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What Can Wall Street Protests Do Next? Debt Counseling

Memo Pad National News

What Can Wall Street Protests Do Next? Debt Counseling


Here’s a new idea for “Occupy Wall Street,” as the demonstrations conclude their third week: the protesters and their allies should set up booths where people can get debt counseling, or help from a foreclosure lawyer (or any lawyer), or assistance in dealing with a health insurance company. It is increasingly clear that the wave of demonstrations across the country stem from a sense that the system isn’t working for the “99 percent” — and that some version of solidarity is vital.

There’s no reason for people to go it alone, without help, when they are trying work through the bureaucracy and paperwork of banks, health insurance companies, or even government benefits offices. And there’s a very good reason to offer such help within the context of broader demands, as Christopher Hayes once pointed out in an essay – published three years before the 2008 crash – that noted how many families were suffering under massive debt and foreclosure threats, and how liberals had failed to reach them.

Now there is another opportunity and a far greater need. Rather than just a mass airing of grievances, the “Occupy” demonstration sites could become an open-air help center – a place of practical protest. People who empathize with the crowds but can’t stay overnight, or think drum circles are silly, or just can’t stand big crowds of “liberals,” could use their skills and smarts to assist other people in dealing with their piles of debt or hidden bank fees or unfair insurance decisions. (Organizers and volunteers could also provide free primary health care, as an insurgent Democratic Senate candidate did before and during his primary campaign in Arkansas last year.) Even college kids could just offer time to print out a necessary document for someone – like everyone – who feels bewildered by one of the many corporate or public bureaucracies that sometimes seem designed to screw ordinary people.

As unions and other progressive groups join the march, it’s worth remembering why these ragged bands of amateurs have drawn so much attention: Frustration with a broken system is not the sole province of liberal activists or even just liberals, as the early Tea Party manifestations showed. And it’s not just “fatuous liberal journalists” (as one conservative writer put it) who are taking the crowds in the street seriously. But that would be much clearer if the demonstrations were resembled something more than a concert for change.

In an essay recently published on the Washington Post website, labor organizer and historian Richard Yeselson wrote that in order to become involved in political action, people must “think that the movement connects to their everyday lives, that if it succeeds, those lives will be changed in an obvious and better way.” His point deserves to be taken seriously, especially by labor leaders who must decide whether and how they can support the “Occupy” movement.

As unions and other progressive groups join the march, it’s worth remembering why a ragged band of amateurs in downtown Manhattan has drawn so much attention: Frustration with a broken system is not the sole province of liberal activists or even just liberals, as the early Tea Party manifestations showed. And it’s not just “fatuous liberal journalists” (as one conservative writer put it) who empathize with the crowds in the street. So I confirmed during an afternoon spent speaking with the people who own and work in the shops around my Brooklyn neighborhood – the laundromat, the deli, the icre cream shop, the hardware store — rather than in Zuccotti Park with the activists, as I had originally planned.

Sam and Alonso, working at the Late Night Stars deli down the block, were all for the protests. A young immigrant from Yemen, Sam said, “We’ve been waiting for them to say something all this time. Their conscience is awakening,” he added, noting that the events of the past year in the Mideast proved that anything can happen. Alonso, who moved from upstate New York in hope of opening a bagel store, agreed, adding that banks and big corporations do everyting “in tiny print.”

Our conversation was interrupted by a middle-aged Italian-American named Frank, who owns a nearby paint store. He scoffed at the demonstrators as “trust fund babies.” But soon an 85 year-old World War II veteran in a sweatsuit walked in. Asked what he thought of the protesters, he said wistfully, “They’re beautiful people, but there needs to be 50 million of them and they need to march on the White House.” Explaining that he doesn’t like the president (“not because he’s black”), he suggested talking with his friend Mike, who owned the ice cream store down the block.

In his early 60s, Mike had a theory about the demonstrators, suggesting that they had been inspired by the writings of radical Saul Alinsky and “self-proclaimed communists” like former White House adviser Van Jones.

But “of course they have merit,” he said of the demonstrations, when the discussion turned to national “You get frustrated blue in the face,” said Mike. “Regular working people around here are all for it until the [protesters]do cuckoo things like trying to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge,” where hundreds were arrested last week.

Although Mike didn’t like the stimulus or social welfare programs, he said it’s impossible for small business owners like him to deal with banks and insurance companies.

