Democrats are rallying behind the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, with several lawmakers endorsing the protests in New York City that have begun to spread to other cities.
Several liberal House lawmakers endorsed the protests Wednesday, and the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus said they had been inspired by demonstrators who have been arrested and pepper sprayed during altercations with police.
“We share the anger and frustration of so many Americans who have seen the enormous toll that an unchecked Wall Street has taken on the overwhelming majority of Americans while benefitting the super wealthy,” Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) said in a joint statement.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman John Larson (Conn.) released a statement Wednesday saying, “The silent masses aren't so silent anymore. They are fighting to give voice to the struggles that everyday Americans are going through.”
Protest organizers call the rallies a “leaderless resistance movement.” The demonstrators include union workers, college students and groups such as MoveOn.org, who are protesting the wealthy “1 percent” represented by Wall Street. A popular sign used by protesters reads, "I'm the 99 percent.”
Some have likened the genesis of the movement to that of a “liberal Tea Party.” Protests mostly have coalesced around the Financial District in New York City but have started to spread to other cities including Washington D.C.
New York City arrested about 700 protesters last weekend.
“While I don't condone their every action, I applaud their standing up for what they believe in,” Larson said in his statement.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) and Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio) also released statements sympathizing with protesters.
“I’m so proud to see the Occupy Wall Street movement standing up to this rampant corporate greed and peacefully participating in our democracy,” Slaughter said.
Kucinich lauded the protesters for “braving the crack-down of local authorities” and exercising “freedom of expression.” He told them in a video statement: “Your presence is making a difference.”
Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), a leader in both the Congressional Black and Congressional Progressive caucuses, also gave voice to the protesters this week.
"All of us should join that movement," Lee told a liberal crowd gathered in Washington on Tuesday for the Take Back the American Dream conference.
Speaking at the same event, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) endorsed the movement as well.
“We have the crooks on Wall Street, and I use that word advisedly – don't misquote me, the word is crooks – whose greed, whose recklessness, whose illegal behavior caused this terrible recession with so much suffering,” Sanders said Tuesday. “We believe in this country; we love this country; and we will be damned if we're going to see a handful of robber barons control the future of this country.”
Still, Sanders warned that the protesters need to adopt a more unified message if they hope to be effective.
"I applaud those protesters who are out there, who are focusing attention on Wall Street, but what we've got to do is put meat on that bone," Sanders said. "We've got to make demands on Wall Street [and] break those institutions up."
Kucinich used the movement as an opportunity to criticize the Federal Reserve.
“Our policies have taken the wealth of the nation and accelerated upwards into the hands of the few,” he said. “We need a financial system that is of the people and for the people. It is time to take our monetary system back from the big banks.”
Kucinich advocated putting the Federal Reserve under the Treasury Department as a solution.
Rep. Ron Paul (R-Texas), an outspoken critic across the aisle of the Federal Reserve, also indicated this week that he sympathized with the protesters.
“If they were demonstrating peacefully, and making a point, and arguing our case, and drawing attention to the Fed — I would say, good!” Paul said following a town-hall meeting in New Hampshire.
— Mike Lillis contributed to this story.