While I will write something more thoughtful and respectful of the consideration that the Occupy Wall Street Movement deserves (probably as part of my article series in the Huffington Post), given that some HOPE field offices have received calls wanting to know our view, I thought it important to issue a brief public statement for now.
First and foremost, I believe that the OWS movement is as authentic at its core as the movements that made America the great country that she is, and this includes the civil rights movement, the women's sufferage movement, and even the call by average citizens for freedom from Great Britain, or the movement that created this country itself.
Where else in the world, not the least of which the most powerful nation in the world today, can average citizens march against their government, and sometimes even their president (and other powerful interests), and not disappear tomorrow? The fact that these marches and demonstrations exist at all, underscore the greatness of the American experiment. It has been said that "every great marriage is made of constructive friction." This applies to OWS as well.
That said, I have as yet made no attempt to engage the OWS movement personally, because respectfully, I just don't think they need me or Operation HOPE right now, and may not even be ready for the conversation I would like to have. Not just yet.
I am very hopeful that they will indeed get there, but I am reminded by my personal hero and the strategist in Dr. King's civil rights movement, Ambassador Andrew Young, that it took Dr. King's movement 12 long years to reach its zenith. But unlike Dr. King's movement, respectfully, thus far OWS has focused on what they are against, and not what they are for. They have every right to be upset about the greed and the predatory practices that have hijacked some aspects of American capitalism and free enterprise, but as I have said countless times before — there is nothing wrong with free enterprise and capitalism itself. Many of the companies that caused this crisis, and that I rallied against back in a 2005, American Banker Op-Ed that warned of a coming subprime mortgage crisis, are out of business altogether today.
This crisis is not about the failure of free enterprise and capitalism, but rather, the failure of greed. We need to keep the one, and do away with the other.
Even the working class and middle class college and adult core of the OWS movement are conflicted when they call for the end to free enterprise and capitalism itself. Most of them have a mortgage, or had one, or pay rent for an apartment, or have a car note, or credit cards, and want a JOB. In other words, they are participating in the very system they call to abolish.
America is in fact a capitalist democracy, or a democracy rooted in responsible free enterprise and capitalism. The problem is that the prosperity has stopped too far up the ladder, and when the middle class and working class it getting squizzed, something is wrong with the formula.
Our mission must to silver rights and financial dignity for all — or finding ways to make free enterprise and capitalism work for the poor and "the least of these God's children." To make financial dignity, and the tool of financial literacy, the new civil rights issue for a generation.
And so, I support where I hope that OWS is indeed headed next — which is to help America figure out what we are "for," and then to help the nation and her leaders to get there. I will be amongst the first to show up to OWS, Part II.
Onward and with HOPE
John Hope Bryant is a thought leader, founder, chairman and CEO of Operation HOPE and Bryant Group Companies, Inc. Magazine/CEO READ bestselling business author of LOVE LEADERSHIP: The New Way to Lead in a Fear-Based World (Jossey-Bass) the only African-American bestselling business author in America, and a Member of the U.S. President’s Advisory Council on Financial Capability for President Barack Obama. Mr. Bryant is the co-founder of the Gallup-HOPE Index, the only national research poll on youth financial dignity and youth economic energy in the U.S. He is also a co-founder of Global Dignity with HRH Crown Prince Haakon of Norway and Professor Pekka Himanen of Finland. Global Dignity is affiliated with the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the World Economic Forum.