Rep. Keith Ellison talks with protesters as he arrives to speak at the Campaign for America's Future "Jobs, Not Cuts" rally at the Capitol on Wednesday.
But activist Matthew Skomarovsky, who has been closely following the uprising in New York, said most of the protesters involved in the movement there are skeptical of both parties.
“There must be an alternative way of building power whose first object isn’t just to elect a Democrat or Republican to Congress,” he said.
The gap between the grass roots and more established groups is not unlike one tea partyers faced in their movement’s early phases. As the conservative anti-tax movement grew, Members of Congress, including Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) and Sen. Jim DeMint (R-S.C.), and advocacy leaders, such as former House Majority Leader and FreedomWorks Chairman Dick Armey (R-Texas), rushed to shape it.
Labor unions who joined the Wall Street protesters Wednesday and Members of Congress and advocacy groups who held the solidarity rally in D.C. may try to do the same with the Occupy movement.
Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus with Ellison and also spoke at Wednesday’s solidarity rally, drew a distinction between the growing movement and the tea party.
“The tea party movement was built on fear and division, and this movement and this push back is based on a very fundamental idea of fairness and hope,” Grijalva said in an interview.
Skomarovsky said he does not think the Wall Street protesters will succumb to outside pressure.
So far, the organizers have held regular meetings, sometimes with hundreds of people, to reach consensus on even the smallest details. When discussing whether to buy sleeping bags for the winter, some activists raised objections about whether the purchases would support capitalism and undermine their efforts.
“It would be a 180-degree turn to raise money from a bunch of rich people and unions and channel that into the electoral process,” Skomarovsky said. “That kind of process can get a Barack Obama to the White House, but it’s not going to really challenge the power of Wall Street.”
But the movement already appears to be accepting money and help from established groups. Democracy for America, a political action committee started by Howard Dean, sent an email to supporters Wednesday asking them to donate money for sleeping bags to give the protesters.
Jim Dean, chairman of the group and brother to the former presidential candidate, said his goal is to support the movement, not own it.
“We want to help the people that are there and make sure they can stay there as long as they can,” he said. “The longer those folks are there, the more public support they are going to be getting and the better the chances are that we are going to get real reform out of this.”
Jim Dean said he expects the organizers will eventually propose policies to reform Wall Street, but that has not been the case so far. The protesters have issued a declaration that offers a long list of what they don’t like — corporate greed, animal cruelty, colonialism, low wages and discrimination — but little about what they want.
With the tea party, the lawmakers and groups who embraced the movement also gave it definition. Whether the Wall Street protests go down a similar path could determine how successful they are, said David Meyer, a sociology professor at the University of California, Irvine.
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