The Rev. Al Sharpton brought his nationally syndicated radio show to the New York hub of the Occupy Wall Street movement on Monday, lending his support to a cause that he says speaks for “99% of the people.”
“We are here today because we agree 1% should not be controlling the (nation’s) wealth,” Sharpton said on his program from Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan. “These (demonstrators) are regular people trying to feed their families, trying to pay their rent and mortgages, trying to survive.”
“Keepin’ It Real,” hosted by the outspoken civil rights activist, is the latest media outlet to shine a spotlight on the movement. As of Monday, demonstrators will have camped out at the privately owned Zuccotti Park for 24 days. And their efforts appear to be gaining steam, spawning like-minded protests in more than a dozen cities nationwide.
Organizers of the “leaderless resistance movement” also billed Monday as “Kids Speak Out” day, given that many schoolchildren are off for Columbus Day.
“Even as banks got bailed out, American children have witnessed their parents get tossed out of their homes and lose their jobs. Public school kids have lost arts, music and physical education,” the movement’s website said. “Now our kids can see activists take these issues to the streets in a democratic forum at Occupy Wall Street.”
On Sunday, politicians fought to cast the ongoing protests in a very different light, with two GOP presidential hopefuls calling them “class warfare” and prominent Democrats expressing support for the protesters.
As lawmakers took to the political talk shows, a crowd of about 100 people protested outside the White House, part of a wave of protests spreading nationwide inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement.
The Secret Service said one person was arrested and will be charged with assault on a police officer after throwing a shoe at a uniformed officer.
Lisa Simeone, one of the protest organizers, said the man was trying to throw his shoe over the fence of the White House but missed.
Most of those taking part carried an anti-war message — something that has happened in other cities as well. Several carried signs asking President Barack Obama to join them for a “beer summit.”
Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, who visited a protest Saturday in Atlanta, said Sunday that the protesters “want to be heard.”
“And at the same time they want to speak to America, speak to people in power, to officials of the American government but also to the business community, especially Wall Street, to corporate America, to bankers. They’re saying, in effect, that we bailed out Wall Street and now it’s time for Wall Street and corporate America to help bail out the American people.
“People are hurting. They’re in pain and they’re looking for jobs. They want us to humanize the American government but also humanize corporate America.”
Lewis said he visited the rally near his Atlanta office “to lend my support and to encourage the people because I support their efforts all across America.” He was unable to speak to the crowd, he said, but not because he was refused. Lewis said the group told him he could speak after they finished their business, but that he had to leave.
The movement decries corporate greed and social inequality. But demonstrations have evolved to also include topics such as the war in Afghanistan and the environment.
The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has a petition on its website, asking people to support the protests and send a message to the “reckless Republican leadership in Congress.”
Lewis drew comparisons to his experience in the civil rights movement. “When we marched on Washington 48 years ago we marched for jobs and freedom. But we spelled it out. We said we wanted a civil rights bill. We said we wanted that bill to contain a ban on discrimination and public accommodation and employment, and we got it a year later. But these individuals all across America are saying, in effect, that the banks and other businesses are holding millions and billions of dollars and they need to invest in the American people. They need to put people back to work.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said she supports “the message to the establishment, whether it’s Wall Street or the political establishment and the rest, that change has to happen.”
“We cannot continue in a way that … is not relevant to their lives,” Pelosi told ABC’s “This Week.” “People are angry.”
The California Democrat was asked about a remark by her colleague across the aisle Rep. Eric Cantor, the No. 2 Republican in the House, who said he was concerned about “growing mobs” who were “pitting … Americans against Americans.”
“I didn’t hear him say anything when the tea party was out demonstrating, actually spitting on members of Congress right here in the Capitol, and he and his colleagues were putting signs in the windows encouraging them,” Pelosi said.
GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain, meanwhile, told CBS’ “Face the Nation” that he believes the protests are aimed at drawing attention away from President Obama.
“The proof is quite simply the bankers and the people on Wall Street didn’t write these failed policies of the Obama administration. They didn’t spend a trillion dollars that didn’t work. The administration and the Democrats spent a trillion dollars,” Cain said. Citing the president’s new jobs bill, Cain added that the “administration is proposing another $450 billion wrapped in different rhetoric. So it’s a distraction, so many people won’t focus on the failed policies of this administration.”
Cain insisted that the protesters “were encouraged to get together.” When asked by whom, he said, “We know that the unions and certain union-related organizations have been behind these protests that have gone on.”
In New York, several unions endorsed the Occupy Wall Street movement last week.
Cain insisted the protests are “anti-American.”
“The free market system and capitalism are two of the things that have allowed this nation and this economy to become the biggest in the world,” he said. “Even though we have our challenges, I believe that the protests are more anti-capitalism and anti-free market than anything else.”
Fellow GOP presidential hopeful Newt Gingrich told CBS that he agrees with Cain that the protests are “a natural product of Obama’s class warfare. … We have had a strain of hostility to free enterprise. And frankly a strain of hostility to classic America starting in our academic institutions and spreading across this country. And I regard the Wall Street protest as a natural outcome of a bad education system, teaching them really dumb ideas.”
Both Cain and Gingrich described the protests as “class warfare.”
Pelosi rejected that. “When we said everyone should pay their fair share, the other side said that’s class warfare,” she said on ABC. “No, it’s not. It’s the most enduring American value: fairness. And it’s about everyone paying their fair share. We all have a responsibility to grow our economy, reduce the deficit, keep us No. 1.”
Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, told NBC’s “Meet the Press,” “I don’t disparage anybody who protests their government for better government. No matter what perspective they come from.”
Republicans “want to lower the barriers against Americans who want to rise,” he said. Ryan added that divisive rhetoric is “troubling. Sowing class envy and social unrest is not what we do in America.”
Jesse LaGreca, a blogger for the liberal Daily Kos, told ABC, “I think the matter at hand is that the working-class people in America, you know, the 99% of Americans who aren’t wealthy and aren’t prospering in this economy, have been entirely ignored by the media. Our political leaders pander to us, but they don’t take action. They stand in the way of change. They filibuster on behalf of the wealthiest 1%. They fold on behalf of the wealthiest 1%.”
“We should ask our government to represent the will of the people,” he said. “And if the will of the people are demanding action, then they should follow suit.”