"What gives?" I wondered. After spending the last two weeks fairly disappointed with most of the major actions officially endorsed by Occupy DC -- protesting liberals' very boogeymen the Koch brothers, rallying with the pro-Obama SEIU at the Key Bridge -- I had figured the problem was the folks at McPherson Square as a whole. After all, consensus had to be reached before these big events could be proclaimed "official" Occupy events and the consensus was to focus on targets that fit the standard Democratic agenda. While I longed for a radical movement demanding systemic change, I was surrounded by meek liberals calling for incremental, establishment-friendly reform.
So what about the radicals I dined with -- were they just not attending the general assemblies? Or perhaps the action committee was approving the various rallies and protests without fully explaining them when presenting them to the camp as a whole; I could see many occupiers, for instance, endorsing a rally for "workers" alongside a labor union not knowing the politics behind the SEIU's decision to "call on Congress to create jobs" at the very site that Barack Obama chose just weeks before to call on Congress to pass his jobs bill.
I assumed wrong.
The problem, it turns out, is that the action committee is able to approve protests as "official" Occupy DC events without receiving consensus at any general assembly. That means a small group of people -- there were no more than 10 at the meeting I attended the other week -- have the power to decide what events will be endorsed in the name of the hundreds if not thousands of people involved in the movement here in Washington.
That's a problem. The occupation of Franklin School did not go through the consensus process either, yes, but then those carrying it out never claimed to be acting on behalf of "Occupy DC." Rather -- and I think this is a trend that will continue with respect to direct actions -- they acted unilaterally and essentially used those hanging out at McPherson Square as a feeder group, inviting those who agreed with their action to come two blocks over and show solidarity. Ten or so people claiming Occupy DC as a whole has endorsed an action is a very different thing.
Those doing the endorsing also aren't very radical, which is the bigger problem to my mind. Anyone can join the committee, but attending three meetings a week is a lot to ask of people who have other things to do in their lives, a fact that seems to have led it to be more or less captured by a small group of like-minded liberals.
Indeed, on the action committee listserv, I discovered that some of the most active people are in fact paid not just liberals, but paid to elect Democrats, which subconsciously or not is bound to affect the decisions they make. And we're not talking just low-level staffers just trying to make a buck. That rally with the SEIU? By golly, here we have a member of the SEIU, indeed the head of the very "OurDC" front group occupiers were told they were showing solidarity with in an official Occupy DC press release. And over here we have a co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which seeks to elect "progressive" Democrats -- and only Democrats -- to the halls of Congress.
And oh, hey, over there is a person who works for a company, NGP VAN, that helps "all the national Democratic committees, [and] thousands of Democratic campaigns," fundraise and reach out to voters (and which, god damn it, is placing ads on this site). It was this particular person that, when a friend of mine at CodePink proposed an anti-war action, lashed out with the amazing claim that "Ending the war is a CodePink objective," prompting me to begin my research into those dominating the action committee conversation.
"The co-option of CodePink [sic] is really annoying and it's not cool that it is happening on this googlegroup," she added. "Please stop."
People paid to elect Democrats pushing a Democrat-friendly, war-ignoring agenda on the Occupy movement? Yeah, we're cool with that.
Even those on the committee who aren't paid to elect the nominally "left" faction of the political establishment come from essentially the same perspective, it having all the appearance of a clique that represents a range of opinion from liberal to center-left. When I linked to the above woman's public LinkedIn page, a "Senior Field Organizer" for the left-liberal group Public Citizen who appointed himself captain of the committee booted me off the list after I refused his unilaterally declared ultimatum to:
- Delete the tweet with the Linked In profile linkAs I wrote in response to the above: Besides there never having been a stated rule that conversations on the list could not be taken off of it -- the very nature of many of the conversations would seem to demand they be discussed with others -- I never revealed anything about upcoming actions, sensitive details of which I was initially told to never share because the list is literally open to whoever wants to join it (if you're in DC, subscribe by sending a request to firstname.lastname@example.org).
- Apologize over Twitter for taking a private conversation online and violating a fellow Occupier's personal boundaries- Email the group promising to keep matters of internal discussion internal to this list? There are too many reasons to name why an action committee list should be kept private.- Apologize to the group in person at an upcoming action committee.
Since the action committee has so much power to shape the Occupy DC agenda and its public perception, the broader movement beyond the professional Democrats and liberal think tankers on the list I believe has a right to know that actions are being approved and rejected based on the input of a small group of people, many of whom are paid to pursue a partisan agenda. No one, not even the Guardian of the Sanctity of the Listserv, I venture to say, would have objected had I tweeted about a member of the Koch-funded Club for Growth infiltrating the committee.
That's not to say paid partisans should be outright prohibited from participating in the Occupy movement, which would be hard to do in DC anyway -- although, frankly, if you're paid to elect Democrats and you want to help the movement, your best bet would be to stop helping elect Democrats. But if professional partisans have nothing to hide, there's no reason they should fear transparency, especially given the legitimate fears of many that Democrats are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement for electoral gain.
As it is now, those on the action committee aren't even informing the rest of those at Occupy DC of their decisions. Take the following email about one now-past event:
It has failed to go in front of GA due to facilitation not responding to my emails and no one from Action at the park during GA that is bringing it up. I told _______ to just go ahead and send it out. Its already on our website and being spread around. GA has been allowing us to just report actions during our committee reportbacks so that is what I hope will happen soon. How we are supposed to actually be getting things approved by GA is no longer really clear. If someone else wants to step up to help me figure this out, awesome, but I say we just go forward with this action.I actually agreed with the action in question. But the problems with allowing the committee to instruct people to "just go ahead" and claim events are in Occupy DC's name without even announcing them should be obvious, particularly when said committee is stacked with numerous people paid to pursue an explicitly Democratic agenda.
Instead of banning me over a rule that was never stated, I replied to Mr. Ultimatum that maybe we ought to be considering, not just informing new members of the alleged rules of the list the moment they sign up, but a new rule requiring people to state up front whether they work to elect Democrats (or Republicans) so as to avoid conflicts of interests and the appearance of impropriety. And why not specifically ask people to state whether they're participating in the movement as part of their jobs?
This is the response I received.
Unhappy with the direction of the Occupy DC action committee? Attend one of their meetings, held every Saturday at 4pm and every Tuesday and Thursday at 8pm.