By Hassina Leelarathna
After weeks of giving it the cold shoulder, Democrats are trying to embrace the Occupy Wall Street (OWS) movement, expressing sympathy and solidarity for what some of them believe is the left-of-the-center version of the Tea Party phenomenon.
Democrats and other politicos raring to take the movement under their wing might be surprised to find that OWS is not open to further occupation.
This is the definite impression given by Occupy San Francisco, a companion movements of OWS. About 150 protesters, amid piles of sleeping bags and other outdoor camping items, were occupying the sidewalk outside the Federal Reserve Building on Market Street on Sunday (Oct. 9) and some of them raged out-and-out against all things Washington.
“Don’t let Obama hijack the movement. Don’t let the effing Democrats, or even Ron Paul hijack the movement,” said a young woman in the midst of delivering a very passionate and angry attack on the Federal Reserve – ‘my federal reserve story’ as she put it. A young man in the crowd that had gathered around her shouted: “Yeah, don’t let [liberal filmmaker] Michael Moore hijack the movement.”
There were immediate mutters of agreement which were drowned out by the tooting of car horns and cheering and whistles of the demonstrators who were at the frontline alongside the curb holding signs that called on motorists to “Honk if You’re the 99%.” From time to time the frontline would chant the OWS signature slogan: “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”
ABC News reported Sunday that a consensus is emerging among Democrats who are eager for a liberal ‘antidote’ to the Republican Tea Party energy that the “Occupy” movement is worth tapping into. The network on its website quoted House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as saying on ABC’s “This Week: “I support the message to the establishment …Change has to happen. We cannot continue in a way that does not — that is not relevant to their lives. People are angry.”
Last week President Obama, sparring with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (who called the protesters a ‘mob’) expressed similar camaraderie with the Occupy movement: “I think people are frustrated, and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works,” he said.
Such platitudes reflect a disconnect between the liberal leadership and the street marchers.
The young woman with the Federal Reserve story, who identified herself only as “Jane Smith representing the American people who are effing pissed off with the Federal Reserve,” spilled her rage across the political divide accusing every US president since 1915 (with the exception of JFK ‘who got effing shot’) of being in cahoots with the Federal Reserve, manipulating the economy and impoverishing the wage earner.
She warned that Washington would try to appease the Occupy movement by dangling carrots.
“All political parties are bought with the same dirty money. They’re gonna try to appease you. They’re gonna try to say we’re gonna give you more money. We’re gonna give you more unemployment or some such shit. But that [money] is coming from printing from the Federal Reserve.”
The obvious disconnect between the ‘mainstream liberals’ and OWS is fueled by the ‘mainstream liberal media’ which, not surprisingly, has mischaracterized the protest as an inchoate movement crowded with unemployed youth. And so Pelosi repeats in her ABC News interview: “I think they are angry that they don’t have jobs. There’s nothing that makes you angrier than not being able to provide for your family or understand what your prospects are for the future.”
If it started as a protest by frustrated unemployed youth, OWS is now an eclectic grassroots movement that is still trying to define itself. There’s plenty of rage, but it’s not only about jobs. And faith in the existing political parties is sorely lacking.
Phil Horne, one of the organizers of Occupy San Francisco, (he’s employed) said he cannot quite define its goals and objectives but believes the movement is taking a message to the people about corporate greed and failure of the political system. “It’s about starting a movement and this is just the awareness stage.” He wants to see the movement grow, beyond the estimated 300,000 people across the nation who have signed up as supporters or attended a protest. But like ‘Jane Smith’ he is not looking to Washington to direct the trajectory. “The government and politicians are indebted to Wall Street and to manufacturers and they have to keep wars going. No one likes our government.”
Like Horne, occupier Rachel Atchison was not out there because she didn’t have a job. In fact she has a secure job as a firefighter for the City of San Francisco. But Atchison is concerned at the wealth gap and the impoverishment of the working class. “The disparity of wealth in this country has reached obnoxious proportions and something has to change. This is affecting the unions and the working classes and everyone.”
Atchison (who was carrying a sign that said: “Make this movement too big to fail”) sees Occupy as the beginning of a seachange, of “people standing up and taking back their democracy.” However, she’s not putting her faith in the existing political structure. “The political system is bought and sold. If you’re a regular person, you can’t afford lobbyists. All I can do is stand here with a sign and hope we can bring large numbers of people talking to each other and working together.”
And then there’s the gentle optimism of Selby Schwartz that contrasts with the expletive-filled railings of ‘Jane Smith’ and the robust determination of Atchison. Dr. Schwartz, to be precise, was quietly grading student papers while holding a poster which said in part: “I’m the 99% that teaches your kids to value social justice.”
Schwartz a who teaches Comparative Literature as well as Social & Cultural Studies at UC Berkeley and Dominican University said she’s talking to her students about community movements such as OWS because she believes in equality and freedom and the other ideals once associated with America. “There’s an idea about America that’s about freedom and equality and about the possibility of a just and beautiful society. In the world they’re [her students] coming into right now, that vision is clouded by greed and entrenched corporate powers and military powers. But I’m an optimist and I think social justice is possible.”
No rage, no rant. But it’s unlikely that she will entrust that vision to the hierarchy of Washington liberals.
Finally, there’s the not very subtle poster that says it plainly: “Nobama: Fool us once, shame on him: fool us twice, shame on us.”
In other words, to borrow Wall Street jargon, the Democrats’ plan to snag the Occupy movement is beginning to look like a hostile takeover.
The writer is a freelance journalist living in California. Email: [email protected]