The ‘Occupy All Streets’ Saga

Posted by on Nov 16, 2011

Last week, Jay-Z seemed like the latest rapper to take up the cause of the Occupy Wall Street movement. After Jay-Z and West wrapped up the second show in their Watch the Throne concert series at Madison Square Garden, Russell Simmons tweeted a picture of Jay backstage, sporting a Rocawear shirt that read, “OCCUPY ALL STREET(S).”

“Jay-Z just took #OccupyWallStreet to a whole new level,” tweeted Simmons, a longtime supporter of OWS.  “Wowowowowowoow.”

The shirts–and Jay’s involvement–were well received until Rocawear revealed it had no plans to donate profits to the movement that inspired them.

“The ‘Occupy All Streets’ t-shirt was created in support of the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement,” read a statement from the company of which Jay-Z (estimated net worth at $450 million) is the CEO. “Rocawear strongly encourages all forms of constructive expression, whether it be artistic, political or social. ‘Occupy All Streets’ is our way of reminding people that there is change to be made everywhere, not just on Wall Street. At this time we have not made an official commitment to monetarily support the movement.”

In response to the overwhelming criticism, media sites reported that Rocawear had caved to criticism and pulled the $22 t-shirts from their online site. But on Monday, the shirts reappeared.

“The revolution will not be merchandized! Or will it?” quipped The Washington Post who reported on the reemergence of the tees.

It will. ‘Occupy All Street’ shirts are now available only on back order, and the site offers an expected ships date of December 16.

Before their initial removal, Patrick Bruner, a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street, told the NY Daily News on Sunday, “Naturally there will be some bloodsuckers who come out of the woodwork,” he said. “A much better way to show your support for Occupy Wall Street would be to show up and participate in this momentous occasion and help to shape a new and better future.”

The Daily News article included a poll asking readers whether Jay was obligated to share his profits off the shirts. Fifty-five percent of readers said he was. (Thirty-seven percent said he wasn’t.)

Over at The Atlantic, Conor Friedersdorf also ripped Hov a new one last week in “Unapologetic Millionaire Jay-Z to Sell ‘Occupy All Streets’ T-Shirts.”

“It takes all kinds of audacity to be Jay-Z and to bring to market Occupy Wall Street-inspired t-shirt,” Friedersdorf wrote. “The man is arguably the most aggressively unapologetic member of the 1 percent in America. And that’s fine, as long as he owns it. What’s too much is lauding conspicuous consumption, mocking less wealthy rivals, then trying to profit off OWS.

I respect the arrogance of Rocawear to make the shirts and get away with profiting off a movement that is directly opposed to what they are doing by selling OAS tees. And I’m not surprised. I mean, Jay’s a business, man. But I can’t help but notice the (intentional?) irony of being inspired by a cause that opposes everything you stand for, changing up two letters in its slogan, and then purely profiting off of it.  Isn’t that how the 99% got screwed into the financial mess the country’s facing in the first place?

Would you wear an Occupy All Streets t-shirt? Why or why not?

Demetria L. Lucas is the author of “A Belle in Brooklyn: The Go-to Girl for Advice on Living Your Best Single Life” (Atria) in stores now. Follow her on Twitter @abelleinbk

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