Critical Race Theory & Occupy Wall Street

Nick J. Sciullo

From:  Nick J. Sciullo, Social Justice in Turbulent Times: Critical Race Theory & Occupy Wall Street, 69 National Lawyers Guild Review 225 (Winter 2012) (58 Footnotes)


      These are precarious times--a moment that demands our full attention as critical scholars, practitioners, activists, and students. While some political commentators say that leftist criticism and direct action are steadily becoming more common and visible, especially as it relates to law, critical thought and action remain strongly condemned by an ever conservative American public. We do not have to look any further than the nightly news where skepticism about and anxiety of leftist “radicals” is often welcomed, which then infiltrates discussions with our friends, family, and colleagues.

      Occupy Wall Street and other Occupy movements have coalesced around feelings of powerlessness, contempt, and anger in the face of corporate violence--a violence that is all too real for not only wage laborers and the working poor, but also for the growing numbers of middle class workers. Indeed, as the National Lawyers Guild's past President David Gespass has written:

       This is the season to support the growing resistance to the rule of monopoly capital. It is not for us to decide the form that resistance should take, nor to dictate the direction it will go. Our obligation is to give that resistance room to breathe, expand and grow.

      But this must be tempered by the solemn words of French psychoanalyst, Elisabeth Roudinesco, who writes:

       We are certainly living in strange times. The commemoration of great events, great men, great intellectual achievements, and great virtues never stops ... And yet never have revisionist attacks on the foundations of every discipline, every doctrine, every emancipatory adventure enjoyed such prestige. Feminism, socialism, and psychoanalysis are violently rejected, and Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche are pronounced dead, along with every critique of the norm.

      These strange times feel strange for most of us on the left, wherever we may fall on this constantly shifting terrain. Our success may seem more apparent or even more frequent, but the path is long and the struggle hard.

      For people of color, however, there are fewer signs of success than in mainstream leftist battles. Today, people of color are fighting on new fronts of institutionalized racism: mass incarceration, so-called colorblindness, and post-racialism. These conditions add to the already near-lethal weight of slavery and colonialist histories, re-segregation, job discrimination, and broken education systems. The picture is bleak.

      In this brief article, I want to address the unique moment in which progressive movements find themselves, as well as the ways in which the progressive community can more effectively engage a broader range of people, including communities of color and white working-class communities. It is finally time for progressives to move beyond litigation reformist strategies and embrace leftist activism on all fronts. I argue that the Occupy movements represent a positive politics of struggle from which activists can learn. Specifically, they provide an opportunity for leftists to come to grips with, and intentionally correct, the mistreatment of people of color in anti-capitalist leftist struggle.

      Social justice in turbulent times? Yes. A future of possibility? Absolutely.

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