‘The silent masses aren’t so silent anymore’

Press releases from Capitol Hill are generally easy to dismiss, but one this morning caught my eye. It was sent by House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (D-Conn.), sent on behalf of the caucus, as opposed to just himself, “applauding” the “Occupy Wall Street Movement.”

“In New York and across the country, thousands of Americans have taken to the streets, certain of the morality of their message: bringing fairness to Main Street,” Larson said. “The silent masses aren’t so silent anymore. They are fighting to give voice to the struggles that everyday Americans are going through.”

These protests aren’t invisible to the establishment anymore, and when the House Democratic Caucus is officially applauding the demonstrations, it’s clearly a positive development for the burgeoning movement.

Republicans are taking note of Occupy Wall Street, too. Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney was asked about the protests yesterday, and he said, “I think it’s dangerous — this class warfare.” As it turns out, I would imagine many of the activists involved would agree that class warfare is dangerous, though Romney and the protestors would define the phrase differently.

Herman Cain, meanwhile, shared his thoughts on the demonstrations with the Wall Street Journal: “Don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!”

If that quote alone doesn’t inspire some more of the 99% to get engaged, I’m not sure what will.

As for the larger context of the developments, I found Jonathan Cohn’s take on Occupy Wall Street pretty compelling.

During my lifetime, the activist left has gone through several incarnations, focusing on a series of different causes. For much of the 80s and 90s, very generally speaking, the focus was largely on identity politics. Then attention moved to globalization and then, during the Bush presidency, to wars abroad.

As far as I can tell, this is the first time the activist left has focused seriously on issues of economic opportunity at home…. [T]his movement has a real chance to help shape the debate over economic policy in this country — not merely about the financial industry, which is the object of protests right now, but also about inequality generally.

True, the protesters don’t have such an agenda right now. In fact, they don’t really have any agenda at all, at least in the traditional sense. But it’s not like their animating worldview is such a mystery.

Quite right. I’m hoping the protests lead, in time, to specific demands and goals that policymakers could be pressed to approve, but in general, pleas for economic justice are pretty straightforward, and have the opportunity to change the nature of the national debate in long overdue ways.