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Democrats Offer Solidarity to Wall Street Protesters

 

The Democratic Party moved a step closer to embracing the Occupy Wall Street movement as its own with the top campaign arm for House Democrats sending around a petition urging people to "stand with" the movement.

In an email sent Monday morning, Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee Director Robby Mook appealed for signatures to an online petition in support of those who want "to let billionaires, big oil and big bankers know that we're not going to let the richest 1% force draconian economic policies and massive cuts to crucial programs on Main Street Americans." 

The DCCC is trying to gather 100,000 names on the petition to "send a message straight to Eric Cantor, Speaker Boehner, and the rest of reckless Republican leadership in Congress." 

The appeal comes after House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and other Republicans sharply criticized the protesters on Friday. At a Values Voter Summit in Washington, Cantor said he was "increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country." 

He described them as "the pitting of Americans against Americans," and scolded those who would condone them. 

"Getting American back to work means fueling a culture of entrepreneurialism, a culture of competitiveness, a culture of inspiration and optimism," he said. 

At the same summit, businessman and GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain called the demonstrations "anti-capitalism" and "anti-free market." On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday, Cain said it is "anti-American" to protest bankers. He said Wall Street didn't write the "failed economic policies."

In response to Cantor, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Cantor is being selective in his criticism of popular movements.

"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," she told ABC's "This Week."

Pelosi said she backs the protesters in their message.

"I support 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 does not -- that is not relevant to their lives. People are angry," she said. 

While the protesters have hit on everything from war to the current crop of Hollywood films, demonstrators primarily criticize the nation's big banks for burdening average Americans with loan debt, squeezing out borrowers, slapping customers with new fees and withholding trillions in capital. They say the richest 1 percent of the nation are hanging onto the wealth to the destruction of the other 99 percent of the nation. 

A document put out at the end of September attempts to sum up the initial grievances. The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City takes aim at corporations for using an "illegal foreclosure process" to take houses; taking "bailouts from taxpayers with impunity" while paying "exorbitant" executive bonuses; holding "students hostage" with education debt; influencing politicians with donations and about 20 other offenses. 

Indeed, the banks have in part have acted in response to the 2008 crisis and bailout, which required financial institutions to retain a higher amount of capital reserves. The agreement for federal aid was followed by a Wall Street reform bill supported by President Obama and named after two Democratic lawmakers, ex-Sen. Chris Dodd and Rep. Barney Frank, which capped swipe fees on debit cards and imposed regulations on lending, among other items. The law also ended the practice of the federal government bailing out banks. 

On NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday, former White House chief of staff and current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel defended Obama's handling of the banking crisis. 

"President Bush passed TARP, President Obama put the stress test in -- put and made sure that they raise private capital and passed a financial reform," Emanuel said. "Not all of that is perfect."

Still, he said, Obama showed "leadership" whereas Europe, which is still in the throes of a potential economic meltdown, "took a pass." 

Obama said last week that he thinks the protesters are "giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works." White House Press Secretary Jay Carney added that the protests on the streets of New York are "an expression of democracy."

As for the demonstrators, the Columbus Day holiday gave many additional free time to rally in Washington, D.C., and beyond. Protesters camped out in Freedom Plaza near the Treasury Department in Washington said they planned to stay longer than their permit allowed and would be willing to risk arrest.

"We have until 2 p.m. today to remove our possessions. We do not intend to do so. We suspect that if the police want to remove us by force they will wait until evening. So we're throwing a dinner party, and 99% of the country is invited. Our permit is now the First Amendment to the United States Constitution," wrote David Swanson, a member of the Stop the Machine protest group.

But a standoff never materialized, because later Monday, the group accepted an offer by the U.S. Park Police to extend their permit another four months.

One Democratic congressman who tried to show some solidarity with the protesters in Atlanta was turned away. In a video posted online, Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., could be seen attempting to address an Occupy Atlanta crowd. But through a confusing system of parliamentary procedures, the group's leader determined there was not enough "consensus" among the group to proceed, and Lewis ended up leaving. He later said he felt no slight by the refusal to speak.

Along with the September declaration, a related 55-page document posted online includes ideas for a "new economic charter." Among the suggestions is a new salary structure, through which doctors would be paid $28,000; lawyers would be paid $27,500; teachers would be paid $35,000; and bankers would be paid $20,000. Under that suggestion, submitted by one unnamed member of the "charter collaborative," the president would take home a cool $40,000. 

It's unclear whether supportive lawmakers will be able to fully integrate with the movement.