Everyone, it seems, has an opinion about the Occupy Wall Street movement and related demonstrations now headed into their fourth week.
At the most elemental level, some merchants near the hub of activity in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park are getting a bit fed up with the camped-out crowds – locking restrooms and providing keys to cash-paying customers only.
“I’m looked at as the enemy of the people,” café owner Stacey Tzortzatos told the New York Times.
IN PICTURES: Wall Street protests multiply
For its part, the American public seems ambiguous about the movement – apparently separating message from image.
According to a Rasmussen poll this week, 79 percent of Americans agree that “the big banks got bailed out but the middle class got left behind.”
But, reports Rasmussen, “Americans are divided on the protesters themselves. Thirty-three percent have a favorable opinion, 27 percent hold an unfavorable view, and a plurality of 40 percent have no opinion one way or the other.”
It was inevitable that the movement would become political, particularly when it lasted beyond a couple of weeks and spread to dozens of other cities. So politicians began weighing in, pretty much along party lines.
“The fact is these people are anarchists,” Rep. Peter King (R) of New York said on the Laura Ingraham radio show Friday. “They have no idea what they’re doing out there. They have no sense of purpose other than a basically anti-American tone and anti-capitalist. It’s a ragtag mob basically.”
“I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country,” House majority leader Eric Cantor (R) of Virginia told the conservative Values Voter Summit in Washington Friday. “And believe it or not, some in this town, have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans.”
Rep. Cantor’s little dig at Democrats and class warfare seemed to be in response to what House minority leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California had said a day earlier.
“God bless them for their spontaneity,” Rep. Pelosi told reporters Thursday. “It’s young, it’s spontaneous, it’s focused and it’s going to be effective.”
“The focus is on Wall Street and justifiably so,” Pelosi said. “The message of the American people is that no longer … will the recklessness of some on Wall Street cause massive joblessness on Main Street.”
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg – with a net worth of nearly $20 billion he’s way up there among the 1 percenters – felt the need to stand up for his city’s bankers.
“The protests that are trying to destroy the jobs of working people in this city aren’t productive,” Bloomberg said during his weekly radio show Friday.
It seems unlikely that the protesters will actually “destroy the jobs” of investment bankers and others in the financial industry – don’t expect to see men in suits and ties selling apples on Wall Street – but never mind.
A key question at this point is whether the Occupy Wall Street movement now spreading nationally will develop the legs that the tea party movement has – becoming a key player in congressional and state elections, for example.
Nate Silver, whose FiveThirtyEight blog in the New York Times is widely read, reports that “news media coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests has increased since demonstrators clashed with the police, and is beginning to rival coverage given to Tea Party protests in 2009.”
The two groups are angry about some of the same things, especially the government bailouts for big banks, writes David Meyer in a Washington Post column.
“It’s not something they’re likely to claim credit for, but members of the tea party cleared the way for protesters on the other side of the political spectrum,” writes Meyer, professor of sociology and political science at the University of California at Irvine and the author of “The Politics of Protest: Social Movements in America.” “The tea party demonstrated that protest works, even when government doesn’t.”
The Wall Street crowd has some celebrities in its corner, rhetorical support from some unions, and (most recently) the backing of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream company. The tea party movement has had financial backing from well-funded political and business interests like the industrialist Koch brothers, billionaires like Bloomberg.
So far, that doesn’t seem like much of a match.