Tag Archives: MoveOn.org

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Prequel to a Beginning

Why Occupy Wall Street Still Matters

      It was the middle of September. An ad hoc coalition of political groups, mostly left of center but not all, whose members mostly were young but not all, came together to express their opinions outside the officially approved two-party paradigm.

United by their anger and energy, these people held general assemblies (they called them “sit-ins.”) They marched. Throughout that fall and into part of the following year, they caught the attention of the news media, inspiring activists around the country. In the end, the powers that be did what power powers that be usually do: they sent in the cops. Beaten and swept away in mass arrests, the young activists drifted away. Voters, convinced by the system’s propaganda that the movement threatened law and order, turned to the right.

One year later, it was clear to most that the Free Speech Movement at UC Berkeley had failed.

Students had demanded that school administrators allow political organizations, including civil rights groups, to table and solicit contributions on campus. (In 1964 only the campus Democratic and Republican clubs were allowed to do so.) There was a concession: the acting chancellor grudgingly opened the steps of a single building for open discussion and tables, but only during certain hours. By the fall of 1966, however, UC had a new right-wing president and California was led by a new right-wing governor, Ronald Reagan, who had promised to “clean up the mess in Berkeley.”

Now we understand that the FSM was a prequel to a beginning. The FSM morphed into a campus movement that inspired widespread social unrest of the 1960s that centered on opposition to the Vietnam War. Everything that followed–feminists burning bras, gays rioting after the bust at the Stonewall Inn, America’s withdrawal from Vietnam–had its roots in that “failed” movement.

Keep the “failed” Free Speech Movement in mind as you read and watch this week’s coverage of the anniversary of Occupy. One year after activists set up the first Occupy Wall Street encampments in New York and Washington, D.C., the Occupy movement is described as in “disarray.” Indeed, it’s hard to remember how big OWS was. Were there really more than a thousand Occupations? Did 59% of the American public support OWS when it was barely a month old? What happened?

“I think they’re idiots. They have no agenda,” Robert Nicholson, who works on Wall Street, tells The Los Angeles Times. “They have yet to come out with a policy statement.”

“The movement [grew] too large too quickly. Without leaders or specific demands, what started as a protest against income inequality turned into an amorphous protest against everything wrong with the world,” argues the AP.

I was at Freedom Plaza in D.C. and Zuccotti Park in Manhattan. I’m a member of my local Occupy chapter on Long Island, Occupy the East End. (Yes, we’re still around.) I agree with Mikell Kober of Brooklyn, who was protesting in front of a Bank of America branch. She told a reporter that OWS is “about creating a public space where people could gather and have a conversation about the things that need to change.”

Coming up with a list of demands isn’t the point. Thinking outside the D vs. R box is. Now people know that electoral politics is theater. Real politics is in the streets. For the first time since the Sixties, we know that.

The flaw in Occupy, the seed of its future destruction, was its basic original premise: occupying public space nonviolently.

Occupying nonviolently is an oxymoron. If you decide to be nonviolent, you leave peacefully when the police show up to evict you. Which is what happened last winter to the OWS encampments.  If you are determined to occupy–and remain in–public space, you must resort to violence in order to defend yourselves from police violence.

OWS ought to have decided whether it wanted to be nonviolent or whether it wanted to occupy public space. If it chose nonviolence, it could have engaged in acts of resistance–flash mobs, demonstrations, strikes–that did not require setting up and defending encampments.

Also, a political movement is defined more by what it is not than by what it is. OWS was a movement outside of the duopoly, yet many “Occupiers” worked with, and got co-opted by, Democratic Party front groups like MoveOn.org who stole OWS’ “We are the 99%” slogan.Though the physical presence of OWS is a mere shadow of its presence a year ago, the Occupy idea remains colossally important–largely because the two major parties still refuse to engage the biggest problem we face: America’s growing poverty. “I don’t think Occupy itself has an enormous future,” Dr. Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University, told the Associated Press. “I think that movements energized by Occupy have an enormous future.”

Like the Free Speech movement nearly a half century ago, Occupy is the prequel to the beginning.

Of course, change doesn’t always mean progress and inspiration isn’t always positive. “Reagan’s political career owed a lot to the [FSM] people who used the [UC] campus as a radical base for political activity. It is an irony that helped elect him,” says Earl Cheit, executive vice chancellor at Berkeley from 1965 to 1969.

(Ted Rall‘s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com. This column originally appeared at NBCNews.com’s Lean Forward blog.)


SYNDICATED COLUMN: Occupy Wall Street – What Comes Next?

Things Have Changed. Time to Adapt.

