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October 05, 2011 12:35 PM ‘The silent masses aren’t so silent anymore’

By Steve Benen

Press releases from Capitol Hill are generally easy to dismiss, but one this morning caught my eye. It was sent by House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.), sent on behalf of the caucus, as opposed to just himself, “applauding” the “Occupy Wall Street Movement.”

“In New York and across the country, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets, certain of the morality of their message: bringing fairness to Main Street,” Larson said. “The silent masses aren’t so silent anymore. They are fighting to give voice to the struggles that everyday Americans are going through.”

These protests aren’t invisible to the establishment anymore, and when the House Democratic Caucus is officially applauding the demonstrations, it’s clearly a positive development for the burgeoning movement.

Republicans are taking note of Occupy Wall Street, too. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was asked about the protests yesterday, and he said, “I think it’s dangerous — this class warfare.” As it turns out, I would imagine many of the activists involved would agree that class warfare is dangerous, though Romney and the protestors would define the phrase differently.

Herman Cain, meanwhile, shared his thoughts on the demonstrations with the Wall Street Journal: “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

If that quote alone doesn’t inspire some more of the 99% to get engaged, I’m not sure what will.

As for the larger context of the developments, I found Jonathan Cohn’s take on Occupy Wall Street pretty compelling.

During my lifetime, the activist left has gone through several incarnations, focusing on a series of different causes. For much of the 80s and 90s, very generally speaking, the focus was largely on identity politics. Then attention moved to globalization and then, during the Bush presidency, to wars abroad.

As far as I can tell, this is the first time the activist left has focused seriously on issues of economic opportunity at home…. [T]his movement has a real chance to help shape the debate over economic policy in this country — not merely about the financial industry, which is the object of protests right now, but also about inequality generally.

True, the protesters don’t have such an agenda right now. In fact, they don’t really have any agenda at all, at least in the traditional sense. But it’s not like their animating worldview is such a mystery.

Quite right. I’m hoping the protests lead, in time, to specific demands and goals that policymakers could be pressed to approve, but in general, pleas for economic justice are pretty straightforward, and have the opportunity to change the nature of the national debate in long overdue ways.

Steve Benen is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly, joining the publication in August, 2008 as chief blogger for the Washington Monthly blog, Political Animal.

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  • c u n d gulag on October 05, 2011 12:42 PM:

    It's nice that Mittens finally realizes that THIS class warfare may be dangerous.
    To HIM and HIS ill ilk!

    As opposed to the invasion and occupation of the middle class and poor for the last 30+ years.
    That was nothing - to them!

    Mitt, you'd better be praying like all Hell that if there's a leader that comes out of this, that he/she turns out to be like Martin Luther King, and not Rebespierre!

  • exlibra on October 05, 2011 12:49 PM:

  • Equal Opportunity Cynic on October 05, 2011 12:55 PM:

    "But the whole protest is, to me at any rate, too amorphous, to have any opinion on."

    Sorta like how that whole Tea Party thing fizzled out before anyone could notice it.

  • cwolf on October 05, 2011 12:57 PM:

    Quite right. I�m hoping the protests lead, in time, to specific demands and goals that policymakers could be pressed to approve...

    You may be right, (I hope so too) but I wonder what all the campers are going to do when it gets cold in a few days or weeks.
    Traditionally, Independence Days & May Days & Bastille Days occur during the warm months.

    This movement may need to hibernate for the winter & get it's shit together for "Springtime On Wall Street", the not so musical.

  • DAY on October 05, 2011 1:05 PM:

    "The Media" is furiously ignoring the "movement".

    Yes, it is amorphous, because so many of us have so many different grievances. Underwater mortgages. Unemployment. Student loans. Crippling healthcare costs.
    None of the above affect the ruling class in any way- see Herman Cain's comment, above.

    The "movement" is coalescing, the "movement" is growing. The "movement" is finding its voice.
    Some of us remember the Vietnam War protests. Some of us remember Kent State.

  • internet tough guy on October 05, 2011 1:09 PM:

    So Mittens has decided he wants to be Richard Nixon.

    Yay.

  • across the middle on October 05, 2011 1:15 PM:

    Herman Cain, meanwhile, shared his thoughts on the demonstrations with the Wall Street Journal: �Don�t blame Wall Street, don�t blame the big banks, if you don�t have a job and you�re not rich, blame yourself!�

    I mean could anything be more obvious? Those hippies protesting the rainmakers of the world are nothing but lazy bums. When Herm institutes his 9-9-9 plan everything will be gravy again.

