Will Occupy Choose Super-PAC Funding Over Radical Action?
In the past thirty six hours, several stories have emerged to highlight a growing problem that threatens the continued effectiveness, and perhaps the very existence, of the Occupy movement. Left-wing politicos have come out against radical tactics such as those of the Black Bloc. Establishment activists involved in Occupy seek to end the actual occupations recently raided by police in favor of more traditional, less radical models. And, President Obama has decided that accepting Super-PAC money for his campaign machine is now acceptable.
That last reference may seem disconnected, but, once you understand the dynamic that has been developing within the Occupy movement, you will see how the possibility exists that Super-PAC money could find its way into supporting a kinder, gentler, more establishment friendly Occupy movement.
There has been a struggle within Occupy for the control of the leaderless, horizontally organized movement. Professional activists, equipped with the resources of the establishment that employs them, offered structure to the chaotic beginnings of this fledgling populous uprising. Everything from tents and sleeping bags to organizational structure, General Assembly facilitation, Internet platforms, and targets for the populous anger of Occupiers was readily provided by well-connected insiders.
This was not an insidious conspiracy perpetrated by evil people. Many professional activists firmly believe that they are doing the right thing. Many of them are doing very good things. Unfortunately, for all their good intentions, many of them are a part of the very establishment that the Occupy movement is protesting, and the good work they do actually serves to legitimize that system.
These professional activists did not come with a malicious intent to co-opt and destroy Occupy. Not all of them, anyway. Some may have been seeking only to serve their resume, or their pay-check, but others came with sincere intent to do good. This does not, however, change the fact that the establishment that they are a part of, and that they bring into the Occupy movement, is a serious danger.
The leaderless nature of Occupy left an unintentional vacuum that these organized and structured activists filled. Now, almost five months later, the movement is starting to look more like the lame attempts of the past than the agent of courageous and radical change it promised. Except perhaps Oakland. The problem gets compounded when these establishment activists not only monopolize the agenda and choose the targets of the populous movement, but dictate its strategy and tactics as well. After decades of campaigns that have failed to move the political dial in any direction other than against the 99%, professional arrogance still drives them to insist that they should play a leading role.
Occupy Wall Street’s on-line discussions have worried over how to solve the problem of ‘disruptive outsiders’ for the ‘connected insiders.’ Many of those that actually occupied the public spaces were referred to as if unworthy, bothersome, and too full of dissent and challenges to a preordained agenda to associate with the pompous authors of these missives whose words made them seem more intent on earning their place in society as the next generation of bleeding heart Liberals, sipping their lattes, dreaming of limousines.
Seemingly towards that same end, OccupyDC has instituted an ironically controlling model of facilitation and consensus building that uses strict process to tightly control the groups deliberations and limit any dissension, thus allowing little resistance to proposed agenda items. Similar problems exist in most of the major city occupations. The General Assemblies in many cities experienced near, if not outright mutinies because of these controlling tactics only to, all too often, fall victim to the same problems once again. The Occupy movement seems to have its own internal 1%, and, in this microcosm, success will only come when the 99% finds emancipation here as well.
As a result, in America, a populous uprising in solidarity with the 99% around the globe is rapidly becoming the play-thing of privileged white kids, in one of the worlds most privileged countries, using the Occupy movement to further their career goals and/or narrow its focus to domestic, and even partisan issues. What started out as our best last chance for revolutionary change, true emancipation, and a sustainable future, is devolving into just another vehicle for doing good deeds for the unwashed masses while leaving the system that enslaves them intact. Their rhetoric says “empower all,” but their underlying methods ensure that they maintain control.
Occupy, or at least that portion of it that has come under the spell of the establishment, seems to have forgotten its end game. Five months ago, protesters occupied public spaces across the country in order to take their democracy back from the 1% that purchased it. Now, they have declarations that include every social issue imaginable, and are so long that you can forget why you came there before you get half way through them. Rather than stay on point and emancipate themselves from the appropriating class that lords over them so that they can reclaim their democracy and deal with these issues, they’ve been tricked into bringing all the issues in with them. And… it’s about to get a whole lot worse.
After the past weeks rash of police raids, leveling the last and longest standing occupations in the country, establishment activists are pushing to forget about occupying the public spaces and focus on issue related goals. This will divide the movement and bring it completely inside the establishment activist structure. Rather than take to the streets and fight as a united 99% against the 1%, as part of a GLOBAL movement, occupiers are being asked to choose among the many existing domestic social campaigns and work for reform within the current establishment that wants to capitalize in the Occupy brand. Good programs, but not what Occupy, and the global movement it claims to be part of, represents.
Last month I wrote a post about an employee of the Democratic Party campaign machine within Occupy DC. The post focused on an employee of NGP VAN (the consulting firm that runs the Democratic campaigning machine), who was very active within OccupyDc, and hosted a meeting at Change.org headquarters in Washington, DC, to discuss ‘coalition building’ between ‘like-minded’ organizations and the Occupy movement across America. I was immediately attacked by establishment activists and those within Occupy DC that see them as friends. I was summarily removed from all OccupyDC listservs and committees that I sat on, targeted with a barrage of obscenities, and threatened with physical removal if I returned to McPherson Square.
This was not done through the General Assembly. Nor by the Spokes Council. Neither was it done by the majority of those that actually occupied McPherson Square. It was not the result of any restorative justice meeting or due process of any sort. It was the arbitrary actions of the establishment activists that were enraged by my exposee’, and some others that they’ve convinced to do their bidding, who decided that they alone could grant themselves the power to do such things. Apparently the 1% within Occupy will cling to its power as firmly, and act no less unjustly to protect their interests, as the global 1%.
