Editor’s Note: Fraudulent is as fraudulent does. We first reported on the MoveOn travesty on March 16. Events have since only confirmed the accuracy of our suspicion. [See 99 Percent Spring: the Latest MoveOn Front for the Democratic Party ]. A word of caution, however. Mother Jones, which can be fairly described as a left liberal/socdem publication, has been running well structured pieces actually suggesting that the opposite is true: that MoveOn may have accidentally detonated a real grassroots movement by injecting formal “nonviolent” training in their usual menu of activism (for the most part hacktivism). It’s damn worth a read as history can indeed take surprising turns so we include it, too, in this dispatch, in our editorial comment/addendum section at the bottom of this article.—PG
With hindsight gained by googling “MoveOn” and “co-opt” after the fact, I can’t claim that nobody tried to warn me. Many websites with left and even liberal politics had said in so many words, “Be wary of this organization called The 99% Spring. It is a Trojan horse for the Democrats.” I just didn’t read that anywhere in a timely fashion. I’ve had a lot of stuff on my plate lately. That’s my excuse. And in my ignorance, I responded to some spam about “nonviolent direct action training” organized by MoveOn and got invited to this 99% Spring thing on April 10 at the Goddard Riverside Community Center in Manhattan. Somebody even called me all the way from San Francisco to make sure I was a sincere seeker on the left and would be attending, along with 120,000 others in training sessions around the country.
Which I did. The meeting was a few blocks from where I live. The spam said it was “inspired by Occupy Wall Street.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was vaguely hoping that whatever The 99% Spring was, it would start a chapter of Occupy Wall Street on the Upper West Side, conveniently near my abode, and agitate for the Democrats and MoveOn to move left.
The first clue that my evening might go otherwise was the sign-up table, where there were a bunch of Obama buttons for sale and one sign-up sheet for the oddly named Community Free Democrats (are they free of community?), which is the local Democratic clubhouse. That killed the “inspired by Occupy Wall Street” vibe right there. No piles of literature from a zillion different groups, as there had been in Zuccotti Park. No animated arguments among Marxists, anarchists, progressives, punks, engaged Buddhists, anti-war libertarians and what have you. Just Obama buttons, which didn’t appear to be selling.
Inside the hall, it looked like an alumni reunion for the 1966 Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade. Almost all the 150 or so people were 55-80 years old. The ones I talked to expressed curiosity about Occupy Wall Street and enthusiasm about “nonviolent direct action” but didn’t have the knees or the ears for full participation in OWS activities in the financial district.
A large man with long wavy hair combed back started the presentation with a stirring call for…the meeting to be off the record. He didn’t want any stories that would violate anyone’s privacy, and if there were any lurking journalists, they weren’t allowed to use any names and they must see him afterwards for further instruction on the ground rules. This struck an even more dysphoric note with the crowd than the Obama buttons.
WTF thought #1: This was a public event ostensibly to convince members of the public to engage in behavior that challenged the legitimacy of government authority in public and might cause angry police to beat the public crap out of them. Why would anyone risk that without trying to get publicity for their cause? Nonviolent direct action that no one knows about is like jerking off. It might make you feel better, but you’re not changing the world.
WTF thought #2: Transparency is the only protection that nonviolent people have against police spies and provocateurs and other infiltrators. Occupy Wall Street does a pretty good job with transparency. An organization claiming to be inspired by OWS but shunning transparency is deeply suspicious.
WTF thought #3: Washington press corp rules for a meeting on nonviolent direct action?
WTF thought #4: I actually wasn’t there with the idea of writing about it, but neither did I agree to anything, so there was no agreement.
WTF thought #5: The name of the large man with the wavy hair was Marc Landis. He is a District Leader for the Democrats, who were paying for use of the meeting room. He is running for City Council. According to his law firm’s website his areas of experience are: “Real Estate, Banking & Finance, Corporate & Business Law, Securities & Private Placement, Fund Formation & Investment Management Group…” His Facebook page, which is geared for his City Council campaign, makes it sound like his specialty is pro bono community work. I don’t know. He might be a nice guy, but it doesn’t take a lot of intuition to wonder if he’s really been finding a lot of inspiration in Occupy Wall Street. He’s a corporate lawyer. I can think of no reason for him to demand that the meeting be off the record other than he and his party don’t want to be publicly associated with anything radical, even it’s a pseudo-radical front group meant to steer people away from the truly radical Occupy Wall Street and into pointless activities that don’t embarrass Obama.
Next they showed a video that invited us “to tell our story” so that The 99% Spring could post us online along with hundreds of other people who had been foreclosed, bankrupted, lost their medical insurance or whatever. It appeared they all wanted to raise taxes, so that the rich would “pay their fair share.”
It was sanctimonious. It was supplicating before power. The audience looked like it wanted to puke.
