What if Nicki Minaj, T.I., Lil Wayne, Rick Ross and other popular rappers descended on Occupy Wall Street? What would that mean for their young listeners who may very well be clueless around a struggle/protest that will undoubtedly impact their future?
Noted author Nick Chiles explains what Occupy Wall Street really means and the positive impact hip hop can have on this movement.
As the Occupy Wall Street protests grow and strengthen and evolve, media observers and pundits have been pressuring protesters to create a list of demands, a slate of requests, a platform… something. In other words: Tell Us What You Want. But that misses the point. Anyone who has passed through childhood and adolescence instinctively understands the power of what the protests have created. It is something black people understand all too well. It’s about having back.
When you are going to step out there and do something bold, you learn over time that you better make sure somebody has your back. Otherwise, the consequences could be ugly. You weren’t likely to confront that dude who disrespected you on the playground or in the club unless you had your boys with you, just as it’s a lot easier to stand up to water hoses and snapping dogs and billy-club wielding cops if you have a thousand people standing behind you. MLK had back. Gandhi had back. Mandela had back. Modern-day American politics is all about having back.
The Republicans who swept into Congress last year have been emboldened to oppose everything President Obama proposes because they believe the Tea Party has their back. What’s happening now on Wall Street and across the nation (indeed, the globe) is political leaders are being forcefully shown that if they make moves to begin addressing income inequality, to help the poor and middle class, to force businesses to use their vast profits to start hiring, there are legions of people out there who will have their backs. They are not about making demands; their vocal presence is about giving politicians courage. About letting the politicians know that Yes, we realize you are overly concerned about keeping your job–so if you demonstrate that you care about us, we will show that we care about you. We will have your back.
One of the reasons President Obama has run into so much difficulty with his base is because he has given us the subtle impression over the last few years that when the rubber meets the road the president may not have our back. In the eyes of many, he was just a little too quick to abandon the public option in the healthcare debate. He was just a little too quick to back off the repeal of the Bush tax cuts during the debt ceiling fight. He was just a little too quick to let the greedy Wall Street boys get away with creating a global economic collapse without facing any kind of prosecution or penalty. So as he looks around and wonders why his support seems to have withered, it’s because of a feeling that he might be a little too willing to sell us out for political expediency.
My hope now is that black people, as the most conspicuous victims of the nation’s income inequality, stop watching from the sidelines and become more involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests, which are currently far too white. It’s beginning to happen, with thinkers like Cornel West joining the fray and groups like Occupy the Hood trying to pull in more black folks. But wouldn’t it be great if the athletes, entertainers and rappers that we hold in such high esteem could also become more prominently involved? To their credit, Kanye West and Russell Simmons stopped by the New York City protest last Monday, but that’s not nearly enough. Imagine how powerful the message would be to young African Americans about the importance of the anti Wall Street movement if a contingent of rappers, from Rick Ross to T.I., Lil Wayne to Nicki Minaj, showed up en masse with picket signs and paparazzi.