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., 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!—

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



  • “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.”

    This is the paragraph that matters. If Occupy REALLY gets this, then there’s a remote chance of real change. Will Occupy be able to withstand the propaganda, that’s the real question. MoveOn and any number of other astroturf organizations aren’t just going to go away. They’re going to continue to try and subvert Occupy for their own purposes – forever. They will never stop. At some point, they’ll offer a sweet deal to Occupy that will be hard to resist (perhaps backing some leader from Occupy for office), and that will be the true test – turning down any and all offers to be rolled into the system. Time will tell.

    As for the rest, it doesn’t matter. All this left/right, Democrat/Republican, blah, blah, blah – does not matter in the least. As I’ve said before, if people cannot understand that the core problems the face are due to an unelectable elite, then NOTHING will ever change. I hate using the term, but a “shadow government” made up of unelectable elites makes all important decisions regarding policy, foreign and domestic. All these government positions – right up to President – are simply job offers they make available every 2-4 years. One the “winner” is chosen, his job is to simple continue the implementation of the policies that the unelectable elites craft, and continue to craft. It is THOSE policies that shape the everyday lives of every American. NOT the b.s. you hear on the election trail, or in press releases. That’s all garbage that the candidates didn’t even write, their staff did – according to what will poll best at the given time. The REAL stuff that matters is the policies crafted by the unelectable elite.

    As I have said before, it is these people that comprise the shadow government that MUST be removed from our government before any meaningful change can occur. I insist that can only be done by force at this stage. Until Occupy fully understands that and internalizes it, it’s a lot of hot air.

  • “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%.”

    Which is why Occupy doesn’t get anything done. Oh, they look good, I won’t deny that, but they’ve been utterly innefective.

    “Occupy exists in order to figure out how to get rid of the existing system and what should replace it.”
    Bull. You yourself admit that there’s a sizeable percentage of Occupy that understands the need and ability to reform the system. Those who want to throw the baby out with the bathwater are a minority.

  • I have a problem with putting NAFTA in with the other Republican atrocities.

    The Democrats and Republicans worked together to abolish the Depression-era controls on money that led to the leveraged bubble of ’07 – present. The Democrats and Republicans worked together to replace AFDC with a system that means my town of 10,000 needs 6,000 prison beds for the men whose salaries are less than the support they were ordered to pay by Family Court under the Clinton Law replacing AFDC, and they must remain incarcerated in a Workhouse until they have paid the last penny. And, most recently, the Democrats and Republicans passed a law that everyone must pay a ‘health insurer’ whatever the ‘insurer’ demands for whatever coverage the ‘insurer’ decides to provide.

    But Mexican workers, sewing with needles, produced only 1% as many garments per hour as American workers, and received 10% of the US wages, so NAFTA meant the Mexican middle-classes suddenly had access to US garments of higher quality at 1/5 the cost. NAFTA created US jobs.

    Then came China. The US has no free-trade agreement with China.

    China is fully capitalised and still pays third world wages, and so produces so cheaply it has put most other factories–in all three NAFTA countries–out of business.

    Economics says what is true in China cannot possibly happen: When a worker is generating $1,000 an hour in profit, and that worker asks for a raise of 25¢ an hour, it’s much easier to give the raise than to fight. And from that first raise of 25¢ comes another and then another. But the Chinese cadres never learned economics.

    So people on all three sides of NAFTA are suffering, but are suffering slightly less because of NAFTA.

    But for the rest, Republicans and Democrats have been equally bad for the US.

    So, I can only hope that OWS has some modicum of success. But I have much more hope than expectation.

  • Whimsical is right, of course. Most are reformers. Which is why their doomed to not only fail, but doomed to make things even worse for themselves. It’s also why the Whimsicals are as dangerous – if not more so – than those on the right. They’re the enablers. Obama has had tremendous success implementing Republicans policies almost across the board because of one group: the enablers.

    If Occupy settles for reform, they will soon see what real subjugation is all about. Next up for the 1%? Securing their right to control your retirement funds. Make no mistake about it, that’s the next trillion dollar bonanza for them and I would wager any amount that they’ll have it by the end of the decade. Of course, they’ll propagandize the 99% to the point where they think they’re getting a great deal, that they’re getting “freedom” from the tyranny of Social Security. In reality what they’ll be getting is a huge parasite on their back, sucking off the productivity of the working person without providing an ounce of real value in return. What’s more, once implemented it will be locked in place for good.