The Occupy National Gathering, held July 1-4 in Philadelphia, perfectly captures the current state of Occupy Wall Street.

First, the cops pushed the Occupiers around, refusing them space in Independence Park. They wound up in Franklin Square. (Just like old times. In September 2011 Occupiers found Wall Street blocked off by the NYPD. Zuccotti was ad hoc option two.)

Second, the Philly confab was wimpy and watered-down. When one of your honored guests is Daryl Hall of the 1980s duo “Hall & Oates,” militancy is probably off the menu.

Third, the Occupiers weren’t really Occupiers (though many no doubt didn’t know that they’d been coopted by Democratic Party operatives). ONG was yet the latest attempt by front groups set up by MoveOn.org in order to channel the energies of the OWS movement into the Obama reelection campaign.

“What’s going on with Occupy?” people ask me. “We don’t hear anything about them anymore.” By which they mean, they haven’t seen or read anything about OWS in the corporate media. They also probably haven’t “heard” about the enormous street protests in Montreal, which routinely draw 400,000 to 500,000 people, or about Bill 78, a law passed by Quebec’s parliament that suspends the rights of free speech and assembly, which has transformed the province into a police state, or that the real unemployment rate—the way it was calculated before 1980—is 23 percent.)

When your media is this far gone, you don’t “hear” much.

Some say Occupy is dead. Others disagree. “Occupy Will Be Back,” liberal writer Chris Hedges wrote recently.” It is not certain we will win. But it is certain this is not over.” (I don’t know who this “we” is. As far as I’ve heard, the squishy former New York Times journo’s role at Occupy has been limited to book-shilling.)

As a person who helped plan the event that initially sparked OWS; as one who was thrilled by its instant popularity, potency and potential; as someone who participated in the branch of OWS in my own community through the winter, including direct action confronting the authorities—and as a long-time student of historical crises and revolutionary movements—I think it’s less important to guess whether Occupy has a future than to examine how a movement with widespread public support from left and right alike devolved from nearly 2000 public encampments to its current situation: marginalization and cooption.

That said, this summer offers good opportunities for OWSers to make some noise. Occupiers will protest the two major party conventions later this summer. The longer the campaign goes on without either candidate seriously engaging jobs and the economy—hands down the most important issue in Americans’ minds—in a credible way, the more removed from reality the political horserace and its media carnival barkers become, the longer the suffering goes on (and suffering, we sometimes forget, is cumulative, each pain and setback exponentially building upon the last), the more appealing Occupy, or perhaps some more aggressive successor, will be.

Whether the first major street movement since the 1960s survives, grows or metastasizes, we must learn the lessons of Occupy’s first year.

Like every political system, every movement contains the seeds of its future demise. OWS began with an unsustainable premise: occupy public space, yet remain nonviolent. What happens when the cops show up? You leave peacefully. Game over. Which, with the exception of Occupy Oakland—an interesting exception, insofar that clashes with the police increased popular support—is what happened everywhere from lower Manhattan to City Hall Park in Los Angeles.

Occupy should have permitted resistance, violent and/or nonviolent. That, or it shouldn’t have camped out in parks in the first place. Similar movements, in Spain and Russia for example, operate out of offices and churches and use flash-mob tactics to carry out hit-and-run direct actions against banks and other targets. If you’re going to make an Alamo-like stand, well…make a stand.

As I and just about everyone else pointed out at the time, moreover, camping out in the cold sucks. A dumb tactic for a movement that began in the fall and intended to last indefinitely.

Occupy has been overly inclusive. As a reaction to and rejection of the two big corporate-backed political parties, OWS was inherently radical. Yet for week after week, month after month, General Assemblies all over the country have been disrupted and hijacked by liberals, Democrats, and other traditional partisans who don’t share the OWS ideology of non-partisanship and non-affiliation with Ds or Rs, and militant resistance to their backers, the banksters and other corporate hucksters.

Others have criticized OWS’ unwillingness and/or inability to issue a list of demands. Not me. I have seen how the debates within Occupy have empowered voiceless men and women who used to think politics was for politicians. It was—is—powerful.

Let the oppressors try to guess how we may be mollified, how they might avoid revolution. Demands, we believed, would define us too narrowly and separate us from one another.

But things have changed.

We have been kicked out of our encampments. Occupy groups in numerous cities have split into radical and reformist (liberal and/or Democratic) factions.

There really is no place for the liberals within Occupy. Democratic apologists should go where they belong, to volunteer for Obama, to waste their time and money on the torturer of Guantánamo, the drone murderer of Waziristan, he who golfs while the 99% watch their wages shrink and their homes taken away, he who extended his “good war” against Afghanistan through 2024.

