Occupy Wall Street paves way for silent masses

2011-10-15 09:17

The Occupy Wall Street movement’s political breakthrough came on Wednesday as leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus and the Congressional Black Caucus joined senator Bernie Sanders (Vermont) in endorsing the national challenge to corporate greed and corrupt politics.

On a day that saw thousands of union members, community activists and supporters of New York’s Working Families Party rally in solidarity with the New York protests, congressman John Larson, the Connecticut Democrat, announced: “The silent masses aren’t so silent any more.”

Nor were progressive groups. While some unions, especially the United Steelworkers nationally and the Transport Workers Local 100 in New York, provided early backing, they were outliers – until Wednesday.Liberal groups such as MoveOn and Democracy for America gave their blessings and started raising money to support the initiative.

The 1.4 million member Teamsters union signed on, with president James Hoffa saying: “No one should be surprised that Occupy Wall Street is gaining support.

The American Dream has disappeared for students, whose reality is debt and unemployment. The Dream disappeared for workers forced to take wage cuts by employers sitting on billions of dollars in profits. The Dream disappeared for working families who paid too steep a price for Wall Street’s greed, stupidity and fraud.

“It’s clear what this movement is all about. It’s about taking America back from the CEOs and billionaires on Wall Street who have destroyed our nation’s economy. It’s about creating good jobs. It’s about corporate America treating its workers and customers with honesty and fairness, and paying its fair share to stimulate the economy,” argued Hoffa.

“We stand in solidarity with Americans who want better lives for themselves and for future generations.”Similar signals came from key members of Congress.Not surprisingly, it was Sanders who offered the most full-throated support of Occupy Wall Street.

At the Campaign for America’s Future “Take Back America” conference, he declared: “We have the ‘crooks’ on Wall Street, and I use that word advisedly – don’t misquote me, the word is ‘crooks’ – whose greed, whose recklessness, whose illegal behaviour caused this terrible recession with so much suffering. We believe in this country; we love this country; we will be damned if we’re going to see a handful of robber barons control the future of this country.”

Remarkably, considering the caution of so many elected officials with regard to the protests, Sanders called for a toughening of the movement’s anti-Wall Street message.

“I applaud those protesters who are out there, who are focusing attention on Wall Street, but what we’ve got to do is put meat on that bone,” he said.

“We’ve got to make demands on Wall Street and break those institutions up.” Echoing Sanders, with whom she appeared on Tuesday, was congresswoman Barbara Lee, the California Democrat. “All of us should join that movement.”

On Wednesday, the current co-chairs of the Congressional Progressive Caucus issued a joint statement celebrating the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Said Democratic congressmen Keith Ellison (Minnesota) and Raul Grijalva (Arizona): “We have been inspired by the growing grassroots movements on Wall Street and across the country. We share the anger and frustration of so many Americans who have seen the enormous toll that an unchecked Wall Street has taken on the majority of Americans while benefiting the superwealthy. We join the calls for corporate accountability and expanded middle-class opportunity... During the Speak Out for Good Jobs Now! tour, we heard compelling stories of Americans struggling to live the American Dream while CEOs and the super-rich were given more taxpayer handouts. We stand with the American people as they demand corporate accountability and we support their use of peaceful means to improve America.”

Democratic Congresswoman Louise Slaughter (New York) added: “I’m so proud to see the Occupy Wall Street movement standing up to this rampant corporate greed and peacefully participating in our democracy. It’s time for all Americans to pay their fair share.”

The willingness of protesters to take on the Federal Reserve has even won encouragement from a Republican presidential contender, congressman Ron Paul, who said: “If they were demonstrating peacefully, and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed, I
would say, good!”

But President Barack Obama remained characteristically silent. White House press secretary Jay Carney would only say: “To the extent that people are frustrated with the economic situation, we understand.” – The Nation , distributed by Agence Global

Nichols is Washington correspondent for The Nation.

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