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Occupy Wall Street: Can it ever match tea party clout?

Economic conditions have seemed ripe for a popular uprising from the left, and now 'Occupy Wall Street' protests are marshaling those forces. But so far the tea party has greater focus and intensity.

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By the time activists latched on to a 2009 rant by CNBC’s Rick Santelli, who raised the idea of a modern-day tea party, the field had been prepared. The American right knew who its enemy was, and conservative politicians, donors, and media – notably Fox News – lavished attention and support on tea party rallies to help the movement grow.

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But “how do we account for the relative silence of the left?” asked Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University historian, in a recent New York Times opinion column.

To be sure, the left has its own parallel groups and backers. But their clout has been diminishing, argues Mr. Kazin. Private-sector labor unions have been in steady decline, he notes, and other liberal groups have changed so they cater more to middle-class social causes (the environment, same-sex marriage) than to the economic concerns of ordinary workers.

Occupy Wall Street could become a remedy to that for the left. The Wall Street protests in part express the frustration of a “lost generation” of young Americans facing high student-loan debts and grim job prospects. But they have rallied support from liberal groups ranging from labor unions to, which added a “virtual march on Wall Street” to its website on Oct. 5. Film celebrities like Michael Moore and Susan Sarandon have lent their voices.

The protests have also brought people like Paul Vena on board.

Mr. Vena, who attended a recent rally against Bank of America in Boston, lives in Burlington, Mass., a middle-class suburb outside the city. He says he’s not a protester by nature, but has grown deeply concerned about America’s future.

It doesn’t help that two of his sons, with college degrees in economics and business, are unemployed, and that he has recently had his own bout of joblessness.

If the economic problems aren’t addressed, he says, “I actually worry about a revolution coming in 2020 or later.”

What the Wall Street protests show most clearly, perhaps, is that the dissatisfaction that is fueling the right is now also starting to drive the left.

“Obama just flat-out failed to deliver on the most important promise of his campaign,” says Cenk Uygur, host of Current TV’s “The Young Turks,” a show on politics. “He said we are going to fundamentally change the way Washington works. He hardly tried.”


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