The Occupy Wall Street protests in lower Manhattan attracted two very different types of financial experts over the weekend. One was Russell Simmons, the music and fashion entrepreneur, whose company UniRush sells the RushCard brand of prepaid debit cards. The other was Jeffrey D. Sachs, a prominent Columbia University economist. Both gave impromptu speeches in which they offered their encouragement to the protesters.
Simmons is famous as the co-founder of Def Jam records, which produced early albums by rap artists including the Beastie Boys and LL Cool J. UniRush was subpoenaed in May by Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi in an investigation into whether prepaid card companies charge hidden fees. Simmons defended his company and criticized the intense lobbying efforts of larger financial institutions.
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“I’m trying to empower people, and then people come along and misinterpret my fees,” Simmons said on Sunday. “So yes, I go to Washington and talk about that. But I shouldn’t be able to buy politicians the way some of these large corporations do.”
Simmons spoke individually to protesters. Sachs, on the other hand, stood on a stone bench in the middle of the park on Saturday to address a large crowd. Since there is no public address system in Zuccotti Park, speakers address groups by speaking in short, declarative sentences, which are then repeated by people standing close enough to hear.
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In Sachs’ case, the effect was more of a call-and-response sermon by a Baptist preacher than the speech of a usually-moderated mainstream economist.
“Here’s a platform,” Mr. Sachs said. “End the wars! Get the government on our side! Tax the rich! We’ll work out the details.”
Mr. Sachs criticized several wealthy conservatives by name, including Rupert Murdoch and David Koch, accusing them of using their money and influence to subvert democracy.
“Rupert Murdoch and David Koch, you cannot manipulate our government,” he said. “The 99 percent will lead the way.”
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