Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Wall Street's Real Demands

Rep. Keith Ellison,

Occupy Wall Street activism is gaining strength daily, but pundits and politicians are struggling to understand the emergence of this movement.

The reaction in Washington says more about us -- the political insiders -- than it does about the thousands of participants. Almost as soon as it formed, the protesters were criticized for not having concrete demands. No one could identify the group's "leader." Even the media didn't take the New York occupation seriously until YouTube videos showed people being arrested. Now in their fourth week, the protests are proving that it is not the concreteness of their demands but the staying power and resonance of their anger that have caught our attention.

The Occupy movement is attracting ordinary Americans through concrete action that conveys a clear message. The message is that working Americans want Wall Street to be accountable. The message is that working Americans want a fair tax system. Americans want the Congress to pass legislation that produces jobs.

Ordinary Americans understand that Wall Street's transgressions are clear. Wall Street set off the global financial crisis by gambling with our retirement savings and mortgages. Companies like Goldman Sachs bet against the very mortgages they were selling, knowing these investments -- and the middle class's -- would fail while they made millions. After taking billions in taxpayer bailout funds, banks cut small business's credit lines and, in the case of Bank of America, laid off 30,000 American workers. They've increased consumers' fees and won't lend to worthy customers. Years after the crisis hit, the mortgage industry was still using fake signatures to sign documents and the foreclosure crisis persists. The Occupy movement seeks accountability.

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