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Democrats Coming Home to #OccupyWallStreet, Producing Synergy of Action and Dissent

More Democratic politicians embraced the #OccupyWallStreet protests today, supporting the core grievances of a broken economy and corporate influence as broadly similar to their own platforms. This includes the co-chairs of the Progressive Caucus, Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison, saying that “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 overwhelming majority of Americans while benefitting the super wealthy.” It includes the chair of the House Democratic Caucus, John Larson, saying, “The silent masses aren’t so silent anymore. They are fighting to give voice to the struggles that everyday Americans are going through.” It includes ranking member of the Rules Committee, Louise Slaughter, saying, “I’m so proud to see the Occupy Wall Street movement standing up to this rampant corporate greed and peacefully participating in our democracy,” acknowledging that peaceable assembly and free speech is as much a part of the democratic project as voting. It includes Sen. Bernie Sanders, saying, “We believe in this country; we love this country; and we will be damned if we’re going to see a handful of robber barons control the future of this country” at the Take Back the American Dream conference. It includes former Senator Russ Feingold, who said, “People around the country are finally organizing to stand up to the huge influence of corporations on government and our lives. This kind of citizen reaction to corporate power and corporate greed is long overdue.”

I think the remaining wing of the liberal left that is still engaged in politics has been in many ways waiting for this kind of a movement. But notice the common thread in those quotes. It’s an expression of pride, and a sharing of concerns. It is not an immediate turn to “elect more Democrats” or “what we have to do is X, Y and Z.” Sen. Sanders offered a little of that yesterday, to “put meat on that bone” of protest. But by and large, this is an expression of allowing a flower to bloom. Politicians, by and large, are more people who are led than they are leaders, a concept that isn’t well-understood. When they follow the lead, they can be rewarded, but that is part of a symbiotic process of articulating problems and letting the class represented to solve them work for solutions. Matt Stoller had a great piece about Justice Democrats in Attorney General offices across the country responding to the desires of the grassroots not to let the banks off the hook for their crimes in the foreclosure fraud scandal.

If you look, you can find a few Democrats who have been staging their own version of Occupying Wall Street. Three state attorneys general are now taking a wrecking ball to the party’s key policy axis: the bank bailouts. Each has pledged to investigate possible fraud in the securitization of trillions of dollars of mortgages — and made significant legal moves that suggest they are serious about doing so […]

Obama’s administration represents the endpoint of 40 years of bank-friendly Robert Rubin-influenced ideology. The three state attorneys general — Eric Schneiderman of New York, Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Beau Biden of Delaware — are now attempting to build a new coalition and ideology, knit together by the concept of justice that lies behind law and order.

What these law enforcement officers are doing is clearly popular with the public, popular with real-economy interests — and unpopular with the bank-dominated political elite.

As with the Wall Street protesters, it’s not clear where this road will lead, how powerful it is or whether it is sustainable. But these justice Democrats are trailblazing a new frontier. There are other politicians around the nation also following this path. These politicians represent not just a different set of tactics but a tentative new ideological direction for the Democratic Party.

These AGs shouldn’t be completely lionized – that was a mistake of the Obama era. They should be told that they are responding to legitimate concerns and they need to continue to do so. In a way, that is what the political class, including unions and community organizers and the progressive groups are operating around #OccupyWallStreet. There’s a way for this to breed its own success, even if everyone doesn’t sing off the same song sheet with the same exact 10-point plan for action. That’s the way that this movement can tap into broadly shared feelings in the public:

“It’s really incredible to me, the passion and conviction these people have,” said Lou Crossin, who works for a company that sells corporate governance research to large investors. “I don’t think these are violent people. They’re just standing up for their beliefs.”

And anyway, on the other side of this you have Presidential candidates who tell people struggling that “if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” You have the sense of terms being set. You have the 99% versus the 1%. It’s a class war where that 1% struck first and at a sustained level for 30 years. They must not like the pushback.

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David Dayen

David Dayen