Debate: Occupy Wall Street vs Spring99% Co-optation?

by on April 13, 2012 · 11 comments

in American Empire, Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, Economy, History, Labor, Organizing, Popular

There is a debate going on right now within certain progressive activist circles and communities around the country. It’s a debate generally between Occupy Wall Street activists and supporters with those individuals and groups that have coalesced around a loose network called Spring99%.

There are accusations from Occupy folks that Spring99% is trying to co-opt the OWS movement.  That MoveOn is a front for the Democratic Party. And there are denials both from activists within the Spring99% network and members of the Occupy movement itself. It is a needed debate, even though it’s probably under the radar for many progressives and irrelevant for mainstream politics – except for the accusations that Spring99% is a front for the Obama re-election campaign. Meanwhile, paranoia of being co-opted has been a mainstay within the anti-Wall Street movement for months.

Here are half a dozen or so articles from various sources that either address or explain two of the sides of this debate. Following these articles, is another piece about local trainings and a link to sign-up:

 #1.) Who Is Spring99%? An Open Letter to America

By 99%Spring

The 99% Spring was launched February 15 with the following letter signed by over 40 movement leaders and organizations.

 Things should never have reached this point.

 Every day, the American Dream seems a little farther away. More of our grandparents are being thrown from their homes. Our mothers and fathers can’t retire because their pension funds tanked. Our brothers and sisters are burdened by student loan debt. For our children, budget cuts have resulted in crumbling schools, skyrocketing class sizes, and teachers being denied the supports they need to do their best. Our friends and family are being denied collective bargaining rights in their workplaces and are falling further and further behind. Our neighbors are being poisoned by pollution in our air and water.

For the remainder of this article, please go to 99%Spring.

 #2.)  99%Spring is a bust at co-opting Occupy Wall Street

by resa / Daily Kos / April 11, 2012

Everyone knows that I’m a big fan of Van Jones, and it’s not just because he’s hot. That’s not why I chose to participate in 99% Spring, however.

 I’m not one of those people who goes around worrying allot about co-option. I assume that if we all have the same goals, it doesn’t matter much. [I was looking forward to non-violent training. I like the idea that there might be a more structured option that allows individuals to engage with the 99% movement. I went into this with an open mind.] I didn’t think that 99%Spring was out to co-opt Occupy Wall Street.

For the remainder of this article, please go to Daily Kos.

#3.) 99 Percent Spring: the Latest MoveOn Front for the Democratic Party

by THE INSIDER / counterpunch / March 16-18, 2012

A new social movement has arrived on the scene and it even has a sexy brand: “The 99% Spring.”

Combining the “99 percent” meme, made famous by the Occupy Wall Street movement, with the “Arab Spring” meme, made famous through the ongoing struggle for democratic rights in the Arab world, the organizers of the movement say they will attempt to carry the momentum created in these social movements forward in the coming weeks and months ahead.

This is exciting stuff, to say the very least.

For the remainder of this article, please go to counterpunch.

#4.)  The “99% Spring” Movement to Train 100,000 Activists: Co-Opting Occupy or Helping Spread its Message?

By Jake Olzen / AlterNet / March 26, 2012

Despite borrowing a few of the Occupy movement’s favorite slogans, the massive and controversial effort known as the 99% Spring is coming from the institutional left.

 Next month, activists and organizers across the country are planning to train 100,000 people in nonviolent direct action for what they call The 99% Spring. But despite borrowing one or two of the Occupy movement’s favorite slogans, The 99% Spring hasn’t been called for by any general assembly. Rather, this massive and controversial effort is coming from the institutional left — a diverse coalition of labor unions, environmental and economic justice groups, community organizations and trainers’ alliances. While some celebrate what appears to be a mainstreaming of resistance thanks to Occupy, others are crying co-option.

For the remainder of this article, please go here to AlterNet.

#5)  Occupy Wall Street Activists Respond to the 99 Percent Spring

By Allison Kilkenny / The Nation / April 6, 2012

Seizing on the popularity of Occupy Wall Street, a broad coalition of liberal-left groups and organizations created the 99 Percent Spring, a movement aiming to recruit and train 100,000 Americans to learn the ways of non-violent direct action. The initiative includes support from MoveOn.org, AFL-CIO, Greenpeace, the Working Families Party, 350.org, Campaign for America’s Future, United Students Against Sweatshops, CodePink, Global Exchange and Color of Change, among other groups.