  • jjm on October 05, 2011 1:20 PM:

    Jonathan Cohn's comment that "As far as I can tell, this is the first time the activist left has focused seriously on issues of economic opportunity at home. [T]his movement has a real chance to help shape the debate over economic policy in this country not merely about the financial industry, which is the object of protests right now, but also about inequality generally."

    Indeed, the 'left' seems to be shaking off the fog of Reaganomics AND the box they were put into of pushing identity politics at the expense of understanding and criticizing anything that affected the whole of society.

    I see this emergence from Reaganism very promising. It's a great relief. And if you think Obama had 'nothing to do with this' as some pseudo lefties argue, it simply isn't true. His drawing out the meanest and pettiest spirits in the GOP, his articulation of the problems has been at the very least supportive of the 99%. Even Ben Bernanke is saying of OWS: "I can't blame them"!

  • Sixes on October 05, 2011 1:22 PM:

    The American mainstream media would really like to be able to ignore what is happening in America as successfully as they've ignored what is happening in Iceland. God forbid that we all realize that we can fight back!

  • Glidwrith on October 05, 2011 1:32 PM:

    I suggest we also start breaking into the right-wing e-mail chains. I'm sure everyone here has a friend or relation that has forwarded such things. How about we start sending the Occupy Wall Street story to them? They HATE the bankers, but have no idea the people on Fox are the same ones screwing them over. How about we send seminal exposes (e.g. New Yorker article about the Koch brothers)to them? How about we turn their e-mail chains into a news feed? I guarantee you, these folks don't even know the Koch names, let alone all the crap they've been pulling. We won't reach all of them, we won't convince most of them, but this is a numbers game. If we can even pull in 10% that actually have some information about what's going on and add that to the middle and lefties, we just might see some changes in the narrative.

  • RepublicanPointOfView on October 05, 2011 1:34 PM:

    F*ck economic justice!!!

    Economic justice can't buy politicians! Economic justice cannot buy tax laws favorable to the wealthy! Economic justice can't buy deregulation so that I can profit from destroying the planet!

    F*ck economic justice! We like it the way it is now!

  • Dennis on October 05, 2011 1:40 PM:

    So let me get this straight, these protesters are the activist Left?

    Supporters of Obama. That's what this is about? The guy that followed Bush's and the Democratic-controlled House and Senate in bailing out the banks, but didn't nationalize them, and has no intention of bailing them out? The guy who didn't hesitate to seek advisors for his staff from the biggest investment bank on Wall Street?

    Where was this activist Left 2 1/2 years ago when all this was going down?

  • bigtuna on October 05, 2011 1:42 PM:

    I hope the "left" of the occupy group picks up on a theme that cuts from left to rigth:

    Case # 1 of the week

    http://www.nytimes.com/2011/10/01/business/lets-stop-rewarding-failed-ceos-common-sense.html?_r=1&ref=leoapotheker

    This doofus F***ed up royally, couldn't last a year, and walks with millions. Most of us schmos are expected to show up, every day, and do our job, and we haven't gotten a raise - for me, in 6 years ....

    The raging capitalist in me is plenty pissed off when the big name CEOs get away with this kind of ship. I hope there are more of these themes among the occupy folks .

  • Gridlock on October 05, 2011 1:44 PM:

    Occupy Wall Street: The antidote to the Tea Party

    Forget Taxed Enough Already.
    Time to stand up for the unemployed. Where are the jobs?

    Forget corporate profits - They've been growing.
    What about family incomes? They've been stagnant or falling.

    Forget Too Big to Fail.
    Families are treated as too unimportant for Corporations/Politicians to care.

    Grow Family Incomes and Grow Demand. After the economy gets moving again for everyone then we can talk about who's being taxed.

  • Glidwrith on October 05, 2011 1:47 PM:

    @ Dennis: Screaming bloody murder and asking why the hell he was doing this. You are familiar with the firebaggers? That is how they got started.

    And no, these protesters are people that are fed up with the system gamed to serve the top 1% and no one else.

  • Dennis on October 05, 2011 1:58 PM:

    @Glidwrith:

    Pretty much what the Tea Partiers said, too. Mocked by liberal blogs for it, no less.

    Funny that, huh?

    History of the Tea Party Movement

    Tea Partiers detest all things big: big government, big business, big national debt, big taxes. They express hostility toward the elite and outrage that the government has come to the aid of Wall Street while ignoring the plight of Main Street.

    Sounds to me like there's some cognitive dissonance going on here.