We real Occupiers, we radicals, should come together around a list of demands that define us, and allows the wait-and-see public what we’re about, to understand that we are fighting for them—demands that a somewhat reasonable and responsive government would agree to, but cannot and will not because it would counter their insane, addictive greed, their lust to control and own everything, everywhere, everyone.

They even trademark the germs.

There should be demands for justice: prison sentences and fines for the politicos and corporate executives of those whose behavior was not only reprehensible but illegal, along with the seizure of their companies and their properties for the public good. One would start, naturally, with the President.

There should be demands for redress: payments and other material compensation for those who were the victims of crimes, economic and otherwise. Torture victims need counseling and homes, and deserve punitive and compensatory damages; those who lost their homes to illegal foreclosures need not only their old lives back, but also interest and cash penalties to serve as a deterrent to those tempted to engage in such behavior again; the same goes for those who rotted in prison for non-criminal “crimes” like using drugs.

And there should be demands for systemic changes: opening up ballots to third parties; making it illegal for elected representatives to talk to businesspeople, much less accept contributions from them; rigorously enforcing the constitution, laws and treaty obligations so that, for example, Congress gets back the exclusive right to wage war; expanding the Bill of Rights to include such obvious 21st century necessities as a right to a college education should a citizen desire one, a right to a living wage that doesn’t depend upon the whims of local employers, and a right to be treated for any illness, without charge, just because you’re American and you live in the wealthiest society that has ever existed, anywhere.

(Ted Rall’s new book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt.” His website is tedrall.com.)


Occupy the Cheesecake Factory

Democrats and Democratic front groups like MoveOn.org are trying to channel the Occupy movement back into the system with such “Astroturf” actions as “Occupy the Ballotbox” and “Occupy the Primaries.” What bizarre co-option schemes can we look forward to next?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Democrats Occupy Occupy

MoveOn Co-opts OWS Rhetoric, Dilutes Its Message

If Democrats were doing their jobs, there wouldn’t be an Occupy movement.

The last 40 years has left liberals and progressives without a party and working people without an advocate. The party of FDR, JFK and LBJ abandoned its principles, embracing and voting along with Reagan and two Bushes. Clinton’s biggest accomplishments, NAFTA and welfare reform, were GOP platform planks. These New Democrats were indistinguishable from Republicans, waging optional wars, exporting jobs overseas and coddling corrupt CEOs while the rest of us—disconnected from power, our needs repeatedly ignored—sat and watched in silent rage.

Barack Obama is merely the latest of these phony Democrats. He’s the most recent in a line of corporate stooges going back to Jimmy Carter.

The Occupiers revolted under Obama’s watch for two reasons. The gap between the promise of his soaring rhetoric and the basic indecency of his cold-blooded disregard for the poor and unemployed was too awful to ignore. Moreover, the post-2008 economic collapse pushed a dam of insults and pain and anger that had built up over years past its breaking point.

Haphazard and disorganized and ad hoc, the Occupy movement is an imperfect, spontaneous response that fills a yawning demand gap in the American marketplace of ideas. For the first time since 1972, the spectrum of Left from liberalism to progressivism to socialism to communism to left anarchism has an audience (if not much of an organization).

Now the very same Democrats who killed liberalism and blocked leftists from candidacies, appointments, even the slightest participation in discussion—are trying to co-opt the Occupy movement.

MoveOn.org, which began as a plea for the U.S. to “move on” during Bill Clinton’s impeachment for perjury, claims to be an independent, progressive activist group. It’s really a shill for center-right Democratic politicians like Obama, whom MoveOn endorsed in the 2008 primaries against Hillary Clinton, who was running to Obama’s left.

All decision-making within the Occupations is consensus-based. Nothing gets approved or done before it has been exhaustedly debated; actions must be approved by 90 to 100% of Occupiers at General Assemblies. It can be arduous.

Without respect for Occupy’s process, MoveOn brazenly stole the movement’s best-known meme for its November 17th “We Are The 99%” event. And no one said boo.

Some Occupier friends were flattered.


Why didn’t MoveOn ask permission from the Occupy movement? Because they wouldn’t have gotten it. “We’re just days from the Super Committee’s deadline to propose more cuts for the 99% or increased taxes for the 1%,” reads MoveOn’s ersatz Occupy “event.”

“So come out and help increase the pressure on Congress to tax Wall Street to create millions of jobs.”

