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The White House is certainly trying to join the parade. On Oct. 6 hundreds from Occupy D.C. marched past the White House to an even bigger symbol of their frustrations, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce--a limestone temple of American prosperity resplendent with Corinthian columns and carved wooden doors. "Where are the jobs?" the crowd of hundreds chanted, repurposing a phrase that Republicans once used against Obama. "Where are the jobs?"
A block away, behind the ballistic-grade glass and heavy masonry of the White House complex, the chants could not be heard, but the sentiment breached the walls. Labor and progressive leaders, called together that afternoon for a legislative-strategy session, quickly turned their talk to the protesters outside. "We should all recognize that we are in a new moment," said Chuck Loveless, top lobbyist for AFSCME, the public employees' union, to those gathered in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building.
The White House went out of its way to praise the protesters and present them as mainstream. "What I think is that the American people understand that not everybody's been following the rules," Obama explained in a press conference on the same day protesters marched by the White House chanting, "We got sold out."
Vice President Joe Biden, Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner and House minority leader Nancy Pelosi have offered words of sympathy, as have the heads of the nation's major labor unions. "The protests you're seeing are the same conversations people are having in living rooms and kitchens all across America," said David Plouffe, the President's top strategist. Obama's campaign got into the game, blasting its Twitter feed with calls for Republicans to quickly confirm the new head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and accusing the GOP of being "on the side of Wall Street."
Behind the scenes, the embrace has been even more dramatic. Former Obama official Van Jones has been organizing established liberal interest groups into a protest network called Rebuild the Dream, which he hopes will dovetail with the Occupy demonstrations. "There is enough overlap between these networks of people," Jones says. "We text together."
The courtship will be a delicate one, as the Occupy movement remains more an idea than an organization. "It's safe to say that our movement has always been appreciative of whatever help individuals or organizations are willing to give," says Patrick Bruner, the closest thing the Wall Street protesters have to a spokesman. "As long as those organizations don't attach strings, I don't see any reason why we wouldn't accept."
But Democrats don't need to attach strings to benefit; they only need to keep the conversation focused on their issues. Obama rode to victory in 2008 on the backs of first-time voters and young people who felt he would improve their lives. Those voters have been AWOL ever since. "These people did not go away," explains Jones. "They just went from hopey to mopey."
Back in lower Manhattan, the vigil goes on. If it spreads and grows, Obama and his team will be nearby to collect the dividends. Occupy Wall Street is a movement the White House, lacking better options, is already investing in.