Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Who Wants To Put Up A Red Velvet Rope Around OccupyWallStreet?


You may have noticed over the past week that a number of Blue America candidates have been speaking out in support of the OccupyWallStreet movement, each of whom finds it inspiring and a necessary part of an effective inside/outside strategy. This morning New Deal Democrat Lance Enderle, who's running against right-wing ideologue Mike Rogers in a swath of south-central Michigan from Grand Rapids thru Lansing all the way to northern Oakland County, told us that he sees that the "citizens occupying Wall Street are patriots! In 1802 Thomas Jefferson said, 'I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the American people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around the banks will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered.' This is more true now than ever. We, the American people, need to stand up and take back America from these thieves and despots." I've been hearing this message from Lance for almost four years. He didn't come up with it because of the new movement; but he recognizes kindred spirits when he sees them.

Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) and Keith Ellison (D-MN), co-chairs of the Congressional progressive Caucus, have been fighting from the inside along many of the same lines. Yesterday they issued this statement of support for the OccupyWallStreet demonstrators:
We have been inspired by the growing grassroots movements on Wall Street and across the country. We share the anger and frustration of so many Americans who have seen the enormous toll that an unchecked Wall Street has taken on the overwhelming majority of Americans while benefiting the super wealthy. We join the calls for corporate accountability and expanded middle-class opportunity. 
“Throughout the summer, CPC Members listened to Americans nationwide describe how it feels to be on the wrong side of the wall between the rich and the rest of us. During the Speakout for Good Jobs Now! tour in New York City, Detroit, Milwaukee, Oakland, Minneapolis, Miami and Seattle, we heard compelling stories of Americans struggling to live the American dream while CEO’s and the super rich were given more taxpayer handouts. 
“We stand with the American people as they demand corporate accountability and we support their use of peaceful means to improve America.”

OccupyWallStreet is an outside strategy... not an inside strategy. It's great that the inside players are supporting it and recognizing that it isn't an inside move and that it needs to develop and express itself independently of institutions like Congress. I've been seeing some disturbing trends by some-- some genuinely concerned, some self-serving money-grubbers-- who worry that the nascent movement will be ruined by support from progressives-- even singling out for abuse stellar and committed leaders and fighters like Donna Edwards (D-MD) and Bernie Sanders (I-VT). Yesterday I noticed an online crook, who lives by sucking cash from idealistic, vulnerable donors, refer to Bernie Sanders-- probably one of the most committed progressives to ever set foot in the Congress as "a technofascist disguised as a liberal, backs Obama wars in Afgh Iraq Libya Pakistan" and later denounce MoveOn (a financial rival) and Van Jones. And I saw the nonsense about Sanders was pulled from an article in CounterPunch by Thomas Naylor called The Myth of Bernie Sanders. It's a deluded diatribe against Sanders from a naive fringe that is so far "left" that it melds smoothly into the fringe on the far right.
Sanders, not unlike President Obama, thinks drones are cool... Senator Sanders rarely misses a photo opportunity with Vermont National Guard troops when they are being deployed to Afghanistan or Iraq. He’s always at the Burlington International Airport when they return. If Sanders truly supported the Vermont troops, he would vote to end all of the wars posthaste... Sanders is the darling of the American-Israeli Public Affairs Committee and the right-wing Likud government of Israel. He has done everything within his power to keep the myth of Islamic terrorism alive... Bernie Sanders loves to rail against Corporate America, Wall Street, and the super-rich, but has nothing to show for it. He’s done little to constrain their power and influence. But everybody on the Left loves Bernie.

What about a nice fat denunciation of all the allies who admire what #OccupyWallStreet is doing? Is Russ Feingold next? Is this cooption? "“I’m really encouraged by what I’m seeing. People around the country are finally organizing to stand up to the huge influence of corporations on government and our lives. This kind of citizen reaction to corporate power and corporate greed is long overdue... The guys who are protesting are not filing legal briefs. They are expressing the populist, genuine view that people have been ripped off. It’s a fundamental identification of the fact that people are getting taken for a ride by powerful interests who are getting away with murder

“The worm is finally turning on the nonsense of blaming the wrong people for what happened in 2008. The American people are saying, wait, we have the boot of corporations on our necks, and we’re sick of it. This is a significantly coherent message at the beginning of something like this... The White House should realize that this would be beneficial to the president and his reelection chances if he recognizes how correct the protesters are to be upset. It would be a mistake to try to coopt this. I’m hoping a mass movement will encourage the White House to listen to and respond to these concerns. It would be politically smart and the right thing to do. This is like the Tea Party-- only it’s real. By the time this is over, it will make the Tea Party look like ... a tea party.” But, still, probably not what a bunch of over-priviledged fringy nihilists want to hear.