Um, no. Lobbying Congress directly contradicts a fundamental tenet of the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street. Occupy doesn’t lobby. Occupy doesn’t endorse either of the corporate political parties. Occupy doesn’t care about this bill or that amendment. Occupy does not participate in stupid elections in which both candidates work for the 1%. Occupy exists in order to figure out how to get rid of the existing system and what should replace it.

What MoveOn did was shameful. They ought to apologize. Donating a year or two’s worth of their contributions to the Occupations would be small penance. Given how little MoveOn has accomplished since its founding, Occupy would likely make better use of the cash.

On December 7th it was the turn of another Democratic “Astroturf” organization, the “American Dream Movement,” to lift the Occupy movement’s radical rhetoric to promote a very different, milquetoast agenda.

The American Dream Movement was co-founded in June 2011 by former Obama political advisor Van Jones and—turning up like a bad penny!—MoveOn.org.

A written statement for the ADM’s “Take Back the Capitol” threatened to “make Wall Street pay” for enriching the richest 1% and to “track down those responsible for crashing the economy and causing millions of 99%-ers to lose their jobs and homes—while failing to pay their fair share of taxes.”

Sounds like Occupy. Which is great.

Somewhat less than awesome is the content of the “Take Back the Capitol”: begging Congressmen who ought to awaiting trial for corruption and treason for a few crumbs off the corporate table.

“Throughout Tuesday, demonstrators visited the offices of about 99 House and Senate members, from both parties, and most were refused meetings with lawmakers,” reported NPR.


What part of “we hate you” do these ACM fools not get?

Robert Townsend, an unemployed 48-year-old man from Milwaukee, managed to meet his Congressman, Republican Thomas Petri. “We asked him if he would vote for the jobs bill. He was evasive on that. And I asked him, ‘Tell me something positive that you’re doing for Wisconsin that will put us back to work.’ He mentioned something in Oshkosh, but that’s mostly for military people. He really didn’t have much of an answer. It’s like he had no commitment to addressing this problem.”

Double duh.

If Congress were responsive, if Democrats or Republicans cared about us or our needs, if Obama and his colleagues spent a tenth as much time and money on the unemployed as they do golfing and bombing and invading and shoveling trillions of dollars at Wall Street bankers, we wouldn’t need an Occupy movement.

But we won’t have one for long. Not if Occupy lets itself get Occupied by MoveOn and the Democrats.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)


SYNDICATED COLUMN: The New Face of Revolution

After Tunisia and Egypt, the World

From the British newspaper the Independent: “Like in many other countries in the region, protesters in Egypt complain about surging prices, unemployment and the authorities’ reliance on heavy-handed security to keep dissenting voices quiet.”

Sound familiar?

Coverage by U.S. state-controlled media of the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is too dim by half: they say it’s an Arab thing. So it is. But not for long. The problems that triggered the latest uprisings, rising inequality of income, frozen credit markets, along with totally unresponsive government, span the globe. To be sure, the first past-due regimes to be overthrown may be the most brutal U.S. client states—Arab states such as Yemen, Jordan and Algeria. Central Asia’s autocrats, also corrupted by the U.S., can’t be far behind; Uzbekistan’s Islam Karimov, who likes to boil his dissidents to death, would be my first bet. But this won’t stop in Asia. Persistent unemployment, unresponsive and repressive governments exist in Europe and yes, here in the U.S. They are unstable. The pressure is building.

Global revolution is imminent.

The first great wave of revolutions from 1793 through 1848 was a response to the decline of feudal agrarianism. (Like progressive historians, I don’t consider the 1775-1781 war of American independence to be a true revolution. Because it didn’t result in a radical reshuffling of classes, it was little more than a bunch of rich tax cheats getting theirs.)

During the 19th century European elites saw the rise of industrial capitalism as a chance to stack the cards in their favor, paying slave wages for backbreaking work. Workers organized and formed a proletariat that rejected this lopsided arrangement. They rose up. They formed unions. By the middle of the 20th century, a rough equilibrium had been established between labor and management in the U.S. and other industrialized nations. Three generations of autoworkers earned enough to send their children to college.

Now Detroit is a ghost town.

The uprisings we are witnessing today have their roots in the decline of industrial production that began 60 years ago. As in the early 1800s the economic order has been reshuffled. Ports, factories and the stores that serviced them have shut down. Thanks to globalization, industrial production has been deprofessionalized, shrunken, and outsourced to the impoverished Third World. The result, in Western countries, is a hollowed-out middle class—undermining the foundation of political stability in post-feudal societies.

