Grassroots Groundswell

Award-winning filmmaker, speaker, and advocate

This Is What a Groundswell Looks Like

Posted: 10/9/11 09:30 AM ET

In my travels across the country, I’ve been speaking about a rising generation ready to emerge from the shadows of the last decade and enter a new era of social change. Now we are seeing something emerge — a grassroots campaign has caught fire, turning out thousands of people, young and old, to create a free democratic space called Liberty Square on Wall Street.

All kinds of people are protesting that Wall Street has been rescued but there has been no help for most Americans. And city after city is joining them. Their statement:

We are the 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution. We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we are working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent.

This is what a groundswell looks like. This is a moment that could spark a broader movement that reaffirms the human dignity of all people. In a time when the top 1 percent have as much income as the bottom 60 percent — a level of inequality not seen since before the Great Depression — it’s a matter of moral imperative to help fix a broken system.

Oct. 4 was a major day of action in New York, where an estimated 15,000 people marched for reform. I’m inspired by Jesse Jackson’s editorial in the Chicago Sun-Timesabout the protesters:

“The discipline of their demonstrations, the clarity of their moral voice, has touched a chord. Occupy Wall Street is in that tradition of nonviolence with a moral voice organizing to challenge entrenched power and privilege, a movement that stands with the majority against a powerful elite.”

But let’s be clear: This isn’t about bad people, it’s about a broken system that isn’t working to encourage opportunity for all Americans and rewarding hard work with decent pay.

Last month, our country marked the 10-year anniversary of 9/11 as the end of one chapter of history and the beginning of a new one has yet to be written. At Groundswell’s teach-in at The Jerome L. Green Performance Space in September, I shared a vision of what a groundswell feels like. I said, “A groundswell is a broad swell in the sea, due to a distant storm or gale. It’s a response to something. A groundswell is not self-generated but comes out of the zeitgeist.”

We did not know what would come next or how it would happen — we only knew that we were hungry for a movement that wasn’t about a political party or a single issue, but a shared moral vision for a better world. We have taken the first steps together, now let’s keep walking.