Earlier in the month, Greg Sargent reported that Working America, the community affiliate of the AFL-CIO, which organizes working-class and lower-middle-class people not in unions, had success signing up members because of excitement generated by Occupy Wall Street. Wednesday, Karen Nussbaum, the organization's executive director, discussed that response.
"Occupy Wall Street has unleashed a sense of public possibility," Nussbaum said, and is beginning to turn around a "growing sense of social isolation" that organizers had been seeing in the field in recent years, with people feeling that nothing they could do would make a difference to policy or politics.
A majority of Working America members identify as moderates or conservatives, and while more than 80 percent are active voters, they're not typically activists. As such, Republicans are right that it's not these people's style to be out in tents occupying local parks. But Nussbaum reported that the idea of the 99 percent has enormous resonance in the neighborhoods Working America visits, and that explicit support for the Occupy protests far outweighs the opposition Republicans keep pretending is the norm. In fact, in a (non-scientific) phone survey of around 2,500 Working America members, 51 percent said they supported Occupy Wall Street compared with just 16 percent who were opposed and 33 percent who weren't sure.
Organizers are seeing the issues raised by Occupy Wall Street gain currency in the field even when people don't explicitly connect them to the protests. For instance, Nussbaum noted that corporate accountability has for years been the issue people whose doors organizers knock on were least likely to cite as their most important issue. In recent weeks, though, the percentage of people saying corporate accountability was their priority has doubled. "They don't say it's because of Occupy Wall Street," she said. "But this shows how it's infused the public consciousness."