn't said, "Bring us your black, bring us your Latino, bring us your tired, bring us your poor." It just says, "Here we are. We're unhappy, and all people who are unhappy can join us and let's see where we go."
TR: I wrote something for The Root about how at the start of the movement, there were not as many blacks involved with Occupy Wall Street. While that has changed, do you see a specific place for blacks, or something holding them back from joining in?
HB: It is interesting to note that the movement as it is now revealing itself was stimulated by things that people of color did in a very faraway place called North Africa, and I do think that there is still a lot to be heard from the traditionally disenfranchised communities. I think there will come a time when black people will see in this kind of nonviolent protest that you can also get out here and stop traffic or stop business. These kids haven't stopped traffic yet; as a matter of fact, they are far and away [from] a place where it really interrupts the daily life of people, as these things should be doing.
Dr. King once said that unless you make those who are comfortable with your oppression uncomfortable, [the] character of the oppression will never be changed, and I think that's true. I think the black community and others may see in this manifestation things that they may be able to do. Not just here -- because it did start in Tunisia, it did start in Cairo, and now it's having these effects on a lot of other places where there are ostensibly people of color.
Julie Walker is a freelance journalist based in New York who has been covering Occupy Wall Street.