Last night I had the privilege of introducing 1968 Olympian Dr. John Carlos to the General Assembly at Occupy Wall Street. This morning I had the duty of introducing John Carlos to Senator Chuck Schumer in the MSNBC green room. Both were unforgettable experiences. When Dr. Carlos and I arrived an Occupy Wall Street, it comprised all the ordered chaos you could imagine. People of all backgrounds and ages were packed shoulder to shoulder in Zucotti Park. Police stood at attention, glowering from the outside. Homemade signs ranging from “Undocumented immigrants are part of the 99%” to “We Remember Troy Davis” to “Tax the Rich!” encircled the square. John Carlos looked at me with that twinkle in his eye and said, “It’s great to be home.”
With the help of the Occupy Wall Street regulars who invited us to speak, we worked our way to the front of the General Assembly. Here we encountered our first problem: the agenda had been reordered so announcements would come at the end. We would have to wait “two, maybe three hours” to give five minutes of greetings. I asked the head of the facilitation team if John Carlos could skip the three hours and say just a few words. She looked at my quizzically and said, “Who’s John Carlos?” I answered, “One of the two men who raised their black-gloved fist at the 1968 Olympics.” I then did a poor man’s impression of the medal stand moment, bowed my head and raised my fist. Her eyebrows raised an inch and then her face lit up. She got it. This was someone born years, possibly decades after 1968, and now she was on a mission to make it happen. The other people on the facilitation team were also excited, and they exercised a process point called an “emergency announcement” and John Carlos was able to get on the “People’s Mic” and to say a few words. “I am here for you,” he said in his raspy voice. Then “I am here for you” was repeated loudly in successive waves on the “People’s Mic,” a beautiful moment unto itself, but Dr. Carlos wasn’t done. “Why? Because I am you. We’re here forty-three years later because there’s a fight still to be won. This day is not for us but for our children to come.”
The response was electric as people in the crowd pumped their fists and then mobbed us when we got off “stage.” The next day, the New York Daily News, Salon and Democracy Now! all had reports about the curious presence of the 1968 Olympian in Zucotti Park. But talking to the people in the square, the connection is an obvious one and John Carlos made it well: he is them. His boldness, his daring and his sacrifice in 1968 echo strongly in our struggles today. When we do book events for The John Carlos Story, the crowd is overwhelmingly young. As Carlos said this morning on MSNBC, “I definitely see the connection between then and now. Back then we were fighting the racial struggle. Now it’s broader than that because this economy is affecting all of us. The fat cats have had their day. It’s past time for the mice to get together.”
As Dr. Carlos and I were leaving the MSNBC studio, we bumped into someone also very familiar with Wall Street, albeit the non-occupied sections, New York Senator Chuck Schumer. I made the introduction, on my best green-room behavior, and bit my tongue. Chuck Schumer then looked at John’s body up and down and said, “You’re in great shape! Are you still running?” John paused beautifully and said, “Running for justice.” Schumer, perhaps for the first time, was tongue-tied. I would just add that John isn’t “just running for justice,” he’s running toward justice; and he has a hell of a lot of company.