The plan has been heavily promoted by celebrities such as Edward Norton, Elijah Wood, Marisa Tomei and Jason Alexander and political heavyweights like Van Jones, founder of Rebuild the Dream.

For the remainder of this article, please go to The Nation here.

#6) Occupy Wall Street and MoveOn Go Together Like Woodstock and 1999

 By Mobutu Sese SekoSese  / Gawker / March 27, 2012

A funny thing happened in a New York Magazine blog post last Friday. In a piece on Occupy Wall Street’s upcoming plans, reporter Joe Coscarelli made a little mistake. He wrote:

 …next month will bring “99 percent Spring Action Training” across the country. “In April we will train 100,000 people in nonviolent action,” the group’s site says. “It’s an audacious plan, but movements can do great things when everyone works together.” Backed by organizations like Greenpeace, MoveOn.org, and the United Auto Workers, the preparation is meant to culminate in the general strike on May 1.

 Here’s the problem: May’s general strike belongs to the nationwide Occupy movement, the grassroots rejection of co-opted corporate politics. “The 99 Percent Spring”-which makes no mention of May 1-is astroturf. It’s Occupy Wall Street brought to you by MoveOn.org, the people who send you 17 emails per week asking you to sign milquetoast petitions or read unctuous defenses of whatever castrated legislation Harry Reid has limply waved at the opposition. These are different beasts.

For the remainder of this article, please go here to Gawker.

#7)  Why my experience as an organizer for MoveOn doesn’t give me confidence about its role in Spring99%

By a local Southern California activist

I joined MoveOn in the Spring of 2011, excited by the national group’s emphasis on jobs. I had gone to a local Southern Californian  house meeting and signed up. We worked on something called Rebuild the American Dream and a new contract for Americans that addressed many current and needed issues.  I liked the progressive stands that the organization and all the other groups were taken.  We were part of a great, progressive national coalition. I was then made an organizer for a local chapter.

Over the course of the next few months, we organized small rallies at local Congressional offices, attended primarily by mainly older, white activists. We started building up our email lists and kept having a of couple meetings every month in various homes around the area. And after doing this for a while, I started seeing problems in how MoveOn operates.

First, their national agenda was primary.  Any local issues definitely took a back seat. We were told we had to organize these gatherings at Congressional offices to keep the pressure on Congress during their recess. We were told we had to keep organizing the house meetings – filled with new people.  But we didn’t have time to develop our chapter and focus on local issues that may have attracted local activists.

MoveOn’s emphasis on these “house meetings” undermined our own efforts at stabilizing our chapter.  I came to the conclusion that after all the years that MoveOn has been around, they still don’t know how to do chapter building, and genuine leadership development. The nation-wide group claims they have 5 to 6 million members. But they’re paper members. When I tried to contact the supposed 100 official members of our chapter, I received almost no response. I had to essentially build the chapter from scratch.

I began to see how decisions we made at the chapter level were not necessarily allowed to stand.  For example, our local chapter decided to focus on a particular campaign around jobs targeting a local large employer. But this was secondary we were told. We had to follow the dictates of our Regional and Field Organizers.  Which we then tried to do.  But our local focus fell apart.

At one rally, I passed around a bucket for donations in order for us to pay for the costs of our fliers, etc. I was told we could not do any local fund raising. WTF?  How were we to raise monies for our expenses? This question was never answered.  It was frowned upon just passing the hat at our chapter meetings.

And in fact, any assistance from our state-wide and regional organizers was pretty much nil.  For their national focus on jobs, for example, MoveOn had not one policy paper nor even one pamphlet to send us. They never sent us any monies.  We had to find certain documents on the internet.

There are lots of great people in MoveOn. But I came to see that overall the group is very top-down, undemocratic, not very transparent, and fairly manipulative of their members – those that actually exist.  MoveOn does not understand how to create, maintain, and have chapters evolve organically.

Initially, like many activist organizations, MoveOn did support the early Occupy movement actions in town. But the group does not have much resources at the local level and didn’t have much to offer – outside of helping to lead a couple of actions against banks – which was good. We would have these actions, but there was no strategy, no follow-up.

