Monday, November 28, 2011

Occupy DC partners with the SEIU and

The Democrats and their allies in the liberal establishment are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement. This isn't paranoia: it's what they do (see: the antiwar movement).

Van Jones, who served as “green jobs” czar in the Obama White House and says he'd like to see his former boss serve an illegal third term, openly talks of exploiting the movement for electoral purposes, likening it to the Tea Party. The SEIU has straight up stolen Occupy's language, labeling the same president who told Wall Street bankers that “I'm protecting you” the candidate of the 99 percent. . . . well, is doing what always does: exploiting the movement to build its email list and pocket more money from idiot liberals who think evil Republicans are entirely to blame for the status quo.

Many people within the Occupy movement have expressed fears about this attempted co-option. It's particularly a problem here in Washington, DC, where people paid to elect Democrats are some of the most active participants at the McPherson Square camp. While I was out of town this past weekend, I'm told concerns about co-option and Democratic infiltration were voiced by several folks at this past Saturday's meeting of the action committee – a committee that includes employees of the SEIU's Washington lobbying office as well as the co-founder of the Democratic Progressive Change Campaign Committee.

But were those voices heard? At the Monday general assembly, members of the action committee – which in the name of Occupy DC as a whole can approve or reject actions without seeking any form of consensus from the camp as a whole – announced that they had some news for us. Oh boy: they had agreed to back an upcoming “national day of action” sponsored by none other than the SEIU, and Van Jones' Rebuild the Dream. The last such "day of action" resulted in the SEIU/Occupy DC rally at the KeyBridge calling on "obstructionists in Congress" to boost infrastructure spending -- by passing Obama's jobs bill, of course.

Same shit, different day.

“Some people think these groups are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement,” acknowledged one member of the committee who I know agrees with that assessment but, for whatever reason, doesn't view that as a reason not to cooperate with them.

“I think we should be co-opting them,” said another member of the committee.

That the issue of co-option is even being acknowledged is, I suppose, progress. But more than anything necessarily nefarious, the decision to embrace the co-opters -- aided, one can assume, by the fact one of the SEIU organizers of the event is on the action committee -- suggests there is some serious naivete at the McPherson camp, or perhaps just on the committee. Just as with the Key Bridge protest, occupiers will not be co-opting a rally they have had no hand in planning. Rather, they will be helping these liberal groups further their preferred narratives about what the Occupy movement stands for. It is their press releases that lazy journalists and pundits across the country will be relying on when discussions "what this all means," not some occupier's clever sign. It is Van Jones who will be invited on CNN to talk about the movement's "next steps.

Participating with such openly partisan organizations can only taint the movement, seemingly confirming not entirely unfounded suspicions that Occupy Wall Street and the occupations around the country it has inspired are but patchouli-infused get-out-the-vote operations for the Democrats. And for what?

The last action with the SEIU at the Key Bridge was a flop. The only message most Washingtonians received was courtesy local news station WTOP: avoid the Key Bridge, commuters, traffic's going to be a mess out there. That and the implication that the Occupy movement is an arm of organized labor and the Democrats.

Groups like Rebuild the Dream and the SEIU need the Occupy movement much more than it needs them. These groups need the appearance of energy and grassroots authenticity th movement can lend them; the SEIU, after all, has to bus people in to chant "sí se puede" at its boring rallies. The Occupy movement, by contrast, has nothing to gain by working with these groups. Indeed, it only stands to lose by associating itself with adjuncts for the Democratic Party and their brand of establishment-friendly, wave-a-sign-from-the-sidewalk activism.

In the comments to my last piece about Occupy DC's action committee, someone from the camp downplayed my concerns about the liberal-heavy makeup of the committee and its infiltration by people paid to elect Democrats. "Since the Key Bridge action, Occupy has not done a horizontal action with SEIU," they wrote, "so I would suggest people get past that issue [co-option] until someone tries to partner Occupy DC with another SEIU action."

Can we admit there's a problem now? Enabling a small group of people on the action committee to endorse events in the name of Occupy DC as a whole isn't working; the best actions, such as the occupation of Franklin School, were carried out by activists who avoided it altogether, while the actions that have come out of it are at best a mixed bag. There's no reason a major action of this nature -- one that need not be shrouded in secrecy -- should not have been presented at a general assembly.

