John Carlos, an Olympic athlete best known for his black power salute during the national anthem during the 1968 Olympics, and Dave Zirin, a sports writer for The Nation magazine, are touring America with their book The John Carlos Story: The Sports Moment That Changed the World. They visited Occupy Chicago for a teach-in on Saturday.
I was able to record some of the tail-end of the teach-in when Carlos & Zirin were taking questions from occupiers. Carlos was pulled away to do an interview with a local news network so he is not featured as prominently. But, Zirin had some sharp and insightful comments for the Occupy movement.
Zirin highlighted how Carlos’ speaking out at Occupy Wall Street has already had an impact on sports athletes. He got a phone call from Etan Thomas, who plays for the Atlanta Hawks, after Carlos spoke. Thomas said, wow, if someone from ’68 is stepping up how can we today not step up? And, he wrote up a statement that included something Carlos has said: “I’m here for you. Why? Because I am you. Because of what we fought for 43 years ago has not been won.” The statement also showed how he was drawing inspiration from the history of resistance by sports athletes.
“That doesn’t happen if John doesn’t step up at Occupy [Wall Street],” said Zirin.
A young woman in the movement asked what could be done to bring marginalized voices to the front of the struggle. Zirin gave a profound answer:
There is a real argument in the Occupy struggle about exactly what you just raised. I’m from DC and at Occupy DC there was a 200 person teach-in. A professor by the name of Lawrence Lessig stood up at this teach-in and he said we should not be talking about racial issues, we should not be talking about sexism, we should not be talking about LGBT issues. Instead, we need to link arms with people in the Tea Party who have economic concerns and then we’ll be the widest possible power. Because you’re booing I see you agree with me that that is absolute horse shit. One struggle, one fight. And I think it’s a political argument that isn’t just about teach-ins but it’s about when you’re marching to Grant Park and you’re talking to the person you’re linking arms and you’re thinking the way we broaden the struggle is by bringing in more struggle.
Zirin and Carlos are now taking their book from occupation to occupation. They understand the value of taking The John Carlos Story to occupations. They were planning on doing this kind of tour before Occupy Wall Street, as they had been heavily involved in trying to save Troy Davis from being legally lynched.
Zirin concludes, “These are very real struggles and the Occupy movement has a vested interest in all of them because it’s about human justice for all of us because if we don’t have that then we don’t have it for any of us.” So far, that has been the strength of the Occupy movement.
Each person involved appears to take seriously the Martin Luther King Jr. quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” They have stepped up to oppose the death penalty when Georgia killed Troy Davis. They have joined forces with anti-police brutality groups to bring attention to the NYPD and other police forces as they, too, face the kind of repression that happens on a regular basis in communities of color. And, they have mobilized the 99% in a fight back against a top 1% that has been waging class war against the 99%.
The more the movement gives voice to struggles, the more it will grow and the more dynamic it will be.
Here is John Carlos at Occupy Madison. This is probably similar to what he said during the teach-in at Occupy Chicago (which I unfortunately missed):
I’m here with you because I am you. Forty-three years ago last Sunday I stood on a podium based on the same issues that you guys are out here facing right now…
…The same fight that I had forty-three years ago you all have this fight today. It’s a winnable fight because many people walk by you when you’re out here in your tents or out in Washington, DC, or in New York occupying Wall Street—Many every day working people stop ten minutes, fifteen minutes, twenty minutes and what they are starting to realize when they stop and watch you and look at you they realize that they are in the same boat as you.
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