  • Sixes on October 05, 2011 2:06 PM:

    Tea Partiers detest all things big: big government, big business, big national debt, big taxes.

    I call absolute and fabulous bullshit on this statement.

    Teabaggers LOVE big government when it comes to who can marry who.

    Teabaggers LOVE big government when it comes to immigration issues.

    Teabaggers LOVE big government when it comes to women's health, birth control, and choice.

    Teabaggers LOVE big government when it comes to the death penalty.

    Teabaggers LOVE big government when it comes to imposing their morality on others.


    Teabaggers LOVE big government when it agrees with them.

  • Dennis on October 05, 2011 2:23 PM:

    But Sixes, in addition to mocking them for the first statement then just as you do now, you also mocked them for the second statement. Except that now you praise the Occupationists for what would appear is a very similar grievance.

    That's cognitive dissonance, look it up.

  • bdop4 on October 05, 2011 2:26 PM:

    IMO, OWS is the prelude to a much larger movement roughly broken down into the following stages:

    1. PHYSICALLY occupying a location close to a symbol of establishment and/or authority.

    2. The location, once established, becomes a focal point for civic discourse action within close proximity of authority.

    3. People gather and gain strength from the knowledge that they are not alone and together wield considerable power.

    4. Once realized, the power is used to enace substantive change in a variety of ways: politically, economically and culturally.

    Right now, OWS is actively in stages 1 and 2, and beginning to move into stage 3 (depending on location).

    Like the GOP, the Democratic Party is trying to coopt the OWS message and strength, but the real question is what are they going to do to gain admission into OUR party? Hint: the shit they're serving up right now is weak sauce. They need to up their game considerably.

    For those needing specific demands or a detailed manifesto: do we need to draw you a road map? These people are demanding action on all the issues we have been bitching about for the last 10 years (and counting).

    Instead of holding back, join your nearest OWS effort and lend your voice and expertise.

  • SYSPROG on October 05, 2011 2:48 PM:

    Um Dennis? Cognitive dissonance is holding two distinctly competeing views at the same time. That is what Sixes was saying. 'GET RID OF BIG GOVT' 'USE GOVT. to legislate women's crotches'...It is not mocking them and not mocking the other. But whatever...

    Dont blame Wall Street, dont blame the big banks, if you dont have a job and youre not rich, blame yourself!

    Herm...you gotta get over yourself. This comment is EXACTLY why people are in the streets. Don't run for office, enact laws to tamp down the middle class, make it easier for 'global' jobs, make a loophole for all your rich buddies and then piss on the day-to-day schlubs that continue to pay taxes, buy the crap you aholes put out and hold the country together...oh I guess I've been 'brainwashed'...

  • Dennis on October 05, 2011 2:58 PM:

    SYSPROG- last comment here.

    Cognitive dissonance is mocking one group for expressing hostility toward the elite and outrage that the government has come to the aid of Wall Street while ignoring the plight of Main Street, while at the same time lauding another group for the same thing.

    The competing views many here seem to be having are that the TP's vies are wrong in this regard, while the OSW's views are noble, even though their respective views are very similar.

    Or if you prefer hypocrisy to cognitive dissonance, I won't quibble with you.

  • Rich on October 05, 2011 3:27 PM:

    The old left was weakened by McCarthyism and then the rise of the "new Left" which quickly devolved into a circular firing squad. What passes for left of center has tended to be K Street-ish orgs dominated by college boy/girl liberals, totally cutoff from any grassroots and able to grasp economic issues in only the most cartoonishly abstract 9and often patronizing) way. The labor movement was dominated very much by caretakers, people grappling with dying industries and retrograde characters like George Meany. The labor movement seems to have revived itself and, albeit on a tiny scale, with a generation of leaders who are relatively diverse. My guess is that, de facto, these protests are filling the gap that has been left by organized liberal orgs.

  • FlipYrWhig on October 05, 2011 3:52 PM:

    @ Dennis: Cognitive dissonance is mocking one group for expressing hostility toward the elite and outrage that the government has come to the aid of Wall Street while ignoring the plight of Main Street, while at the same time lauding another group for the same thing.

    I know many people who mocked the Tea Party. I don't know many people who mocked the Tea Party for criticizing Wall Street -- because the Tea Party _doesn't_ particularly criticize Wall Street. The original "tea party" rant by Rick Santelli was literally _from_ Wall Street, and he was complaining about the idea of successful people like him subsidizing "losers" with underwater mortgages. And the Tea Party ranted in apocalyptic terms about taking the country back and stopping the Obamacare death panels. It's not an anti-Wall Street movement, and never was.

