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Democrats see minefield in Occupy protests
Such talk has frustrated some Democratic leaders, who say engaging electoral politics would make the Occupy Wall Street movement more effective.
“I want them to get up and start registering voters, start playing towards the 2012 election,” former Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell said at a seminar at Harvard University last week. “Not just the presidential, but congressional and Senate elections and state legislative elections. That’s where they can make real change.”
At least one candidate seems to be channeling the energy of the Occupy Wall Street movement: Democrat Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard Law School professor challenging Republican Sen. Scott Brown in Massachusetts.
Warren’s campaign has drawn national attention after she described how the rich should pay more in taxes since they had benefited the most from government policies. Warren later claimed to have laid the “intellectual foundation” for the Occupy movement but stressed that protesters need to obey the law.
While Warren’s campaign has drawn intense grass-roots enthusiasm — an estimated 1,000 people jammed a volunteer meeting in Boston on Sunday — Republicans are eager to turn her ties to the Occupy movement against her.
Crossroads GPS, a Republican super PAC with ties to former George W. Bush political director Karl Rove, released a television ad in Massachusetts linking Warren to rowdy Occupy protests. The group also called on Warren to “condemn the Occupy Wall Street movement for the escalating criminality, violence and extreme radicalization.”
For their part, Republicans recognized an electoral ally in the tea party movement soon after its inception in early 2009, when activists began protesting government spending and the federal bank bailouts.
While many tea party members claimed to be nonpartisan, they were mostly white, older and Republican-leaning and shared the GOP’s goal of limiting government and cutting spending. Obama was the poster child for the opposite view. Tea party activists helped drive many of the angry congressional town hall meetings protesting Obama’s health care overhaul, and the sweeping Republican victories in the 2010 midterm elections were fueled in large party by tea party enthusiasm.
While the Occupy movement has not had similar tangible goals, activists say it has already had an impact on the political dialogue.
Labor leaders say the movement’s message of economic inequality was a factor in Ohio, where voters overwhelmingly repealed a law curtailing public employees’ right to collective bargaining. And some are crediting the movement with successfully pressuring Bank of America to drop its plan to charge customers a $5 monthly fee to use their bank cards.
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introduced legislation last week to prevent banks from circumventing state-level caps on interest rates. In an interview with The Associated Press, Whitehouse credited the Occupy movement for renewing public focus on banking practices.
“I’m hoping we can take advantage of some of that interest and energy in this,” Whitehouse said.
“We’ve changed the whole conversation. It’s been a paradigm shift,” she said.
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