Hip hop pioneer shares vision for Occupy Wall Street

Kam Williams | 12/6/2011, 4:32 p.m.
Russell Simmons is seen here participating in the Occupy Wall Street Movement. He has also been to Boston recently, promoting an amendment to the Constitution, which calls for public financing of elections. Russell Simmons

Russell Simmons was among the handful of celebrities making a daily show of support of Occupy Wall Street (OWS) with a very visible presence on the ground in lower Manhattan and other cities.

But since the police began banning and bulldozing the group’s campsites all across the country, it seems that the activists might have lost some of their momentum.

So, I decided to track down Russell to see whether he thinks OWS was just a flash in the pan or if it will be revived despite the recent crackdown.

Why did you join the Occupy Wall Street Movement?  

Well, I have certainly been one of the people who’s been very vocal about the government’s being more concerned about special interests than the needs of the people who elected the officials.

There’s always been talk about this, and now we have a chance to have a real dialogue. A lot of pundits keep asking, “What do they want?” It’s so clear to me what the protesters’ rap is all about.

They’re occupying Wall Street and carrying picket signs that say things like, “I couldn’t afford a politician, so I made this sign.” You can trace their grievances and discontent back to all the corporate influence which has had a huge impact in terms of all the inequalities that people are suffering from.

If you talk about the prison-industrial complex, I’ve fought against the prison-industrial complex when I called for a repeal of the Rockefeller drug laws. The biggest impediment to get the laws changed was the lobbyists. Whether you’re talking about health care, jobs going overseas or tax reform, you’re always coming up against lobbyists.

Hello! So that issue is critical. And this dialogue is bringing a lot more attention to it.

But are the politicians listening to OWS or to the lobbyists?

The politicians already in office don’t want to change. A few might have it in their hearts to change and to start working for the people, but even some of the most progressive politicians are silent because they know that the candidate with the most money wins.  

So, what’s the solution?

On the day that Mayor Bloomberg cleared out Zuccotti Park in New York, I went up to Boston where I promoted a Constitutional amendment calling for public financing of elections, a very straightforward, no-nonsense, no compromise amendment which prohibits any expenditures by any third party, by any special interests or even by the candidates themselves.

That would certainly level the playing field.

Yeah, the elected officials should be working for the voters who elected them. Money corrupts the process. Why would you be giving a candidate money unless you expect something in return? That’s why I want to get this amendment done. It’s only four lines long. This is not a partisan idea. It’s an American idea. We’re trying to make a true democracy.

Do you think the Occupy Wall Street Movement has been hurt by getting kicked out of park after park around the country?