OWS Prepares to Occupy Martin Luther King Jr. Day


Between being kicked out of Zuccotti Park, barred from touching the Wall Street Bull statue, and arrested for lying down, it isn't hard to see why the protesters of Occupy Wall Street have had a hard time finding their feet in 2012. But on Sunday and Monday, the movement will take to the streets again to honor one of America's most famous protesters: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The events will begin with a Sunday night vigil at New York's Riverside Church, to be followed the next day by a baker's dozen protests across the nation against the Federal Reserve Bank.

For those who wonder how OWS -- which has largely focused on economic inequality -- can find a legitimate link between its causes and those of the slain civil rights leader, OWS press representative Kanene Holder makes the connection clearly.

While King is best known for his efforts to curb racism, she explains, his social justice efforts were actually far more extensive. "Everyone is familiar with Rev. King's 'I Have a Dream Speech,' " Holder notes, "But most people aren't aware of how much he embodied an anti-war and anti-poverty stance, as well as an anti-racism stance."

These themes are especially clear in "Beyond Vietnam," a 1967 speech he made at the Riverside Church. Speaking out against an overseas war in another decade, King drew a connection between economic injustice in America and military actions abroad:

We as a nation must undergo a radical revolution of values. We must rapidly begin ... the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.

Later, King offered a terse analysis that crystallizes much of the OWS message: "True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring."

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The Sunday night vigil will feature performances by a host of musicians, including Patti Smith and Steve Earle, as well as speeches by Russell Simmons, Yoko Ono, Norman Siegel and other notables. The following day, OWS plans a march from New York's African Burial Ground to the city's Federal Reserve Bank, which is located mere blocks from Wall Street. The event, called "Occupy the Federal Reserve," will be one of thirteen linked protests taking place in every city that has a Federal Reserve Bank, as well as Los Angeles (which doesn't have a Federal Reserve Bank, but is pretty important anyway).

Asked why OWS has taken aim at the Fed, Holder argues that the institution has become a key driver of economic injustice in America: "The Federal Reserve undermines our democracy. It's filled with bankers who are pushing for a deflated currency that will help inflate their pockets."

But ultimately, she notes, Sunday and Monday's protests will focus on honoring Dr. King's legacy of social engagement -- and making sure that it continues: "We're hoping to help inspire a new generation of activists and visionaries."

Bruce Watson is a senior features writer for DailyFinance. You can reach him by e-mail at bruce.watson@teamaol.com, or follow him on Twitter at@bruce1971.