With Obama’s announcement that he will now be accepting Super-PAC money, the result of the coalitions proposed in this meeting and vehemently defended by establishment activists and their naive, unwitting accomplices could very easily result in these monies filtering down to the Occupy movement. The organizations that want to ‘build coalitions’ with Occupy are part of the Democratic Party Machine. Their efforts and programs to support Democratic Party candidates could, and very likely would, receive funding from these super-PACs. Money raised as a direct result of the Citizens United decision could end up funding, or being used to support, the movement that should be back in the streets and public spaces fighting against it. This is pathetic. Where did things go wrong?
Co-option does not come like the police executing a raid. It doesn’t twist your arm and push you into obviously compromising positions. It comes as a helpful friend, and a trusted ally. It often comes offering needed support, material sustenance, guidance, and promises of more. Sometimes it even comes without realizing that what it intends is co-option. You only realize that you’re in a compromised position after the damage is done.
Many of the establishment activists can honestly be described as good people trying to do things that they believe will bring improvement to the lives of many. That doesn’t change that they are part of the establishment that the Occupy movement is supposed to be fighting against and that the improvements they offer do nothing to change the status quo or crush the power of the ruling class. All those that offer such support are not necessarily doing so with ulterior motives, either. Occupy is wading into deep waters, full of dolphins and sharks, and they’re wearing Lady Gaga’s meat bikini. They need to be careful who they’re swimming with.
Not all establishment activists are necessarily a threat. There is a big difference between activists that have been working to feed and shelter the homeless, fight for living wages and safe work places, or protect women from domestic violence, and political ‘activists’ whose only goal is to elect a candidate deemed acceptable by a corporate owned political party. There’s the real danger… and that’s where the deep pockets wanting to help – and ‘build coalitions with Occupy’ – are coming from.
Oakland, with its long history of direct action activism, and relative lack of establishment politicos and partisan ‘activists’, has avoided the domestication that is plaguing the Occupy movement across the country. They’ve become the ‘wild-child’ of the Occupy movement and perhaps its only hope for a future. They’re also scaring the living shit out of those that want a kinder, gentler Occupy movement to see them through this election year. Occupy can, and should, learn a lot from Oakland. Those that hold power will not give it up without a fight. They will not be shamed into submission.
Even Gandhi’s non-violent civil disobedience was active, not passive. Gandhi did not comply with the police, or the military. He did not retreat. He did not back down. Gandhi was a shrewd strategist. The Black Bloc only breaks windows and other material objects that symbolize the wealth of the 1% and the oppression of the rest of us. This is not violence. Gandhi had more in common with the Black Bloc than with obedient protesters who comply with police and watch their encampments razed right in front of them, as if it were a spectator sport, while they whine for the loss of the rights and freedoms for which they’re unwilling to take a stand.
Establishment activists, that have elevated themselves to positions of authority, have put so much emphasis on protesting with only the appearance of defiance that many protesters have forgotten why they are protesting in the first place. The problem has become so extreme that when I’ve asked some what their goal is, many protesters responded with “to protest peacefully.” They’ve allowed their singular goal of emancipation from rule by the appropriating class to become so convoluted that they’ve forgotten it. They’ve allowed a tactic imposed by those that work within the establishment to become the goal.
Being arrested as one of those protesters ‘willing to be arrested’ during a protest has become a strange ritual. First, it is not a tactic, it is a statement, and often a statement that only serves the ego of the arrested through the retelling. A real statement might be doing something meaningful for which you really might risk arrest, and a great tactic would be to avoid that arrest so that you can do it again.
Peaceful civil disobedience is a very strong tactic, but it is not the only one. Rather than fight within the movement for a singular tactic against a myriad of goals, the movement should be working towards a myriad of tactics against a singular goal. The Black Bloc, Anonymous, establishment social service advocates, the rank and file along with the entire army of workers, and peacefully civil-DISOBEDIENT occupiers should be working in concert to destabilize the system that enslaves them all, not fighting against each other about whose tactic is more correct, or more valid, while accepting money and support – even indirectly – from the establishment they purportedly seek to depose.
- Peaceful protesters sleeping in the parks will not make the bankers and politicians run out of their offices, apologize, recommit to democracy, and return all of their ill-gotten gains.
- A groundswell of activism within domestic social services alone will not destabilize the status quo.
- The rank and file, and workers in general, have been suffering decline for over thirty years and urgently need to join their efforts in solidarity with more diverse and radical tactics against the corporate juggernaut seeking to wipe them out altogether.
- While an assault on the digital records of all financial and capital holdings of the 1% would have an impact, without physical support it will result in little more than a glitch in the system, even if it’s a serious glitch.
- And, although warriors in the street may provide fodder for corporate media while they work to both weaken and expose an oppressive police state that serves the 1%, those with the means to support, articulate, and contextualize their struggles should do precisely that.
Occupy is in danger of being redefined, divided, and domesticated as part of the establishment that provoked its genesis. Through naivety, and a gross misunderstanding of the enemy it faces, it’s in jeopardy of being purchased by the same corporate dollars used to deny the emancipation it craves. This cannot be allowed.
If there is a coalition to be explored, it is between Occupy, Black Bloc, Anonymous, non-partisan social activists, all workers of the country including the rank and file, and the many others who make up the 99%, without establishment strings attached, that can bring a diversity of tactics to a singular goal. Not the other way around. Right now, some within Occupy are building bridges with the establishment and walls between the 99%. This tactic to destroy Occupy must be stopped. The 99%, in all its forms, with all its diversity of tactics, must come together and focus on a singular goal against the establishment that supports the 1%, rather than be divided against each other and dispersed among a myriad of goals by that establishment.