    You can bet the Whimsicals will be for it 100%, all the way. Especially if a Democrat is in office. You know, IOKIYAD. Endless wars, torture, illegal wiretaps, mandates to buy (faulty) private products, tax cuts for the rich, wealth transfers, and on and on. IOKIYAD.

  • Why do people attach their own morality to that of random groups and people? First Obama was the left leaning hero, he was the good liberal, then when they got tired of him, so now it is this random mass of homeless people who are just happy to be able to legally sleep in the park, and random kids who failed their college classes early enough in the semester to go blow some time at occupy sites before going home to mom and dads for the holidays.Their morals are diverse, and the group basically is just saying, “dude this sucks” It is only marginally even a protest, more so its a side show that distracts us from the fact that our country continues to take our rights and money, with it going toward nothing one could consider useful.

  • Nice, exkiodexian. One disagreement: “I insist that can only be done by force at this stage.”

    Use of force “at this stage” was known as “Custerism” by some factions in the sixties.

    Vietnam kicked out the pernicious enemy of the people only because they were able to recognize them for what they were.

    The 1%’s most effective means of herd control is fear; the only thing the 1% have to fear is the lack of a fearful citizenry itself. When the 99% can laugh at these clowns and resent them and their rhetoric, rather than fearfully accept them as TINA ( there is no alternative), their game must change.

    Occupy is a measure of the temperature of these times. Occupy is doing all they can in maintaining their occupations. They cannot be out in the open, unprotected and vulnerable, and then defend themselves physically with straws against batons. This leaves some work to be done by their not quite so vulnerable and yet impatient critics.

  • No, I will never be for privatizing Social Security, but I’m not going to ensure Social Security gets privatized by throwing away my vote. Anything other than a vote for the Democrat is a vote for the Republican. Arithmetic doesn’t care about your feelings.

    And if, God forbid, both candidates want to privatize it, well, I’ll have to make my decision based on something else. There’s too much at stake to be a single issue voter.

  • I still don’t see why both can’t be done. Sure the mainstream “populist” reforms that can be won by lobbying and voting would be nothing more then a little band-aid on a critical wound. But if your working towards a proper fix there is nothing wrong with getting some band-aids until then. I mean I can see the serious issues of Occupy being co-opted, people loosing site of the real important and meaningful goals, and even people becoming complaisant with minor reforms instead of major overhaul. But even winning modest reforms while working towards a more meaningful and long term goal can help bolster and maintain the Occupiers and their supporters, weaken their opponents (if only slightly), and thus help facilitate their path to more important permanent changes.

    Noam Chomsky has always been all for tearing the system down and rebuilding from scratch, but even he isn’t against grabbing reforms where and when they can be had. I think it is in “Free Market Fantasies” where he mentions the Tobin tax and its potential to put a serious damper on some of the cruelest and most destructive recent innovations in international finance. He kicks it off with saying the only real solution is to get rid of the current system, but that the Tobin tax might be a good stop-gap reform until we can create a proper one.

    Similarly there is an interview with him around mid 2008 where the interviewer asks him about which political candidate he would recommend voting for. He suggested that if people were in swing states and wanted to help make a difference they should actually vote for Obama. He goes on to say (paraphrased) don’t believe in all this “hope and change” bullshit, but the fact is that consistently electing the lesser of two evils starts to add up to a great deal of good when integrated over many many decades worth of elections. Again, an important stop-gap until we can actually really fix the way we live in a significant and meaningful fashion, but better to take advantage of it then not. Grab everything you can that is to your advantage, it can only help so long as you don’t loose sight of the real goals.

  • I hate to say it, but we do need some violence. Not as the main event- revolution will fail at this point- but on the leftmost fringe, to make the demands of the non-violent left appear more mainstream.

    The ones throwing bombs don’t get what they want… but they redefine the fringe, and push the PTB to appease the non-violent ones who are no longer at the edge.

  • @Russell: amen to that.

    We need a small handful of individuals who bite the bullet (probably literally) for the rest of us thus create much deserved mainstreaming and attention to the non-violent protestors.

  • Quote:

    “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.

    Well, if our esteemed elected Democrat Congresspersons won’t even give their own astroturf organizations the time of day, then the astroturfs’ ability to co-opt the 99% becomes that much less effective.