I floated my idea to turn the demonstration sites into places where people could work together to solve problems. He was more enthusiastic: “Everybody needs help gaming the system! Big corporations and big government do it all the time,” he exclaimed. “But they’d need a permit.”

They could probably get one – and they might attract people like the alienated citizens on my block if they did.



  1. Shaun Costello October 8, 2011


  2. omgamike October 8, 2011

    I have been following these protests on an daily basis. I agree totally with what the writer posits. This is a growing movement and in order to facilitate that growth, to help it along, individuals need to demonstrate a willingness to not only protest, but to get involved by listening and offering help to some of those in need. Whether or not that help is actually successful is not as important as the act of trying to help. That would go a long way to proving their point, and would also bring those who believe the protestors to be “nut cases”, to their side. By the way, I totally agree with the protests. They are long overdue! I can honestly say that if I was not a disabled senior, I would be down there with them, offering what help I could, as little as it might be.

  3. songman October 8, 2011

    I have been hoping for a grass roots movement to develop. I watch Fox News just to watch the right nibble on the linoleum. They are scared to death that this may materialize into an effective catalyst for change

  4. Capatin Caveman October 8, 2011

    I am in full support of occupy wall street,we are not here for violence,we are the 99% of this economy who bust there butts for what,to give to the rich and big business,and what do we get back in return more fees added to take out our own money from the banks,No! health insurance for workers and our families,and this Obama,crape does not kick in till 2014,big deal how does that hell all of us now.
    And when we listen too Uncle Ton,Herman Cain,he is right about one thing the problem is at the White House,when Obama signs it in too law.but he can also veto bills as well,but the problem starts in the House and the Senate were these bills come to life and when the reach the White House Obama,can either sing them into law or veto them so they are both at fault.
    I am a African American,and I do not care if a black or white man is in the White House the point that all of this is going on is that the White House,and the House or Representatives are not listening and we as the 99% are fed up with it,and Herman Cain,needs to quit acting like a UNCLE TOM1!!! which he is doing and as a Black man that is what I am saying and I am fed up with him period
    Occupy Wall Street,is not going any were,either you listen to us or this will sooner or later be like Paris,France and come the election of 2012 we are going to kick all of you out of Washington,I am one of those (Independent-Voters) and your going to regret what you and big business have done to us other 99%

  5. BFStancliff October 8, 2011

    We are seniors and are struggling month to month just to pay for housing, food and prescriptions and yet no one seems to care! No cola going on 3 years and now they are talking about cutting payments to the doctors. again! Why is no one speaking about this? And if I were able health wise I would join those demonstrating on Wall Street, we need to march on Washington and take back our country before there is nothing left! All those in Washington from the President dawn need to be reminded of who elected them and what they were elected for, not to see how much they can take from us. If they want to balance the budget then step up and reduce their salaries. We have lost so much and all the other countries are laughing behind our backs and how our own government is using us for their own gain. Elections are worthless since it now appears that no matter who is elected we loose! Come on America stand up for us, make our needs heard!

  6. j0o October 8, 2011

    Out of work -check. Health insurance problems – check. Major mortgage struggles – check. One of 99% – check. Support OCCUPYwallstreet – capital check. Obama supporter – half check. Obama a disappointment – check. Obama backbone – needs one, desperately. Ready to vote – dimming.

  7. peteserb October 8, 2011

    Protesters on wall street are not the unemployed of the recession. They are the mindless parasites of our society. They want to share the wealth at other peoples expense. While liberal rags like the national memo try to build them up like the true patriots of the tea party. Slobs like Michael Moore and the communist George Soros are their poster boys.

  8. sarahg October 8, 2011

    I think the last thing the demonstrators should do is work in some sort of benign way with help clinics and all that. That is crap!! What they should do is get violent, riot in the streets and scare the living fu#$ out of the people who have ruthlessley and cynically ruined our country and then got paid big money for it. I think those who work in elected positions also need to get a healthy dose of fear of the people in order for real change to occur. In order for those who hold those positions to respect and truly be accountable to the people of this country, they need to have a healthy fear of crossing the people. Nobody is truly respected who is not feared on some level. Period. And elected officials sure as sh#$ do not respect the people of this country. They have all but removed the testicles of the people and have dominated the crap out of them. Fear is the only true road to respect and proper treatment. There is no other way to change this nasty, greedy, rotten legally and financially dominated place!!!!

