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As Protests Continue, Politicians Weigh in on Wall Street

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Protesters at Foley Square heading to Zuccotti Park (Stephen Nessen/WNYC)

Within a month the anti-Wall Street protests have gone from novelty status to the subject of serious debate — with even President Barack Obama weighing in and Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressing sympathy for their cause.

As unions and other outside groups have continued to join on to the month-long protest that has garnered international attention, politicians — both Democrats and Republicans — have been forced to weigh in on what’s going on inside Zuccotti Park, the protesters’ makeshift headquarters.

“I think people are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works,” Obama said earlier this month.

On the same day, Bloomberg said people are "very frustrated" with the economy and the government.

"People are upset," he said. "They don't quite know where to go."

Republican strategist Karen Hanretty argued that the protesters themselves would never be "mainstream," but says they've profoundly altered the political landscape.

"In debates, and in media interviews, and increasingly voters are going to ask, 'Do you support the bailouts? Do you support Wall Street? How much money are you taking from Wall Street? And what is the influence of Wall Street?'” Hanretty said.

Even Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, who had two weeks ago said protesters were waging “class warfare,” changed course.  

"I worry about the 99 percent in America," Romney said, adding "I look at what's happening on Wall Street, and my own view is, ‘Boy, I understand how those people feel.’"

An Altered Landscape

Recently, former Democratic State assemblyman Richard Brodsky was at Zuccotti taking notes and occasionally nodding in approval at the signs he read. Forty years ago, Brodsky was an antiwar activist, and he now thinks something historic is happening.

"This is how the abolitionist movement started,” he said. “This is how the civil rights movement started, the women's movement. You're in a formative stage of something that's universally important, and it's just a thrill to be here."

Van Jones, a former aide to Obama who heads the progressive group Rebuild the Dream, said the ideas of progressive activists such as himself are finally being heard.

"If you noticed, last summer, it was all about austerity, austerity, cut, cut, cut," Jones said. "And now the conversation has flipped back over to inequality, jobs, making sure that the corporate sector is more responsible. That's a huge sea shift."
 
Jones rejects the notion that the protesters need to propose clear demands, or solutions. He says there are already enough like-minded experts, and that if the protests continue to grow, their proposals will gain traction.

Articulating Demands

Thea Lee, the deputy chief of staff at the AFL-CIO, already has a wish list, which includes foreclosure assistance, requiring banks and other corporations to hire more workers, and enactment of a financial transaction tax. AFL-CIO is one of the unions that joined the protests

"If you put a tiny, tiny little tax on every financial transaction, you could actually raise tens, maybe hundreds of billions of dollars and that would be money that could be used to create jobs, to fund infrastructure, to fund social services and so on," Lee said.

Political consultant George Arzt said that demonstrators have seized attention but the public could tire of the blocked traffic, noise and consumption of public resources without a clear objective.

"I think now is their moment when they have to come up with something," he said. "If they continue just to parade around without anything to say about reforms, then they're going to have a problem. Messaging is all important for them."

Correction: The original article identified Richard Brodsky as Democratic State assemblyman. He is no longer in office. WNYC regrets the error.

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Comments [4]

Jarvis from Jamaica

I may not be fully informed of the issue but in my view this is not a means of setting a foundation for change its just a call for equality which is not earned. I may not be apart of this social elites, but in a matter of this caliber it just motivates me to be where they are at now. In fact there is no real treat to having the power and influence of wall street to economy... socially yes, may be.

the fact of the issue is people need to look at this from a philosophical stand point where reason must be applied to everything. For it is proven that there was no real consideration and planning going into this protest for from reading the above article there is no sufficient claim nor solutions for the supposed problem.

I consider racism and gender discrimination as serious issues of inequality not social segregation, not to say social segregation is not a problem especially one of this caliber and If history was to tell it would be the one that caused the French revolution which is a more serious case of segregation and inequality but this issue is not as important in my view.

However not to say I don't support this protest of equality and opportunity but the issue is how for are you willing to go do you want a system like Cuba to be implemented.

Oct. 20 2011 01:56 PM

It's good news to read in this article that "Within a month the anti-Wall Street protests have gone from novelty status to the subject of serious debate — with even President Barack Obama weighing in and Mayor Michael Bloomberg expressing sympathy for their cause." According to the article President Obama states: “I think people are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works." It's nice that President Obama thinks people are frustrated. However, President Obama and politicians like Mitt Romney, according to the NPR article stating "I worry about the 99 percent in America," need to tell the 99% that they are going to make the changes Occupy Wall Street is asking and how they intend to do it.

Oct. 20 2011 08:23 AM
Aminka Ozmun from NYC

I guess it's just me; I really don't know what this constant harping on "lacking a focus" and not having a leadership is supposed to mean...I guess the politicos and their pundits just don't understand anything that isn't in a sound-bite format!

I see all the criticism of Occupy Wall Street as being just a kind of disinformation campaign that's supposed to discredit the movement.

The pundits keep talking about "the public" possibly getting tired of blocked streets, noise, and so forth -- but I seriously doubt that to be the case. Sure, the well-to-do people who live down in the Wall Street area might be running out of patience, but anyone who can afford to live down there isn't exactly part of the proverbial "99%"...!

Oct. 20 2011 07:57 AM

Talk is cheap, especially for politicians. When actions are taken for the good of American people, corporations and the 1% are actually held accountable, regulations are created and enforced properly, and the middle class is reformed, THEN I'll believe Occupy Wall Street is being taken seriously.

Oct. 20 2011 07:40 AM

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