  • DHFabian on October 05, 2011 5:31 PM:

    We should take into consideration that with this generation, the "masses" have been sharply divided. The poor have been completely disenfranchised, and this is unlikely to change without the violence that was seen the last time around (1960s, when American cities burned). During similar eras in the past, the poor and middle classes always united to effectively force changes in government, getting corporate powers back on their leashes. That won't happen this time. Think of America as an old house. We can put on a new coat of paint, new roofing and windows, make it look great. But if we ignore the crumbling foundation (our poor), that entire building is going to collapse, no matter how much we pretty it up.

  • Anonymous on October 05, 2011 5:37 PM:

    Cwolf, Take a look at the pictures of Wisconsin's big protests early this year. See the piles of snow in the background? Major protests can happen regardless of the season.

  • Dennis on October 05, 2011 6:39 PM:

    You have selective memory, FlipYrWhig. You mocked the Tea Party for everything they said, and they were against the Wall Street bailouts at the expense of Main Street, the exact same thing you're praising the OSWers for now.

    And not to nit-pick, but Rick Santelli's original "tea party" rant wasn't literally_from_Wall Street. He was in Chicago at the time on the floor of the CME and he's literally from Chicago where he lives in a very moderate house in a very moderate neighborhood, and he was ranting about people who he felt should have and probably did know better when they purchased risky mortgages to finance homes they should've had a good idea they couldn't afford.


  • cwolf on October 05, 2011 11:52 PM:

    @ Anonymous on October 05, 2011 5:37 PM:
    Touché. Sort of.

    Walker is still Governor, The anti people laws he signed are in effect. The economic fascist are still in charge. The people are still fucked.

  • cwolf on October 05, 2011 11:56 PM:

    Arghh, why does this interface mangle everything.

    @ Anonymous on October 05, 2011 5:37 PM:
    That's pronounced Tou-shay.

  • suezee on October 06, 2011 9:43 AM:

    Teapartiers protested BAIL OUTS!! You babies need to get a clue. There is a great deal of commonality here.
    You guys have started all the ugly stereotypes about tea party people. They are middle class and just like you.
    Big banks and the Fed and Soros, etc, etc, are the enemies.

  • 2Manchu on October 06, 2011 10:03 AM:

    Dont blame Wall Street, dont blame the big banks, if you dont have a job and youre not rich, blame yourself!

    Yeah, like those 330 lazy bums in Dewitt, Nebraska who worked in the factory that, for over sixty years, manufactured Vise-Grips, before the parent company was FORCED to move the operation to China.

    Because selfish Americans get all whiny when you ask them nicely to revert back to the working conditions of the Gilded Age.

    Oh sure, it destroyed the economy for not only Dewitt, but also a huge chunk of southeastern Nebraska.

    And you had generations of families who happily and loyally worked in the factory.

    And Vise-Grips were known for their rugged and reliable American-made design (I have one that was bought by my great-uncle back in the 40s, and it still works great today).

    And there was a strong sense of pride in not only the employees but also the whole community.

    After all, Vise-Grips were designed in Nebraska, and made in Nebraska. What red-blooded Cornhusker wouldn't be proud of that?

    But none of that was of any importance. Because CEOs just aren't making enough money today.

  • alcatraz on October 06, 2011 4:09 PM:

    I believe the difference between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall St. protesters is:

    The tea Party blames government for bank failures, mortgage meltdowns, high insurance costs, etc. They believe a free market, with less govt. interference will reduce bank failures, mortgage fraud, and high insurance costs. They are pro-capitalism and anti-government, and welcome the greater influence of corporations over our lives and over the government.

    The Wall St. protesters blame Wall St. and by association, corporations, directly for bank failures, mortgage meltdowns, etc, and (will likely) ask for more government interference in controlling capitalism. They reject the influence of corporations in our lives and in our governance.

    The piece on the Tea Party cited above was not from a "liberal blog" but from "infoplease." "Liberals" have been more likely to critique the tea party for promoting the interests of corporations.

  • Just Saying on November 15, 2011 6:09 PM:

    I like how the liberal media completely ignores the TEA PARTY which was the first true grass roots movement that protested against Big Banks and Big Government. It was so grass-roots and so very American that the pro-Obama's Big Government media freaked out and immediately painted them all as radical or racist. Now all of a suddenly you're backing the corporate-backed Occupy Wall Street. Wow, what a coincidence!!!

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