Why, these Wall Street protesters are the new populists

But perhaps the closest historical parallel is with the Populist movement of the 1890s, which, like Occupy Wall Street, was a broad, economics-driven revolt that targeted a predatory class of corporate capitalists — the robber barons of the Gilded Age.

The Populists drove the Progressive era of reform of the early 1900s. They sought to dismantle the centralized power of corporations in the economy and return economic liberty to individuals and small business. They envisioned a graduated income tax, the secret ballot, the regulation of banks. It remains to be seen if today’s 99 Percenters will be as successful at transforming the political discourse.

The Populists formed a political party with a specific platform — the People’s Party. They ran candidates who won office; they formed real-world banking and agricultural cooperatives to challenge the hegemony of corporate capitalism.

In Liberty Square, the protesters say that they have no intention of disbanding; that they’re preparing for a long, cold winter. But will their numbers increase, or will their resolve fizzle in the histrionics of street theater? Will they organize or merely proselytize? Most important, can they move enough of today’s silent majority — 99 Percenters all — off the sidelines and into the fray?

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