Next some guy whose name I didn’t catch gave an astonishingly simple-minded lecture on the history of American radicalism since the populists. “This might be okay for Iowa, but not the Upper West Side,” said a woman near me.
That’s an insult to Iowa, but let me explain about the Upper West Side. It used to be a liberal-to-radical neighborhood that was ferocious in its support for civil rights and the anti-war movement. Its nickname was the Upper Left Side, and people here could read three biographies of Leon Trotsky before breakfast. Disastrously, it has become the most desirable living space in Manhattan, and Wall Street/corporate/real estate weenies have been taking over. But a significant radical remnant remains, thanks to rent control laws that Democrats seem to understand are necessary to preserve their voters.
“And then in the 50s, we had the civil right movement…” the guy droned.
“ Uh, I think we should conclude the lecture and break up into groups to discuss our nonviolent direct action training,” said Landis. “We seem to be losing people.” A lot of them, too.
So the hundred remaining Upper Left Siders split into four groups for discussion. My group happened to be led by Landis, who directed the 35 of us to sit in a circle and identify ourselves with an explanation of why we were there. I was about #15 in the circle and the people who preceded me all appeared to have no experience with Occupy Wall Street and wanted to get involved. When it was my turn I said that Zuccotti Park was the most entertaining place to be in Manhattan for a couple months last fall and I hoped it would revive. And I said that the other thing I liked was that it was to the left of the Democratic Party and was pushing it from outside. There had been some mention of “the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act during the 90s” and I pointed out that it was Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who deregulated Wall Street.
“Excuse me,” said Landis. “We have a limited amount of time and a lot to discuss. We need to let everyone speak.”
I’ve thought about that a lot. I don’t believe I spoke for more than a minute, but I habitually obey the rules in a group, so I shut up. In retrospect, I was censored. I should have demanded a discussion of the true purpose of The 99% Spring and why Obama’s Department of Homeland Security orchestrated the violent destruction of hundreds of nonviolent Occupy camps around the country last fall.
As it was, we finished going around the circle. Everyone was a teacher or writer or connected with the labor movement. Wisconsin came up a few times. Landis asked what kind of a world we wanted to see. Someone said, “Socialism” and Landis said the topic for discussion was now how to plan for a “hypothetical direct action.” Every time somebody brought up something that was actually happening, Landis insisted that our agenda was set and we were only discussing hypothetical situations. So we talked about hypothetically withdrawing money from a hypothetical evil bank, or hypothetically stopping the hypothetical fracking in the Catskills that is going to poison New York City’s hypothetical drinking water.
“What about May 1?” said a retired professor.
“What about it?” said Landis.
“I heard that Occupy Wall Street was calling for a general strike. They’re planning actions all around midtown and they’re saying that nobody should go to work that day.”
“I don’t know anything about that,” said Landis. “We’re talking about hypothetical situations here.”
And so it went from 6:30 to 9:30 last Tuesday night. Over half the crowd left early. Most of those who stayed appeared to be angry and mystified that they had received no training whatever in nonviolent direct action. I doubt that the Democrats or MoveOn succeeded in co-opting anyone, and I predict that they will be inventing more dreary front groups as the election year grinds onward. “Front groups, not issues!” should be Obama’s rallying cry.
“I’m taking the subway to Wall Street,” said a guy in his 20s (probably the only guy in his 20s) as he walked out the door. “That’s where the action is. People are sleeping on the sidewalk there. Apparently the police can’t arrest you if you take up less than half the sidewalk. Go to Maydaynyc.org if you want to find out about the general strike.”
CHARLES M. YOUNG is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper.
All articles are reproduced in accordance with Section 107 of title 17 of the Copyright Law of the United States relating to fair-use and are for the purposes of criticism, comment, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. The material presented underneath does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of the editor. Then: everybody should do research of his own and check for deception or some ‘agenda’. As always it is : ‘Caveat Lector’!
How Occupy Co-Opted MoveOn.org
Thank you, Mother Jones.
The 99% Spring campaign trains gray-haired progressives to ditch their internet petitions and take to the streets.
By Josh Harkinson on Fri. April 13, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
If you’re one of the millions of people who get emails from MoveOn.org, then you’ve probably heard of the “99% Spring.” Far from another clickable internet petition, it is possibly the largest attempt ever to train people in nonviolent protest techniques. Some Occupy types have criticized the effort as a scheme by Democratic operatives to co-opt their movement. But the reality is probably the opposite: It seems that America’s best-known progressive fundraising organization is now taking its cues from Occupy Wall Street.