In the former First World industry was supplanted by the knowledge economy. Rather than bring the global economy in for a soft landing after the collapse of industrial capitalism by using the rising information sector to spread wealth, the ruling classes chose to do what they always do: they exploited the situation for short-term gain, grabbing whatever they could for themselves. During the ’70s and ’80s they broke the unions. (Which is one reason average family income has steadily declined since 1968.) They gouged consumers in the ’90s and ’00s. (Now their credit cards are maxed out.) Now the banks are looting the government.

Now that the bill is due, they want us to pay. But we can’t. We won’t.

It’s bad enough during a cyclical recession, when millions of Americans are losing their jobs and getting evicted from their homes. When the government’s response to an economic holocaust is not to help these poor people, but instead to dole out hundreds of billions of dollars to the giant banks and insurance companies causing the firings and carrying out the foreclosures, it’s crazy.

And when the media tells the one in four adults who is “structurally” (i.e. permanently) unemployed that he and she doesn’t exist—the recession is over! recovery is underway!—it’s obvious that the U.S. is cruising for revolution. Not the Tea Party kind, with corny flags and silly hats.

American Revolution, Tunisian/Egyptian style.

Late last year I wrote a book, The Anti-American Manifesto, which calls for Americans to revolt against our out-of-control plutocracy and the corrupt political biarchy that props it up. I expected the Right to react with outrage. To the contrary. While the desire for revolution is hardly universal among Americans, it is widespread and distributed across the political spectrum. Revolution, when it occurs here, will be surprisingly popular.

Criticism of my Manifesto centers not on its thesis that the status quo is unsustainable and ought to go, but on my departure from traditional Marxist doctrine. Old-school lefties say you can’t (or shouldn’t) have revolution without first building a broad-based popular revolutionary movement.

“We are still in a time and place where we can and should be doing more to build popular movements that can liberate people’s consciousnesses and win reforms necessary to lay the foundation for a transformed society without it being soaked in blood,” Michael McGehee wrote in Z magazine. “All this talk about throwing bricks and Molotov cocktails is extremely premature and reckless…”

Maybe that used to be true. I think things have changed. Given the demoralized state of dissent in the United States since the 1960s and the co-opting of radical activists by the cult of militant pacifism, it would be impossible to create such an organization.

As I argue in the book, anyone who participates in the Official Left as it exists today—the MoveOns, Michael Moores, Green Party, etc.—is inherently discredited in the current, rapidly radicalizing political environment. Old-fashioned liberals can’t really help, they can’t really fight, not if they want to maintain their pathetic positions—so they don’t really try. America’s future revolutionaries—the newly homeless, the illegally dispossessed, people bankrupted by the healthcare industry—can only view the impotent Official Left with contempt.

Revolution will come. When it does, as it did in Tunisia and Egypt, it will follow a spontaneous explosion of long pent-up social and economic forces. We will not need the old parties and progressive groups to lead us. Which is good, because they aren’t psychologically conditioned to create revolution or midwife it when it occurs. New formations will emerge from the chaos. They will create the new order.

In my Manifesto I argue that old-fashioned ideologies are obsolete. Left, Right, Whoever must and will form alliances of convenience to overthrow the existing regime. The leftist critic Ernesto Aguilar is typical of those who take issue with me, complaining that “merging groups with different political goals around an agenda that does not speak openly to those goals, or worse no politics at all, is bound for failure.”

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt may well be destined for failure—but it doesn’t look that way now. So far those popular insurrections have played out exactly the way I predict it will, and must, here in the United States: set off by unpredictable events, formed by the people themselves, as the result of spontaneous passion rather than organized mobilization.

In Egypt, an ad hoc coalition composed of ideologically disparate groups (the Muslim Brotherhood, secular parties, independent intellectuals), has coalesced around Mohamed ElBaradei. “Here you will see extremists, moderates, Christians, Muslims, all kinds of people. It is the first time that we are all together since the revolution of Saad Zaghloul,” a rebel named Naguib, referring to the leader of the 1919 revolution against the British, told Agence France-Press. ElBaradei’s popularity, said Tewfik Aclimandos of the College de France, is due to the fact that “he is not compromised by the regime; he has integrity.”

This is how it will go in Greece, Portugal, England, and—someday—here. There is no need to organize or plan. Scheming won’t make any difference. Just get ready to recognize revolution when it occurs, then drop what you’re doing and then organize.

What will set off the next American Revolution? I don’t know. Nevertheless, the liberation of the long-oppressed peoples of the United States, and the citizens of nations victimized by its foreign policy, is inevitable.

(Ted Rall is the author of “The Anti-American Manifesto.” His website is tedrall.com.)