Occupy Wall Street Grows

Todd Gitlin had a nice essay on the OWS movement in the Sunday NY Times; ditto for David Meyer in the Sunday Washington Post.  Gitlin agrees with me that many of those now being drawn to the protests are disillusioned Obama supporters who were waiting for “CHANGE” in 2009 and didn’t see their hopes realized.

This morning, the Wash Post had interviews with several recent arrivals at “Liberty” Park (site of the OWS protest in NYC).  It is clear a wide range of people with varied grievances are being dawn in — politically this could rival the Tea Party in its impact if it gets a bit more organization and financial support.  The movement is spreading nationally and showing no signs of fading.

That support could be on it way.  The AFL-CIO has offered to throw its support to the OWS protests; labor sees this as a way to get the focus off bailing out banks and corporations and to bring more attention to bear directly on jobs.

The anger seems to now be moving in the direction of something like this — we need jobs, the President isn’t doing it, so we have to do something.  The Republican and Democratic politicians who are not doing anything to help us are being funded by Wall Street folk who are blocking any attempt to raise money from themselves to fund a government effort to invest in jobs.  So we need to show the politicians that we want jobs, and we hate Wall Street and want them to pay for what they did, and to pay for something that will help us.

Of course, the initial core of OWS was a rather more extreme anti-capitalist, anarchist movement.  But that may be irrelevant now; OWS will be what ordinary Americans who join the movement want to make it.  And it seems their theme is simple — stop helping corporations and the richest 1% so much, get back to taxes and government actions that will help everybody else.

It is interesting that Democratic politicians, and even Ben Bernanke (!) have indicated qualified sympathy and support for the movement, while Republicans such as Eric Cantor have sought to demonize the protestors as a ‘mob’ and anti-American.  If ordinary Americans start to identify with the OWS movement, seeing it reflective of their concerns and standing for the 99% to which they all belong, and then see the Republicans villify and attack the movement, this could lead to an immense political backlash in which ordinary Americans start to see the Republican party simply as the Wall Street party and the enemy of the American people.

This would be ironic, given how the Republican party has sought to capitalize on the failure of Obama’s programs and rally mass support for an anti-government, anti-tax platform.  But I think ordinary Americans are realizing we have a big problem, and that simply attacking Obama’s health care or blocking all tax changes is not going to solve it.  They may be starting to realize that Republicans have tried to take away their medicare benefits (the Paul Ryan plan), blocked any new job-creating efforts, and mainly protected the incomes of the rich (see my early post “The Trillion Dollar Tax Increase” on what will happen if Republicans block Obama’s plan to extend the social security tax reduction on ordinary working Americans).

So despite all that has happened since the 2010 elections gave the Republicans a majority in the House and all the momentum, the Republican leadership could be foolish enough to undo it all and hand a huge wave of popular support to the Democrats and Obama.  All they have to do is continue to damn and attack the OWS movement while it grows and taps into popular frustrations. Go to it!


About jackgoldstone

Hazel Professor of Public Policy at George Mason University
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