  • The Democrats co-opted the Occupy movement when they started to see that it was gaining some momentum. They figured they needed to get out in front and wave the banner so that people would conclude that it’s their movement.

    But that’s not always all that bad. When it happens in Congress, we view it as having convinced our representatives to actually represent “the will of the people.” That’s infrequent enough that we might want to celebrate that aspect of it.

    I say that, however, from the standpoint of one of the few people on the left who do NOT support the Occupy movement. I think it’s a really bad, stupid idea. And I speak as someone who has decades of solid progressive credentials. (Why I feel that way is way too long for this comment.) Personally, I’m just fine with the Democrats co-opting the Occupy movement, because I think they will doom it to failure. They’ll corporatize it, and eventually kill it, and I couldn’t be happier about that.

  • I think if anybody is trying to subvert the Occupy Movement, it’s people like Ted Rall who have tried to incorporate the movement into his little revolution fantasy that will never happen. Real change will never come from sitting on the sidelines and calling for the system to be destroyed, but by changing the system from inside which is what groups like MoveOn want to do. The result would be a better Democratic Party. If MoveOn wants to join forces with the Occupiers, more power to them. They are not astroturf.

    • @Albert: It is statement of fact that revolution is inevitable. We don’t know when. But it always happens. Always.

      Working from inside is fine to effect incremental improvements. But it never creates radical change. Never has, never will.

      If you think we don’t have radical problems, then your approach is best for you. I think we have radical problems.

  • @brucepoppe

    So you don’t like the Occupy Movement. That’s sorta begs the question of what you would replace it with.

  • @Susan Stark

    What to replace it with? First, we have to define what it’s attempting to do. You and I may have different opinions on that.

    The goal appears initially to have been to shut down Wall Street. That is, to stop trading in the U.S. stock markets. That appears to me to be something certain to horrify the vast majority of middle America. These are people who (like me) are concerned about the value of their 401k retirement plans.

    You might scoff and say that nobody can find a job. It’s no picnic, and I was laid off in early 2009 also. The worst estimates of unemployment in the country are in the low 20 percent range. That includes all of the people who have run out of benefits. (I hate the B.S. definition of someone who has run out of unemployment benefits as a “discouraged worker,” which is nonsense.)

    But that leaves the other 75% of the workforce looking at the protesters and seeing them as people who are either unwilling to work or unwilling to get a useful education. They see the protesters and think they should be looking for a job. Can you think of a better way to alienate most Americans from progressive ideals? I can’t.

  • @Ted

    You can acknowledge that we have radical problems and still think that your solution (which you yourself admit has a high likelihood of making things worse for quite a long time before making things better) is the wrong solution.

    Radical problems can sometimes be solved with very ordinary solutions. And even if a radical solution is required, there are other radical solutions that are more likely to lead to a better outcome, quicker.

  • Occupy can be, and is, many things to many people. that’s cool. it doesn’t need to be defined or pushed into an ideological box. authoritarian rightwingers will stay away because there’s no hierarchy or corporate sponsorship, so let everybody else find their own place in it. if you’re a suburban liberal at the end of your rope, or if you’re a recent grad with two lifetimes’ worth of debt, or you’re a hairy anarchist livin’ in a van down by the river, or whatever… all are welcome. if you wanna pick up a sign, cool, if you wanna burn a cop car… hey, it’s a free country ;^)

  • @Ted: Looking for a job is never silly if you need one.

  • And there are a *lot* of people who need a job, or at least a better-paying job:

    Nearly half of all Americans live on less than 200% of the poverty level….

    The United States of America: From ‘democratic republic’ to ‘banana republic’ in just two generations.

    Given the increasing disparity of income, coupled with comparably increasing levels of hopelessness, perhaps we should become accustomed to referring to the U.S.A. as L.A.N., or “Latin American North”.

  • Ted, I would agree with you if the US was founded as a dictatorship, but it was intended to be a democracy/republic. I believe because of this, the system can be fixed without a full out revolution, the right people just need to take charge. Along with the Constitution, liberal movements have added to making the US better, the only problem is that they didn’t stick. The answer is to reverse the political trends, make them stick, and grow them, not to “reinvent the wheel.” To make them stick I propose a large left-leaning organization to watch over things politically, a coalition of left-leaning interests per se. The right already has several large corporate and religious supported organizations that do this already, except they suck.