Warnings about support from Democrats ironically comes from professional hustlers who are trying to meld the movement for their own purposes.

Meanwhile... please help us keep Bernie Sanders in the Senate doing great work.

A good friend of mine, a senior progressive strategist in DC has been watching-- approvingly and with amazement-- as #OccupyWallStreet has taken a life of its own in last 8-10 days. He says he thinks "there is a way to sustain the energy and activism we are seeing out of New York. However, I think we have to resist the temptation of hoping it will become our version of the 'teaparty'.”
First, going back to the “ascendance” (using the term charitably here) of the teabaggers in our national political scene, here is the rough timeline.

1. Around February-March, scattered teaparty protests (very sparsely attended) started springing up around the country (IIRC some of it was getting ginned up in the seedy places of the right wing online hellholes). It was also getting a lot play from Beck (who was “rising” at the time) on Fox News.

2. On April 15-– Fox went “all in” sponsoring those “nationwide” anti-tax tea party rallies

3. Then the corporations jumped all in using these teabaggers to gin up unrest in the Townhalls that summer-– intimating Congress members with regard to healthcare legislation

4. Teabaggers then started organizing (with help from their corporate funders) in Republican primaries, pushing out number of established Republicans-– officially striking “fear” in the heart of Republican establishment in DC

If you look at the rough timeline above, I don’t think it’s feasible to expect or to hope that the energy from #OccupyWallStreet will chart through the same trajectory of the corporate fueled, Fox backed teabaggers. I don’t have that kind of expectations.
That said, I do see a tremendous opportunity here for the re-rise of a genuine progressive movement-- IF we can navigate through the storylines, and all pitch in together a smart way.

One general impression I have based on reading and following these guys for three weeks is that I see this movement as a “bridge” between the original “netrooters” (sorry couldn’t think of a better term here) who came before Democratic/Obama boom of 06 and 08 campaign cycles (the “online activists” who never experienced getting crushed in electoral politics or getting played by the establishment) and a new generation of online activists who are getting engaged in post 2008 boomlet.

The latter group is not tied to Democratic electoral politics but I do believe they have a lot of common ground with the original “netrooters” who felt disenfranchised and left on the curb by the Democratic establishment after the 2000 election.
So what can folks do to be helpful? Here are some general thoughts:

* Take cues from the Occupiers-– instead of thundering down on these guys with “polished” PR ideas, strategic messaging (blah, blah, blah), I think we should let these protesters be … who they are. We should feed their energy, listen to their incredible stories, and explore roles on how we can supplement their effort. In this regard, what David Donnelly and his PC crew did was pitch perfect (I hope other Go Go groups such as Common Cause will jump in).

* Follow the labor model-– to their credit the unions have also played it well. They let the local unions in NYC engage in these rallies, let them build the momentum, and then come in with institutional support this week. I have also appreciated the fact that instead of attempting to dominate the rally to with a labor centric message, they have been listening to the protesters, reading their stories, and then sync up the worker marginalization angle into the broader storylines centered around corporate accountability.

* Participating in the protest with a spirit of community building-– I really liked the examples of how Professors Cornell West and Joseph Stiglitz went down to the protests and engaged with the occupiers in a spirit of community building. It’s good stuff. If the leadership types in DC want to engage in this movement, I think that is the model to follow where the participation becomes all about the people in the protest, rather than about the “celebrity” who is coming in to give it some publicity.

* Exploring opportunities of continued engagement in local communities-– sooner or later these protesters will have to go home. I think now is the time progressive(s) and/or progressive organizations around the country should start thinking about keeping these protesters (who are our next generation of leaders) engaged in their local communities not through the Democratic party infrastructure, but through progressive organizations or causes.

I think we missed a huge opportunity when we cracked the gates (don’t think we were able to “crash” it now that I look back it) back in '03-'04. After that election cycle, the energy (specifically targeting Bush) became centered around Democratic Party efforts (which have now become a general “Republicans are evil” narrative).

That is fine. I don’t have any issues with continue to hammer home the point that “Republicans are evil.” It’s useful. But I get the sense these guys out in NYC and all around the country, are thirsting for much more. They are thirsting for a vision that could potentially sync up with a true progressive one-– which we haven’t experienced since the days of FDR, JFK and LBJ.

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At 4:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Uh, the politcos who try to co-opt this are just trying to save their own asses.


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