Outraged at money’s outsized — and growing — influence on politics, and still fuming at the bailout of the banks in 2008 and what they see as coddling of the industry since then, about a thousand activists came together in and around Wall Street on Saturday to lay their grievances at the doorsteps of America’s major financial institutions.
They want the Glass-Steagall Act, the law that required a wall of separation between the investment banks that issue stocks and the commercial banks that hold deposits — repealed in the heady days of deregulation at the close of the 1990s — reinstated. And they’re frustrated at the passivity of their peers in the political process.
Many voted for Barack Obama in 2008 — but threaten not to do again.
The protests, organized in part via Twitter and other social networking media by a group of hacker/activists who often refer to themselves collectively as “Anonymous,” failed to deliver on hefty projected turnout — but that may not be the important takeaway here.
Rosemary Topar, a progressive activist based in New York, said the unorthodox nature of the action spoke to the political climate.
“I believe that we are at a point in our nation and in the world where petitioning for the redress of grievances in traditional ways has become limited in its effectiveness, because the system is so broken that the only thing anyone in power seems to care about is fundraising and reelection. If politicians feel that in order to keep their campaign coffers filled and keep their jobs that they must be beholden to the corporate elite who donate and lobby them to death, then they end up only working in their interest instead of in the best interests of the American people as a whole. We have seen how effective mass, long-term action taken by those in Egypt and other nations has been in getting the people’s demands met, and we want to replicate that here,” she said.
Despite being very confident the president would win reelection, some attendees swore not to support him again, saying he had proven himself a friend of established financial interests and unwilling to redistribute wealth, despite Republicans having claimed that’s his goal since at least the final months of the 2008 campaign.
“He’s the establishment candidate. He’s not gonna repossess their wealth like we want. We’re not gonna get what we want here, and we know that,” said Tony Buontempo of Linden, New Jersey. He said he would back a third party next November.
Others were more supportive of the president, directing their fire less at Obama and more at the banks and corporations they see as dominating our politics.
“This is not the first time the country has faced big business. We need to have the rich let the money loose and get it into the system. We need it to create jobs and get the economy healthy again,” said Claudia Ford, another activist. Despite some disappointment, she said she would “absolutely” support the president next fall. “If nothing else, for the Supreme Court.”
Thus we have the president’s chief challenge heading into an election year: he needs to regain some of the luster and magic of 2008 and efficiently cast his opponent as so far out of the mainstream that disappointed liberals feel compelled to back him, his concessions to Republicans notwithstanding.
With Rick Perry riding high in polls for the Republican nomination, Obama could just pull it off.
Follow National Correspondent Matthew Taylor on Twitter for continuing coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests@matthewt_ny