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...
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

No, no, no … I think it’s only made it stronger. The movement’s just beginning. It’s only a couple months old. I was at Zuccotti Park almost every day. The kids down there were very compassionate. They embraced the homeless, and they were even kind enough to give free food and tents to inmates just being released from Riker’s Island.

And some of those people would come out of jail and find purpose in joining the movement. Unfortunately, a few were disruptive, and the media would give the bad apples the most attention and so OWS’ message was being misrepresented.

But OWS was only taking care of people the City of New York should’ve been caring for. So, the cleaning out of the parks just means the revolution has to evolve.    

What would your answer be to people who ask: What, specifically, does Occupy Wall Street want?

We want the government to be controlled by all the people, not by the richest 1 percent. That’s always been the first demand. That’s a simple enough message, and I think it’s pretty clear now, even though much of the media has been disingenuous in its coverage.

We don’t want the heads of the biggest industries to make all the decisions, because they’re not for the people. They’re for the corporations. Power to the people!

How will eliminating political contributions help the election process?

Presently, you can’t be a free man and run for office in this country. Everybody wants something! Even individuals who bundle your money want something. The system has to be changed so that the politicians will work on behalf of the people.

Isn’t it possible that you’ll still have politicians taking money under the table?

That’s a different type of corruption. Most people don’t want to break the law. I’m concerned about eliminating perfectly legal forms of bribery. At least 4 out 5 Americans believe that Wall Street and special interests have too much control over our government. So, it’s not just a progressive thing. Remember, even a whole unit of Tea Party members marched with us on the Brooklyn Bridge.  They want their elected officials to work for them, too. We see a flaw in our democracy, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to fix it. We want to educate people on this one issue.

What’s tragic to me is the precariousness of the middle class. I’ve seen people lose their jobs, and then lose their home. Or get sick, and then lose their home. Or be working full time but be unable to afford health care or to send their kids to college. A quarter of the kids in this country now live in poverty. Meanwhile, the Bush tax cuts for the rich remain in effect. Whatever happened to a living wage?  

All of those problems are what makes this so urgent. And at the same time, the stock market just rolls on. It’s a disconnect, a money grab. Things will change when they can no longer exploit the people.