Little By Little, by Mathew Little—From Civil Rights Movement to Occupy Wall Street

Ever since the civil rights marches and powerful demonstrations of the ’50s and ’60s, similar movements have sprung up during election periods. Some have had considerable impact on the election of the period. Others have been of little or no consequence.


The one thing they have all had in common has been the self-belief and projection that their cause represents an unspoken majority of the people — a suppressed, unheard voice of many.


Some have been tied specifically to certain political campaigns. On the other hand, others have bargained with campaigns to support their own causes. All of them, however, have patterned their movements more or less after the most potent protest movement in the country’s history — the Civil Rights Movement.


This movement itself never became politically partisan. Nevertheless, it was still instrumental in inducing the U.S. political engine to make some of the greatest changes ever in the system, changes that would revolutionize the lifestyles of the country.


As one writer put it, “The real result of the Civil Rights Movement in this country was that it made us all a little kinder and gentler as a nation.” He was saying that the movement, while having the mandate to focus on the inadequacies of conditions surrounding a race of people in this country, unveiled many other shortcomings that had been longstanding impediments to keeping this great country from living up to its creed.


For example, prior to the Civil Rights Movement period in our history, little or no meaningful attention or special condition was accorded the handicapped (or physically disabled, as they are referred to today). Public accommodations especially designed for them were never thought of as a necessary requirement.


Special congressional legislation called the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was enacted on the heels of the civil rights bill. And, it is apparent today that a section of the initial Civil Rights Act of 1964 contained language granting equal rights to women, as well as subsequent affirmative action implementation.


This went a long way in boosting the historic struggle for female equality. The presence of females in both the public and private sectors has increased extensively since, and accommodations for the handicapped are now almost universal.

Often candidates for political office have attempted to link their campaigns to some of the movements of protest, but for the most part this has proven unsuccessful. These protests are indigenous expressions of the discontent of ordinary people and do not lend themselves to the disciplines of the political process.


No greater example can be cited than that of the young female seamstress in Montgomery, Alabama who boarded a bus on her way home from work, only to be told later that she would have to abandon her seat to a White man. She was arrested for refusing to do so. Her name was Rosa Parks, and her actions initiated a movement that was to change America as we had known it.

The Wall Street Occupancy Movement, as it spreads throughout the country and now overseas, could lead to another one of those seminal moments in our history.



Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to