Maybe trying to reach 100 percent consensus is a bad idea -- I'd like to see a requirement that major actions be agreed to by 80 to 90 percent of those attending a general assembly -- but then so is outsourcing control over which actions are "official" Occupy DC events to a committee composed of but 1 percent of the movement.

UPDATE: From The Washington Post's Greg Sargent, who spoke with SEIU President Mary Kay Henry about the planned protest:
One goal of the protests, Henry says, is to pressure Republicans to support Obama’s jobs creation proposals.
“The reason we’re targeting Republicans is because this is about jobs,” she said. “The Republicans’ insistence that no revenue can be put on the table is the reason we’re not creating jobs in this country. We want to draw a stark contrast between a party that wants to scapegoat immigrants, attack public workers, and protect the rich, versus a president who has been saying he wants America to get back to work and that everybody should pay their fair share.


  1. http://ohtarzie.wordpress.com10:34 AM


    I think with or without Occupy's participation, this movement will be co-opted by the liberals, in fact, I think it more or less has been, as I predicted. This happened because the movement leaders didn't strike when the iron was hot right at the beginning to call bullshit on everything. They didn't call bullshit on the whole filthy mess because they didn't want to alienate the black liberal dude's constituents, especially black people. They wanted to protest inequality without protesting the government faction that was enabling it.

    This just invited the liberals to take over, and whether or not they officially run Occupy, they've gotten enough traction to keep exploiting its movement brand, which basically is all the movement is anyway and a handful of methods for organizing. Only liberals are speaking for it right now and it's choc-a-bloc with freelance liberals tools, who aren't paid to be stupid. They're just stupid. Everyone else is being alienated. I think it's hilarious to hear co-opting liberals talking about how un-co-optable it is.

    I really doubt that your Action Committee's endorsement is gonna matter all that much for any actions the Dem Liberals want to do. Occupy Congress is going to happen, too, and official Occupies can repudiate it til they're blue in the face, a lot of people aren't going to notice and a lot of actual Occupy people won't care.

    I don't know anything about DC but here in New York I don't think it's true that the unions and Moveon need Occupy more than Occupy needs them. I'm pretty sure all the big actions in New York were big because MoveOn and the unions promoted them. Most of the people in the streets probably have never been to a single GA. What MoveOn and the unions needed was the same thing everyone else did: an end to apathy. They got that and now the scrambling begins for the public will. Anarchists and Marxists and AnCaps don't own occupy anymore than they do. I wish they did but they don't.

    Thing is, things in this country are going to get worse. A lot of people are not going to sign up with the Dems this time. The best thing that can happen is that Obama will go down in flames. I know you don't care about elections, but you should at least care about their impact on the people who do. Read the New York Mag article on #OWS's ruling clique. This movement is being tempered because it doesn't want to attack the black liberal dude.

    In the end, I don't think it's going to matter whether all the shit-disturbing happens under Occupy's auspices are not. I don't really care. Apart from the initial declaration of class war, it seems to be getting diminishing returns.

    But there will be shit-disturbing. I'm still trying to figure out where I'll engage. It's not going to be any long-term commitment with the asshats downtown, that's for sure.

  2. "The Occupy movement, by contrast, has nothing to gain by working with these groups. Indeed, it only stands to lose by associating itself with adjuncts for the Democratic Party and their brand of establishment-friendly, wave-a-sign-from-the-sidewalk activism."

    Totally agree.

  3. Lisa,

    We should chat -- I'm planning on attending the 5:30 GA today. I too once worked for public radio, so we can bitch about that and

  4. Should add that of course i think fighting the fuckers is still warranted. If the Occupy movement can be wrested from the lib Dems, I'm all for it. I'd love to see a big public split. I don't really see that happening here in New York, but maybe you guys can set off a domino effect in DC.

    Good luck.

  5. Patrick12:26 PM

    I think that actual, material factors are against Dem co-option, but I admit it is very frustrating; MOST prog/libs I talk to immediately defend, or at least forgive, Obama. The idea that he is the ENEMY, and was designed to be such, is still too much for them.