  9. mrv October 8, 2011

    These are people who have either worked for a living or are trying to start their way in this economy trashed by the 1%ers as for youpeteserb you keep spewing the same dribble from Rush Windbag and Fraud News give it a rest. Sarahg I feel you but violence at this point would only serve the 1% in twisting the true story like they did many years ago with the Bonus Army.

  10. AmericanWorker5206 October 10, 2011

    peteserb stated: Protesters on wall street are not the unemployed of the recession. They are the mindless parasites of our society. They want to share the wealth at other peoples expense.

    You mean like the wealthy who got there gains and wealth on the backs of the working poor and/or working class, and Government special classing because of their wealth. They get the tax breaks and free lunches and the perks while at the expense of the working class and the poor. As it has been said and proven, the whole of the working class pay more into taxes in one year than the whole of the wealthy do. If you want to hurt the wealthy we should all have a work stoppage for a year and see where the goverment would get their money to pay their bills and debt, it certainly would not be from the wealthy. Then lets go a step furnther and lock up the accounts for one years of all the wealthy and make sure their wallets and safes are empty, and make them live on government subsidies, or better yet, make them go out and work for minium wage, and make ends meet like you keep telling us poor and working class to do and settle for. Could any of them do it? Not likely!!

    Yes, the poor and working class want to share in the wealth, however unlike the wealthy of this country, it is not on the backs of the working poor, we know what the struggle is all about, and we would take our brothers and sisters with us so they too could enjoy the wealth, we wouldn’t stomp them into to the dirt to get to the top of the heap.

  11. Shaun Costello October 10, 2011


  12. countgregor October 13, 2011

    Mindless Idiots??? The mindless idiots are not the protesters. The mindless ones are the ones that would break their grandmothers life’s savings for a $50 commission. I know–I used to be a broker and know what jerks are in the brokerage business. They are not only parasites–but sociopaths and psychopaths. Look up the medical definitions and see for yourself. I left the business because I couldn’t stand the extreme greed I saw. I am a farmer now and much happier too. At least I produce something. I am pleased that the gen Y’s and gen Y’s have takenen up where we Baby Boomers left off in 1975 after we tamed a unresponsive US Government. Yes–We stopped a senseless war–got the 18 year old vote–disgraced a crooked US Corporate Culture that nurtured weapons of war for huge profit, caused mini wars for profit, got rid of the draft, where you could be pulled from civilian life, a good job and young family and be paid $68 a month in a matter of 10 days, without much notice. We made a difference–and the Gen Y’s and Gen X’s can do even more because there are more lopsided injustices now than there was back then. Supporting the protesters is supporting the real America we haven’t seen in 30 years. If I feel better I am going to demonstrate against the rotten bums that have darn near destroyed the country I was born into in 1952. It was a great and generous country and could pay its bills and people paid their bills and enjoyed life except for the constant threat the Republicans threw at us about instant death from nuclear attack. Hit the bricks–and let them know it’s our country and they will tap dance to our music for a change. Just Do it !!!!!!!!!

  13. Monica October 14, 2011

    Countgregor couldn’t have put it better! I was born in 1943 and I feel just like he does. I have seen it coming for a long time and anyone who doesn’t think we are in serious trouble has their head buried in the sand. What we have done to this country in just my lifetime is beyond belief. I only hope it’s not too late to turn it all around. For the sake of our children, grand-children and 2 great grand-daughters I am ready for whatever it takes.

  14. countgregor October 14, 2011

    RIGHT ON BABY____________________________________

  15. countgregor October 14, 2011

    Think back to Woodstock–bandanas on your forehead–throwing teargas canisters back at the cops. Kicking the police dogs in the chops, rushing the lines of cops and busting through—letting an out of control society know we were in charge now and they were now slowly loosing the battle and our generation was gaining control. Tell your children and grandchildren it was sometimes painful–but was worth every cut and bruise when the real people take control and the jerks start to run for cover. I never regretted one second of my stand against self rightious bruts. The bruises from clubs healed, the clothes dried from high pressure water hoses, and my eye sight cleared up from tear gas but the battle was eventually won. Many of my friends served in Vietnam, and there were hard feelings at first–but today we laugh and I always say they fought the enemy and I fought the cops. I helped get them home before they got killed and today we all laugh about what a though time it was but we somehow survived because we each did our own special duty.


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