The obvious membership problems with MoveOn – white and aged – are not really addressed. I want to see a MoveOn that is more diverse, more militant, more democratic, more transparent, and not just an extension of the Obama re-election campaign.  Until those changes occur, I don’t have much confidence that MoveOn can carry out these Spring99% activities. It is true that there is like 80 groups nation-wide part of the network. But at the local level, it’s always MoveOn.

Who will then get to decide where all that training will be exercised?

99% Spring Action Training

by MoveOn

 We’re at a crossroads as a country. In recent years, millions have lost their jobs, homes have been foreclosed, and an unconscionable number of children live in poverty. We have to stand up to the people who caused of all this and confront the rampant greed and deliberate manipulation of our democracy and our economy by a tiny minority in the 1%.

 Inspired by Occupy Wall Street and the fight for workers in Madison, Wisconsin, the 99% will rise up this spring. In the span of just one week, from April 9-15, 100,000 people will be trained to tell the story of what happened to our economy, learn the history of non-violent direct action, and use that knowledge to take action on our own campaigns to win change.

 We’ll gather for trainings in homes, community centers, places of worship, campuses, and public spaces nationwide to learn how to join together in the work of reclaiming our country through sustained non-violent action.

 Will you rise with us and join a 99% Spring action training?  Go here to sign up for the training.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar rick trujillo April 13, 2012 at 10:44 pm

Since the beginning, the first news I ck is # OWS…an independent Occupy, just to see if they are still independent.
I have not been disappointed and apparently this is the case among millions of general supporters, from sea to shining sea.
#OWS fingered the ruling rich at their hub of trading & finance capital. This is the place where the $$$$$$$ scam/ripoff’/looting/theft/legal pilfering happens..every minute of every day. They put a GPS, so to speak, on the malignant scum of the earth.
The twin parties have tried, semi-successfully, to either curtail (smear campaigns) or smash (cops), not only @OWS but a host of similar Occupy’s, in a huge number of cities. Mayors from both appendages of the ruling oligarchy unleashed the armed might of the state to attack Occupy’s everywhere. The first inning produced a number of hits for the cops but Occupy employed a very creative defense to stop any runs while getting a few base hits, themselves.
It is still very clear Occupy faces a formidable enemies, some armed and extremely dangerous. But the ” democratic” masquerade, called the “american dream” (for whom and for how long?) has been outed to millions…the vast, vast majority who have very little experience in opposing (in an organized way) the essence of their demise and continuing decline is just beginning to witness, on the surface, their immense power, and incredible depth….. 1st break free of the mental shackles, just say no, and take matters into our own hands. This is what Occupy has accomplished in a limited but fruitful way; change in the making. Occupy has posed the big questions less influence from outside.
Here’s one of the biggest problems occupying Occupy….numbers of organized groups are intervening with their agendas as factions, not to build on the continuing exposure of the 1% and it’s crimes but to recruit to their groups…..occupy is not a united front. It is, in the main, fed up (read enlightened) folks who have figured out the capitalist lottery is a hoax. That’s a lot to deal with in these last few months. Hands off Occupy is an appropriate slogan and double edged warning. Occupy has welcomed all individuals. Group loyal folks ought to start their own Occupy simply because it’s OK to leave those following their own guidelines, alone. Occupy continues to gain experience and keep on making outs and getting hits. Occupy ain’t broken, yet.
San Diego needs to develop the #OWS side of it’s self while maintaining a local posture (we live in the 12th biggest world economy)…… following the $$$$$$$$$$$$, who buys, who sells, who owns, it all. The 1% are within reach here, unlike many other cities….they live here. At the very least, they need to be outed and shamed, for starters. We have preached enough to ourselves.

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avatar Gary Ghirardi April 14, 2012 at 10:45 am

99% Spring organizer Joy Cushman’s comment,

“They were able to shift the entire national debate with the way they were organizing. We realized that nonviolent direct action is the way we have to go because the democratic system isn’t responsive anymore.”

is both a veiled admission of the co-opting of the Occupy strategy by MoveOn and offers up a question about democracy itself; If a system that is non-responsive could have ever been considered democratic.

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avatar Liberty60 April 14, 2012 at 12:57 pm

I am also a former Southern California MoveOn organizer, and I could have written #7. It is, word for word, what I also experienced.

I also helped organize a local Occupy. So the current friction between the two groups is very painful to watch.