    Some forest/trees considerations might be in order: we are going to see more crashes, more homeless, more hungry, more war--AND nothing Obama or the Dems do over the next 11 months will or even can address this. An incredibly destructive process is underway that just might plunge us into a third World War, if we don't want to already consider ourselves in one. People are waking up to the reality of this situation, albeit in different ways and from different perspectives that each come with their own baggage and historical misconceptions, as well as genuine ideas and energy.

    Consider that the Democrats MUST co-op Occupy, or lose the next election. Should we be angry that they try? Maybe. I expect they will seem to gain ground, then events will shift the discourse a bit and they will seem to lose ground with the occupiers, and back and forth until the events we all know are coming arrive. Maybe they will be successful, but I think they've got an uphill-battle, and the open-discourse model does make Occupy more slippery, because even if they co-opt to an extent, they won't be able to control the message (or, really, maddening plurality of messages).

    All I'm saying: things are getting out of control, and more shit's gonna break down before next November, before the conventions.

    Immediately after reading this I came across this more perceptive pro-cooptation screed:

    "Obama’s best hope is that Occupy Wall Street either dies of Sudden Infant Movement Death Syndrome or grows up really fast. The former seems more likely...

    "Less probably, OWS may make a punctuated evolution to a movement that can do business with the Democratic Party, or split into a movement that leaves the irredentists behind. Signs of that development may surface as soon as the Iowa caucuses in January. If the occupation movement can elect sympathetic representatives to start up the food chain to become delegates to the Democratic convention, or to engage in conversations with the people who will be drafting the party platform. The labor unions and groups like, who occupy the middle ground between the leaderless civil society and the tidy Obama reelection organization, would be the obvious ones to broker a deal. The resulting coalition could just bring enough populist energy to the Democratic Party cause to avoid a replay of the defeat that Humphrey suffered in 1968...

    "The occupation movement has endured and survived a bout of police action but has not (with the possible exception of Occupy Oakland) been willing to push back hard, at least not yet. But, as the eviction from Zuccotti Park showed, social movements that threaten the status quo can usually count on the police to raise the violence level for them. And even if there is no exact replay of 1968, the mere possibility should be exerting a pull on how presidential politics is played over the next several months. The really interesting question is not whether the occupation movement poses a 1968-style threat to the reelection of Barack Obama. The interesting question is why his people are so dreamily oblivious about it."

    Those who WANT to see Occupy become a part of Democratic politics are AFRAID of it. I, of course, hope that Occupy royally fucks both conventions.

  6. Anonymous1:23 PM

    Patrick treats elections with far too much gravity.

    Step outside the Elephant vs Donkey paradigm, Patrick.

    The democrats don't "need to" co-opt Occupy:__________.

    They don't "need to" for two reasons.

    (1) They simply don't need it because that's not how our govt works, it doesn't depend on "winning elections" and it never has. Try revisiting history. Elections have always been the charade that lends gravitas to the organized theft.

    (2) The majority of Occupy:__________ participants are simpletons who think "corporate" is the problem. See, e.g., Naomi Wolf's recent essay for the full flush of this nonsense.

    What (2) means is this: the "protesters" are angry at "those bad men" who apparently "forced" American government to do bad things.

    The "protesters" don't see other than what they want to see: they imagine themselves blameless and they need scapegoats. Easy enough to blame Evil Rethuglicans and get Occupy:________ huzzahs and Yeah Buddy!s

    Stepping outside the system, refusing to play in it or by its rules... this is what will remake America.

    Not sit-ins.

  7. Adrian1:46 PM

    Shut up for a second, you grumpy sectarian scold! Liberal Democrats, like my genital warts, are here to stay. Deal with it.

    Engage with them, confront their flawed assumptions and misplaced loyalties, buy them coffee. We should be cheerful mendicant preachers. Our job isn't to police the politics of "Occupy" (which have always been marvelously half-baked anyway).

    I mean who gives a fuck? If a shitty, corrupt union wants to stage a demo against austerity measures, I'm down. Be there or be square. Be there or be nobody.

  8. Adrian,

    They're not protesting just "austerity measures." According to the president of the SEIU, they're explicitly rallying for Obama's jobs bill -- and only targeting Republicans:

  9. Patrick1:59 PM


    I think I was unclear.

