Yesterday’s Daily Occupation highlighted the conflicting energies pulsing within the Democratic Party in regards to the “99 percenters.” While common citizens—young and old, prosperous and poor, employed and unemployed—reinvigorate participatory democracy and resuscitate the long-dead definition of truly public space, mainstream liberal leaders have begun their tentative (and muddled) first steps in their approach to the “American Autumn.” While some have praised the movement, others have actively attempted to quell it, a contradiction that will likely stay within voters’ minds well into the next election cycle. And, by the looks of it, the general response of the party is unlikely to consolidate or turn more respectful anytime soon. Third-Way Democrats have, to little surprise, circulated an email opaquely hostile to the movement, breaking down the voter blocs that Democrats need to seduce for electoral success next year. It is imperative, they claim, to retrieve the “switchers” who voted Republican out of anger. They conclude that outspoken support for the Occupy Together movement would inhibit the seduction process. The email reads, “Our recommendation [is] not to necessarily lurch to the right in policies but to talk about a more optimistic view of where our country is and where we’re taking it.” These words imply that by neglecting their base for electoral gain, they are merely being “optimistic” and in no way selling out the rightfully disillusioned (or, perhaps more fittingly, furious) citizens calling for effective and meaningful change. That sounds less like optimism and more like fear—fear of an opportunity to break the stagnant, end-of-the-road political paradigm that the U.S. has been mired in for decades.
On the flip side, progressive criticism has acknowledged the movement’s usefulness while in the same breath deeming protestors irresponsible for their lack of fealty in electoral turnout. In an interview with Rachel Maddow, Barney Frank said, “I’m a little bit unhappy when people [who] didn’t vote last time blame me for the consequences of their not voting.” With this line of logic, one would arrive at the conclusion that, if Democrats had enjoyed the same turnout in 2010 that they did in 2008, the reasons protestors are out screaming their hearts out would not exist (or would at least be diminished to the point of negligibility). This entirely overlooks the defining characteristics of Occupy Wall Street. Monied interests in government, one of the biggest reasons folks are out in the streets trying to reclaim their voices, have a monumental influence not just on Republicans, but Democrats, too. Additionally, recall this chant, popular across the nation at various Occupy gatherings: “They got bailed out, we got sold out.” Who did the bailing? Sure, Bush started it. But Obama followed suit, spewing meek and spineless criticisms at the financial industry while kowtowing to its needs through large infusions of public money. When protestors say that the people should be bailed out instead, they are referring to these actions, which occurred with Democratic majorities and a Democratic president. Yet, for all the rhetorical qualifications and criticisms, perhaps some thread will catch. In These Times editor and publisher Joel Bleifuss discusses that potential here. He points out that, as the movement grows, it may become not only difficult, but impossible for Obama to ignore the demands of ordinary people hurt by the current system. In an interview that airs tonight, Obama, in a conversation about OWS, states that government must ensure that “people who are irresponsible, who are reckless, who don’t feel a sense of obligation to their communities and their companies and their workers … aren’t rewarded.” If the president and other leaders are forced to adapt the language used by protestors to frame the debate, the occupy movement’s grievances may still find legislative success.
Patrick Glennon is a writer and musician living in Chicago. He received his B.A. in History from Skidmore College and currently works as Communications Manager for the Michael Forti for Cook County Court campaign and as the web intern at In These Times.