I didn’t know what to think of the 99% Spring until I stopped by a three-hour training session—one of more than 900 being held nationwide this week—at a Unitarian church in San Francisco. My presumption was that the 60 or so gray-haired attendees would be interested in supporting Democratic candidates—after all, the event was cosponsored by the Progressive Democrats of San Francisco—but many seemed just as disillusioned with electoral politics as the folks who took over New York City’s Zuccotti Park this past fall. “I believed Obama when he said he would change things and he didn’t, so I quit the Democratic Party,” said one middle-aged MoveOn member who asked that I not use her name. She went on to talk about about how “the deck is stacked” and “voting doesn’t work anymore.” She’d come to the training looking for a new way to get involved.
“It’s clear that the sorts of tactics we’ve engaged in in the past are no longer enough,” Justin Ruben, MoveOn’s Executive Director, wrote in an email to his staff last week, arguing that the growing corporate influence on policy-making has left the group little choice but to take to the streets. In a subsequent interview with Mother Jones, he added, “We know that whoever wins in November, they are still going to be listening more to the 1 percent than to the rest of us because our political system is completely broken. So we don’t have the luxury of not engaging in this kind of action.”
David King, a social worker who led the training I attended, told me he wanted to see MoveOn focus less on electoral politics and more on Occupy-style activism. “MoveOn needs some co-opting,” he said, “because they got co-opted a few years back.”
The session began with a slick video urging trainees to break into small groups and share their personal stories. Then came a condensed history of American social movements, followed by drills on nonviolent protest strategies. At no point did trainers suggest that their students get involved in specific political actions. “It was a really important piece for me that this wasn’t trying to funnel people into one campaign and wasn’t trying to funnel people into electoral politics,” said Sam Corbin, a veteran member of Occupy Wall Street’s Direct Action Working Group who agreed to star in the training video. “When they said we want to talk about ‘people power’ and making people understand and be comfortable with direct action, they meant it. I am really proud to have been part of it.”
Over the past six weeks, the 99% Spring has gone from an idea batted around on lefty email lists to a full-bore collaboration between dozens of activist groups, who, just like Occupy Wall Street, are loath to admit that any one of them is leading the effort. In addition to MoveOn, the coalition includes most of the nation’s largest labor unions, environmental groups like Greenpeace and Rainforest Action Network, and grittier Occupy allies like New Bottom Line and the Working Families Party. MoveOn contributed some its staff, access to its 7 million members, and use of its sophisticated web platform, where it will host online trainings next week.
Since fall, MoveOn has struggled to figure out how to ally itself with the Occupy movement. Though it donated tents and sleeping bags during Occupy’s Zuccotti Park phase, the movement’s radicals still tend to write off the group as an arm of the Democratic Party. At a December gathering of Occupy groups in DC, a tearful MoveOn council member from Connecticut complained that she’d been getting emails from people in her state “that we are not welcome at the Occupies there.”
While tensions remain, the 99% Spring might be a more natural way for MoveOn and similar groups to make friends with Occupy. Ruben says the coalition will eventually connect its trainees with Occupy-friendly actions such as protests at corporate shareholder meetings, defenses of foreclosed homes, and campaigns that encourage people to switch to credit unions over big banks. But it won’t recruit them to work on elections, despite what is likely to be a nail-biter presidential race.
Not that MoveOn’s participation in the effort will hurt its everyday electoral efforts. Ruben points to the role of Occupy in the GOP primaries, where none other than Newt Gingrich attacked Mitt Romney as a heartless capitalist. “The power of a relatively small group of people to shine a light on these issues that the whole political class would rather ignore just by virtue of their bravery and their moral clarity and willingness to put their bodies on the line—that’s always how justice is moved forward in America,” he says. “It’s on us to figure out how to support it in every way we can.”
Of course, MoveOn could have simply directed its members toward their local Occupy groups, which have been holding direct action trainings from the start (see “Meet Professor Occupy,” my profile of activist Lisa Fithian), but Ruben felt that the 99% Spring needed to move beyond Occupy Wall Street if it wanted to train 100,000 people in a couple of weeks time. Aiming large also allowed the coalition to attract people who might feel uncomfortable sucking tear gas fumes—like a 72-year-old retired car salesman I met at the San Francisco training, who showed up to see whether he should “spend my time volunteering for election stuff, or do this sort of thing.”
As the training session wrapped up, the facilitators urged anyone involved in organizing protests to speak up. One attendee referred the crowd to the websites of Occupy Oakland, Occupy San Francisco, and even Occupy Monsanto. May Day—a national day of action that Occupy has planned for May 1—was mentioned repeatedly. There were also rallies in support of postal workers and against Wells Fargo. Nobody said a word about gathering signatures or canvassing for candidates.
“It’s fine that we have MoveOn.org and we can press a button and sign a petition, but that isn’t going to get the job done,” an elderly woman in a red sweater told the crowd. “So we are here. And the real question is: What are we going to do when we leave here tonight? Are we going to stray out of our comfort zones and take some direct action together—or not?”
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