Rage behind Occupy Wall Street similar to that fueling Tea Party - East Valley Tribune: Nation / World

Rage behind Occupy Wall Street similar to that fueling Tea Party

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Posted: Tuesday, October 11, 2011 8:47 am | Updated: 1:42 am, Sat Nov 12, 2011.

SAN FRANCISCO - The protest known as Occupy San Francisco is Mark Schwetz's first demonstration. After watching protesters mass against Wall Street excesses in New York last week, the soft-spoken 36-year-old carpenter's apprentice wanted to share his story of how a middle-class guy lost his home.

Schwetz stood in a light drizzle in front of the Federal Reserve building on San Francisco's Market Street recently, holding a plain white piece of cardboard with a handwritten plea: "Return our homes."

As the Occupy Wall Street movement expands across the nation, supporters hope to make it more politically powerful by focusing on real-life stories of people such as Schwetz.

His frustration and anger at the financial system, and politicians of both parties who do little to reform it, mirror the reason others are demonstrating in dozens of cities from New York to Salt Lake City. They proclaim themselves the 99 percent of Americans overrun by the wealthiest 1 percent, who control more than 40 percent of the nation's wealth.

Almost two-thirds of Americans surveyed in recent polls support raising taxes on those earning more than $1 million a year. Last week, Senate Democrats and President Barack Obama supported such a tax, less than a year after the president backed an extension of the Bush-era tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.

The rage behind the anti-Wall Street protests is similar to the Tea Party's backlash two years ago against giant government bailouts of big corporations in response to the financial crisis, some pundits have observed, although the new movement is dominated by liberals instead of conservatives.

"The real challenge," said Phyllis Bennis, a fellow at the liberal Institute for Policy Studies who studies social movements, is making the revolt against the accumulation of wealth "happen politically." The 3-week-old Occupy movement must spotlight the outrage of folks such as Schwetz to build a movement big enough to succeed in making tax-the-rich proposals become law, analysts say.

A few months after Schwetz purchased a home in Petaluma, Calif., in 2004, his subprime mortgage payments doubled. For five years, he poured almost all of his earning as a FedEx driver into his house payments, until he couldn't afford it any longer. He rented rooms to friends, but "it didn't help much," he said.

Schwetz's lender refused to renegotiate the borrowing terms. Two years ago, he sold his house, which had lost about half its original value of $400,000, for less than he owed on the mortgage -- a practice known as a short sale. Then injuries to his back forced him to quit his job. Now, he's trying to restart his life with a new career in carpentry.

In the process, he had to drain his 401(k) and lost his health insurance.

"I'm angry and I'm frustrated, and it's really unfair what's been done," said Schwetz, who now lives in Berkeley, Calif.

Census figures released last month show that 15.4 million Americans are living below the poverty line in suburban areas outside of major metropolitan cities.

Critics of the fledgling movement dismiss it as the rambling of the usual protesters -- a cacophony of liberal causes broadcasting a scattershot message. It's much of the same language that was used to dismiss the antiwar movement a decade ago when the United States invaded Afghanistan, Bennis said.

Jason Mark, who organized war protests across the nation a decade ago, understands the challenge of expanding a movement in its nascent stage. TV coverage at the time focuses on street conflicts between demonstrators and police rather than the reasons people were on the streets.

While several major labor unions and celebrities including "Austin Powers" star Mike Myers joined the Occupy Wall Street protests in recent days, much of the movement is being led, like the early Tea Party rebellion, by a disparate group of people driven by their frustration at the system.

Some liberal activists credit the Tea Party as a role model for what the Occupy Wall Street movement could become. Two years ago -- before being embraced by the Republican Party, promoted by Fox News and funded by various conservative organizations -- the Tea Party began as a bunch of people angry and frustrated that the federal government had bailed out big banks and major auto companies.

Less than two years later, a few dozen Tea Party-friendly Republicans newly elected to the House are driving the debate in Washington.

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