I actually have problems with Occupy, as well as MoveOn. The local Occupies from what I am witnessing have turned into a caricature of themselves, a cartoon version of the image that the rightwing claimed.
They are very small, not at all representative of the local population, and are comprised of about an even 50-50 split between homeless men and aimless activists pursuing increasingly narrow goals.
None of which are in sync or harmony with the concerns and issues of the 99% of the local population of waitresses, teachers, soccer moms and struggling working families.

The 99% Spring may not be the magic unicorn of progressive dreams, but it DOES resonate with the working middle class, and from the training sessions I went to, DOES represent a cross section of the 99%.

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avatar Gary Ghirardi April 14, 2012 at 7:14 pm

Liberty…..what is your impression of this article of today in Counter-punch
about the 99% Spring event in New York City?

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avatar Liberty60 April 14, 2012 at 7:55 pm

Shorter Counterpunch-
“We’re the People’s Front of Judea!
Fuck the Judean People’s Front- Splitters!”

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avatar Monty Kroopkin April 15, 2012 at 9:29 pm

Given that we are needing to unite not only the “99 percent” in the USA, but actually worldwide, we are going to need much more tollerance of “diversity of tactics” or we will spend more time fighting with each other than with the oligarchy. Our unity on an array of grievances, such as the Declaration of the Occupation of New York ( http://www.nycga.net/resources/declaration/ ) is unlikely to immediately translate into unity on strategy and tactics. Unity on strategy and tactics will evolve as a result of the “gravitational” effects of RESULTS – what works will garner more supporters, and what does not work will lose people. Dogmatic analysis of the history of movements will cause some to want to trash anything they see as already failed by prior attempts. “Failure” is not necessarily an absolute term, nor are past failures any guarantee of future ones. Reforms like social security are “cooptation” of the movement for a socialist and democratic society. Resisting cooptation does not have to mean trashing activists who are working to enact reforms. We can encourage people to work on that, if that is what they are willing to devote their energies to, while telling them why it is of limited appeal and why we need them to support others who are pushing for more. The movement can aborb reforms and keep demanding more changes – it is obvious that the most fundamental structural changes require not only reforms, but a vast revolutionary transformation of the social and economic organization of world society. Some demands are “impossible” — in terms of what the global corporate/capitalist economic system and oligarchy can do. We need to keep identifying and making those demands, not only those for the immediate reforms that we think the rulers may give us to buy us off and quiet us down. Modern communications and computing technology make it possible to create a world society that is truly democratic and participatory, and which provides all of us the voice we have a right to have in all the decisions that affect our lives. As people said during the general strike in France in 1968: “Demand the impossible.”

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avatar Monty Kroopkin April 15, 2012 at 9:33 pm

typo: “The movement can absorb…”

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avatar rak April 15, 2012 at 10:45 pm

Another perspective by Nathan Schneider from the Waging Nonviolence blog that’s worth considering.

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avatar Donald N Johnson April 17, 2012 at 3:56 pm

No one has a corner on the truth. Everyone has a little corner of the truth. Nobody owns the future. Occupy, you did a great thing. Maybe you’ll do more. Others will do other things. You don’t own this.

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avatar David Berger April 21, 2012 at 7:55 am

My question to people who are so hot on 99% Spring is: Why didn’t this group propose and alliance with the Occupy movement to cooperate in the trainings? Some people would say that Occupy is too diverse, not a legal entity, etc., so it would have been impossible. This is nonsense, especially in places of Occupy strength like New York.

Over 50 unions, immigrant rights and community groups and radical organizations are in an alliance with Occupy Wall Street right now as we all organize together for what may well be the largest May Day March in US history. Surely MoveOn and its political buddies could have formed such an alliance. In fact, why didn’t 99% Spring come into the May Day alliance?

Or is there a political problem? Could it be that the warmed-over Alinskyism of 99% Spring is in opposition to the radical anti-capitalism of Occupy? Can you really see Van Jones and his ilk, going right from a meeting at the White House to camp out in Zuccotti Park in the fall, or these days, waiting outside Union Square at 6:00 AM when the police let us back in for the day?

Anyway, hope to see you-all on May Day, in Ocean Beach, New York or wherever you dwell. You’ll be there, and I’ll be there, but don’t waste your time look for 99% Spring.

David Berger

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