U.S. Congressman Stephen Lynch visited Needham on Friday, Oct. 21 for one of his “Congress On Your Corner” meetings held in towns throughout the Ninth District. After a few opening remarks, Lynch took questions from the dozen-or-so residents who showed up to the parking lot to hear him speak.
Though the conversation ranged from foreign policy to the future of Social Security, much of the talk focused on the recent Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Boston movement—with a local contingent asking Lynch to help bring the movement’s message to Capitol Hill.
Needham resident Phyllis Fanger kicked things off by asking whether Lynch supported the goals of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, noting that the question was “coming from one who does and who is in her 80s.”
Lynch first responded that he didn’t know what the group’s specific goals were but said he did feel that the federal bailout of Wall Street banks “was a grave injustice to the American people.”
“The Fed tells me I have like 30-something percent of my district that doesn’t have a bank account and doesn’t have any money in Wall Street, yet we took their tax money to bail out the banks,” Lynch said. “We should have taken some time and required Wall Street to come forward with some resources of their own as well to bail themselves out and to stabilize the economy.”
As for the main crutch of the Occupy argument, Lynch said he agreed with the frustration over the gap between the 1 percent of the American population on Wall Street “enjoying the largesse of that bailout” while the other 99 percent struggled.
“[The 1 percent on Wall Street] are on the sidelines now with trillions of dollars in cash and not doing anything to spur any economic growth that might help the rest of the economy. So I think I agree with that portion of [the argument] quite clearly,” Lynch said. “But I haven’t really seen a list of demands. It’s been rather vague.”
Needham resident Artie Crocker said he didn’t feel the Occupy message was vague at all and that he felt Lynch’s response was “somewhat dismissive” of the movement.
“Yes, there are number of things being talked about, but a number of them are not very vague at all,” Crocker said. “You mentioned one of them as far as [how the government] bailed out Wall Street and forgot about Main Street—that’s certainly not very vague. There’s the issue of accountability of what happened to the economy—it crashed because of derivatives, it crashed because of greed. That’s not very vague.”
Lynch said he was basing his response on his position as a lawmaker.
“When someone says, ‘Do you support the goals?’, I’m thinking as a lawmaker—what initiatives, what goals do you think legislatively we can accomplish, and do you agree with those goals,” he said. “I firmly believe that the Citizens United decision—I would support a Constitutional amendment to overturn that decision. Granting citizenships to corporations, which are state-created entities that are immortal—they live forever—greatly diminishes the rights of ordinary citizens. I think it was wrong-headed. I think it was probably the worst decision of my lifetime of the Supreme Court.”
Continuing the conversation in a slightly different strain, Needham resident Harmony Wu told Lynch she felt that politics had wrongly changed legislators’ focus from economic growth to budget cuts.
“We’ve been led into accepting the narrative that the deficit is the most important thing right now when we’re in a recession or recovery. I just don’t think that’s what we need to focus on,” she said. “This was a debate change from the Republicans of the Bush era to the Republicans of the Tea Party in the 2010 midterms, and now it’s as if the 2000s never happened. […] They have managed to make every question about budget, every question about taxes, into something about, well, we just have to stop spending.”
Wu said she believed the conversation should be focused on “vigorous” economic recovery and that she wanted Lynch and other Democrats in office to reframe the debate in that way.
“I want to see more pushback on that theme. I want to see Democrats—the President, you, the Congressional delegation from Massachusetts—saying ‘This is the story; this is what we’re dealing with,’” Wu told Lynch.
The Congressman told Wu she was “right on point.”
“You’re absolutely right. If we’re going to get out of this, we’re not going to cut our way out of this. We’re going to have to grow our way out of this,” he said. “I think that’s what the President was trying to address when he introduced the comprehensive jobs bill a couple of weeks ago.”
The measure received only 50 votes in the Senate, Lynch said.
Turning the conversation back to the Occupy Wall Street movement, Wu said that part of why the movement was growing and gaining a broad base of support was “because we need our establishment, our legislators, to articulate what we’re all sort of sensing.”
“Yes, the Republicans are going to defeat these kinds of infrastructure bills [like the President’s jobs bill], but the argument, I feel so strongly, needs to be mounted again and again and again,” Wu said. “Even if we lose the battle, we need to start waging a war on the ideas.”
After the Congress On Your Corner event, Wu, Crocker and others said they were working to organize a local effort to support the Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Boston movement.
The group planned to hold their first organizational meeting on Sunday evening at Crocker’s home, with more than a dozen people expected to attend—including a representative from the Occupy Boston group.
Wu said the meet-up was one of several being organized throughout the state to develop an “Occupy the ‘Burbs” movement in Massachusetts’ suburban communities.
Those interested in joining the effort can e-mail Wu at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.