    I stepped out of the elephant/donkey paradigm after the 2006 election. I haven't voted since. I agree with your point (2), although I've encountered a lot of intelligence and diversity and understanding of the systemic problems alongside liberal/progressive nonsense shibboleths.

    I agree with your point (1), as well, but I don't think it cuts against what I was trying to say. My point was about the Democrats, but in (1) you're talking about how our government works. While you are right, it doesn't mean winning the 2012 election isn't immensely important to the rival factions. I'm suggesting that for the Dems to stand a chance next year, they must co-opt the movement in certain ways, particularly its rhetoric, and they must definitely keep the central economic-hardship concerns away from the issues of imperialism. I'm further suggesting that, because the legs of the table will continue to be kicked out, it will be increasingly difficult over the course of the next year for them to do so. I might be wrong, but it's a perspective on co-option attempts at least worth entertaining.

    #Occupy has been going on for TWO MONTHS. The civil rights movement involved YEARS of marching, civil disobedience, etc--as well as a prolonged campaign to change the discourse. While sit-ins (at least not the semi-confrontational kind we've seen so far) can't really affect change, it might be more constructive to view the past two months' flawed but mostly genuine attempt to build a national resistance movement that is a part of a broader international resistance movement as the beginning of a long process that will have A LOT of learning and innovating to do and challenges to overcome. Sit-ins could totally be a very important part of that, viewed holistically.

    In any case, I'd be interested to know, practically, what you mean by stepping out and refusing to play in or by its rules.

  10. gavin2:40 PM

    We should be clear what co-option means. Based on charlie's accounts, it mostly has to do with the kinds of action #occupy can encourage or pull off. Will it be boring-ass SEIU sign waving or something more radical and daring (a general strike, a building occupation, a flash-mob-type disruption)?

    Sub-questions emerge.
    -Has Occupy DC been very good at formulating radical, daring actions, via the action committee acting autonomously or by going through the GA? The answer is no. Can it be changed? Under discussion.

    -Does an action like a strike or a building occupation require support from organized labor, people who may vote Obama in 2012, other liberal/democrat/etc.? Yes, this seems clear enough. Maybe there are some exceptions worth exploring.

    -Is the #Occupy brand valuable to the Democrats? Is it valuable to radical actions? How much control over the branding of these things do we actually have? Free Franklin was only tangentially related to ODC (actual relation still not clear), but it gets tagged as part of Occupy. Was this beneficial and how?

    "Supporting" Obama is meaningless on its own -- what matters is not what you say or what you think but what you do or don't do. I think charlie's critique of the silly civics class garbage and electioneering careerists who are directing things at ODC is useful (and probably fun to write). But where do we go from here?

  11. Lisa Simeone8:19 AM

    Charlie, I'm not at Freedom Plaza every day, or even most days. Since the big push at the beginning, when I was there constantly, my physical involvement has tapered off (nature of the occupation itself, my skills in some areas and not in others, my wanting to lie low for a while after my firing, etc.). But I'm still involved in other aspects of the occupation. And I live close enough that I can get to DC easily when need be.

    You should talk to Kevin Zeese, Margaret Flowers, other folks there. Some people I know by sight and first name but not by last name.

    Agree with the general sentiment here that Obama and the Dems are our enemies just as much as any Republicans. Voting is meaningless. The entire system needs to be overthrown. And no, it's not going to happen overnight.

    The civil rights comparison is apt. This is only the beginning. This is a process that's going to take years.

  12. Lisa Simeone9:11 AM

    Occupation Evicted? Occupy the Place Responsible: DC
    By David Swanson - Posted on 30 November 2011

  13. Anonymous11:50 AM


    If you really can't figure out how to step outside a system and skirt its rules, then I don't think you have any business commenting on this issue of where things are and where they're headed in America.

    Hopefully your Fusion Center contact likes that answer.

  14. Anonymous11:51 AM


    It's only going to "take years" if "organizers" are in charge.

  15. Anonymous11:52 AM

    ...meaning, if Marxist dogma is in charge.

  16. Karl, there's no Marxist dogma in charge. I haven't heard anyone at the Plaza mention a word about Marx. Would be a fun discussion if they did, but nobody has.