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Bill Ayers rooting for the protesters

Updated: November 18, 2011 8:39AM

It a perilous time for the powerful.

America’s own Arab Spring is pummeling the establishment. The Wall Street Occupiers and 99 Percenters are stepping and sleeping on urban streets to protest perceived corporate greed, corruption and arrogance. The protests, launched in downtown Manhattan by gaggles of ragtag kids on skateboards, have spawned a national phenomenon.

The kids have been joined, in body and spirit, by a cross-section of America. Labor union stalwarts, community organizers, small-business owners and even a few suits. Their cause seems to have as many demands as protesters, and their ranks are swelling from Seattle to Atlanta.

Nobody knows a good old-fashioned revolution better than Bill Ayers. The famous ’60s radical calls this budding revolution our “North American Spring.” He was rooting for the protesters from a teaching assignment in Cyprus. I caught up with the retired University of Illinois professor last week just after he returned to Chicago.

Ayers knocks the naysayers who charge that the movement is leaderless and unfocused. “These kinds of movements expand our consciousness of what’s possible,” he said, citing the Arab Spring. “Every revolution seems impossible at the beginning, and after it happens, it was inevitable.”

Will powerful interests like the Democratic Party try to co-opt the movement? I asked. “That’s a terrible idea,” Ayers replied.

It may be beat ’em or join ’em. The occupiers are enjoying top-tier media coverage. Last Friday, the business network CNBC asked viewers if Occupy Wall Street “has reached its apex, or is it just the beginning?” Sixty-one percent said it’s on a roll.

Come 2012, Occupy Wall Street could be a conundrum for Democrats. They dream of harnessing the movement and morphing it into an antidote to the dreaded Tea Party.

The short-term positives are obvious. Enthusiasm of young people for change may intrigue Democrats who hark back to the historic 2008 election, when young people stormed the voting booths. Once again, they want change. Yet the flavor of the change they want is spiked with anger. The problem is, the Democrats are in charge.

The rabble-rousers also have put the Republicans in a political trick bag. The GOP, after all, is the traditional defender of the Wall Street titans and the banking behemoths. The last thing the political right wants is to take a bullet for the bankers. Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and likely Republican presidential nominee, must be squirming in his unbuttoned collar and pressed blue jeans. Romney is a dead ringer for a Wall Street Fat Cat.

The occupiers and the Tea Party have one thing in common: a hatred for the banking moguls.

I am not ready to join the 99 percent. Like most movements that sprout from the left, Occupy Wall Street talks diversity. Let’s see what they will deliver.

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