Veterans of America’s 20th Century civil rights movement will enter the 21st Century Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, Oakland, San Francisco and Los Angeles on Sunday, November 20.
Known as the “Council of Elders,” they will step inside the nationwide encampments to symbolically share the torch of hope and justice and engage the Occupiers in dialogue about defining movements of the past. “We want to contribute to this intergenerational movement,” says Dr. Vincent Harding, activist and writer in the civil rights movement. “We are thankful for the efforts of Occupy Wall Street to unite the 99% and bring the many gifts and great energy of millions into effective action to transform our nation.”
The Council of Elders is an independent group of leaders from the farm workers, sanctuary and human rights movements that shook the nation’s conscience with public protests over the past 50 years. “We see Occupy Wall Street as a continuation, a deepening and expansion of the determination of the diverse peoples of our nation to transform our country into a more democratic, equitable, just, and compassionate society,” excerpt from the statement of solidarity by the Council of Elders to be read at each of the Occupy encampments.
By bringing their voices to the Occupy Wall Street movement, the elders are addressing a litany of social grievances, including poverty, mass incarceration, and what they call a culture of war and violence. Dolores Huerta, activist with Cesar Chavez and the farm-workers movement, believes today’s conditions create bitter divisions among peoples across the United States and throughout the world. “We applaud the miraculous extent to which the Occupy initiative around the nation has been non-violent and democratic, especially in light of the weight of the systematic violence under which the great majority of people are forced to live,” says Rev. James Lawson, leading theoretician, tactician and theologian of the civil rights movement.
The economic crisis which sparked the Occupy Wall Street movement also motivated the veteran protesters. They cite soaring unemployment rates, home foreclosures, and inadequate health care as issues that require public outcries.
The Council of Elders promotes compassion and non-violent action as the highest values to reverse trends that put profits ahead of people in its quest to contribute to the much-needed movement for a more just society and a more peaceful world.
The council members are urging elders from around the nation to join the Occupy Wall Street movement.
*Elder Council Members include:
REV. JAMES LAWSON, JR. served 14 months in prison as a conscientious objector to the Korean War draft in 1951. After studying Gandhi’s principles of civil disobedience in India, he went on to train the Freedom Riders and other future leaders of the Civil Rights Movement as director of the Congress for Racial Equality.
DR. VINCENT G. HARDING. Native New Yorker, theologian, civil rights activist, and author of nine books including Hope and History: Why We Must Share the Story of the Movement. He was an educator and activist in the Southern Freedom Movement and continues to advise churches, schools, prisons and community groups.
REV. PHILLIP LAWSON** is a long-time civil rights leader, Cofounder of California Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights and Black Alliance for Just Immigration, and Director of East Bay Housing Organization.
DOLORES HUERTA. Cofounder of the United Farm Workers with Cesar Chavez, Huerta directed the famous national grape boycott that resulted in the entire California table grape industry signing a contract in 1970. Never deterred from the struggle, she has been arrested 22 times and was beaten by police when protesting George H.W. Bush.
DR. BERNICE JOHNSON REAGON. Singer, author, educator, and Civil Rights Activist in the Freedom Singers organized by the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, Reagon has recorded several albums including Lest We Forget, Vol. 3: Sing for Freedom and written on African American culture and history including We Who Believe In Freedom.
DR. GRACE LEE BOGGS. At 95, Boggs’ life as feminist, activist, and author, collaborating with scholars such as C.L.R. James in the ‘50s, is world renown. She has been an integral part of the Detroit Social Justice Movement since the ‘60s, founding Detroit Summer in 1992, a program aimed at connecting youth education with community struggle.
DR. GWENDOLYN ZOHARAH SIMMONS. Activist in the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee in the ‘60s, Simmons is also a student of Islam and Sufism and was staff for 23 years with American Friends Service Committee. She currently teaches subjects such as Race, Religion, and Rebellion.
MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN. As the first Black woman admitted to the Mississippi Bar, Edelman worked with the NAACP to defend activists in the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964. She went on to found the Children’s Defense Fund and advocate against child poverty.
RABBI ARTHUR WASKOW** has authored many works including “A Call to Resist Illegitimate Authority,” a manifesto supporting military draft resisters. He is an ardent peace activist in the Israel-Palestine conflict and has been awarded by numerous organizations, including the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation.
REV. DR. GEORGE (TINK) TINKER is a prominent American Indian activist, theologian, and author of works such as Spirit and Resistance: Political Theology and American Indian Liberation. He has been a critic of Western intellectualism and economic, political, religious, and social systems.
REV. JOHN FIFE co-founded the Sanctuary Movement, which organized over 500 churches to illegally support refugees fleeing U.S.-supported death squads in the ‘80s, and No More Deaths, a coalition to end border deaths.
REV. MEL WHITE.** After starting his career ghostwriting for homophobic evangelicals such as Jerry Falwell, White struggled to accept his homosexuality and broke with the Christian Right. He has since become an outspoken LGBTQ advocate and author for and minister to the LGBTQ community.
REV. NELSON JOHNSON** is founder of the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro, NC and a longtime advocate for poor people. He led the 1979 anti-Klan march in which neo-Nazis and Klan members, with police collusion, murdered 5 protesters on November 3, 1979, and has been a leader in the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation process, designed to seek truth and reconciliation around those events.
JOYCE HOBSON JOHNSON.** Active in civil rights struggles since the ‘60s, Johnson is Director of the Jubilee Institute of the Beloved Community Center in Greensboro, NC, which provides institutional support, social and political analysis, and training for the broad-based progressive movement. She was also an important figure in the Greensboro Truth and Community Reconciliation efforts.
SISTER JOAN CHITTISTER, O.S.B. is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, where she served as prioress for 12 years. She writes a web column for the National Catholic Reporter, "From Where I Stand" and speaks on women in the church and society, human rights, and peace and justice in the areas of war and poverty and religious life and spirituality.
**As of Nov. 14, these elders have confirmed their attendance at the NYC Intergenerational Day. Other elders may confirm later. Still other elders will be in attendance at similar demonstrations in San Francisco and/or Oakland on 11/20.
(Biographical information compiled by the Education and Research Sub-committee of the #OWS People of Color Working Group/Caucus.)