Reportback: The 99%Spring Training for Trainers and the Plot to Coopt #Occupy

This past weekend I attended the Training for Trainers (T4T) of the 99% Spring. This is being organized by a very large and powerful coalition in which MoveOn is one of the larger partners, as is the AFL-CIO. The 99% Spring action plan is fairly straightforward: train 100,000 people in non-violent direct action (NVDA).

On the one hand, this is obviously a progressive agenda that most occupiers would agree with. On the other, occupiers have struggled with the fear of cooptation to an exhausting degree. I’ve participated in online and in person conversations about the 99%Spring, and the critiques fall into three main arguments:

  1. MoveOn and the DC based labor movement bureaucracy can’t be trusted as they are committed to working within the system and for Democratic candidates.
  2. The 99%Spring uses occupy inspired themes and memes (“the 99%”) but without doing the hard work of actually working with Occupy Wall Street.
  3. The overall effort seems utterly disconnected from the nationwide May First plans that many (most?) occupiers are actively working towards, which are also referenced with “spring” language.
  4. This isn’t it’s own thing, but rather me making fun of how the nervous nellies respond to larger forces in the political world: “Halp! We’re being coopted! The Democratic Party is both capable and interested in implementing a well thought out plan to make us serve their interests!

Speaking as an occupier most active in the Tech Ops Working Group of the NYC General Assembly, my first response to the 99%Spring was envy. Why aren’t we initiating, leading or participating in this kind of serious coalition work? But that’s unfair. We are working on May First actions, which in New York include a march carried out together with labor and the immigrants’ rights movements. What we aren’t doing is training 100,000 activists and organizers in nonviolent direct action. So why not welcome an effort that is doing that?

The T4T Training
I’m just back from two days of training for trainers, and this is my verdict: the Training for Trainers was fantastic. Hundreds of people in attended the same training as me in New York, and thousands more took part across the country.

The folks attending the training represented a cross section of our country’s progressive, 99% movement. I met community organizers, peace activists, union members, occupiers, and many more. The group was inter-generational, racially diverse, gender balanced, and included folks from all NYC boroughs, Long Island, CT, NJ, and upstate. My impression is that most are experienced organizers, but from many different traditions and organizational homes.

The curriculum had three parts:

  1. The first is your basic Marshall Ganz story of self/us. This is training delivered for years now at countless political and organizational homes, including my old synagogue. For those who don’t know, Ganz started his career at the United Farm Workers, working with Cesar Chavez.
  2. The second is your basic nonviolent direct action training, with roots in Gene Sharp, Training for Change, and the Direct Action Network that emerged post-Seattle in the anti-globalization movement. It wasn’t out of step with anything that say, Starhawk or Lisa Fithian or the Ruckus society would have done.
  3. The third part was the story of the 1% vs. the 99%. It’s basic training in understanding the economic crisis and our collective crisis as a country. This is more or less the kind of training being used by unions and community organizing groups around the country for the last 2-3 years.

There was zero, none, nada discussion of the Obama campaign, electoral politics, the Democratic Party, or MoveOn. To sum up then, the critiques against the 99% Spring are false. Those who lobbed uninformed critiques are now in a position of having to apologize and take back their words or lose credibility. They ‘proved’ that MoveOn provided  support for an amazing, collaborative effort resting on teachings used widely inside the Occupy movement.

The Larger Context
Questions might still be asked about the ultimate purpose of MoveOn, unions, and the long list of community organizing groups that make up the 99%Spring effort. One of the most important is: Where is this coming from? What might it be going?

The information I have is based in part on conversations with folks who know better than me. Sorry about no sources, but here goes:

  • Liz Butler of the Movement Strategy Center is one of the prime movers and shakers of this effort. (And the New Organizing Institute.)
  • The overall strategy seems to be similar or based on what Stephen Lerner (formerly of SEIU) was articulating in a series of talks about “creating a crisis for the rich.” In a nutshell, it proposes mass direct action aimed broadly at the 1% in order to force them to make concessions.
  • When we talk about ‘demands’ or ‘goals’ there are laundry lists galore. Winning strikes, raising taxes, winning elections, targeting specific corporations, etc. But behind all those disparate goals lies a framework: increasing the share of wealth that flows to the 99% and reducing the portion controlled by the 1%. That’s the prize. And large parts of the power structure (i.e., Democrats and even some corporations) think it’s a good thing too.
  • Getting MoveOn to be part of this coalition isn’t as simple as it looks. MoveOn is large enough to do whatever it wants without local partners, and for a long time that’s what it did. But the last few years have seen greater efforts to partner, with Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream representing a real break with past practice. But the 99% Spring is an example of a large powerful organization placing resources in the service of a fairly radical agenda and allowing others to take the lead.
  • Like who? Like Domestic Workers United, a labor rights organization representing working class women of color. One of their staff members, Harmony Goldberg, was a lead trainer this weekend. If you think Goldberg is a MoveOn/DemParty dupe, please shoot yourself right now. Whew! You’re still here! Thank god.

Where Does That Leave Us?
Based on my experiences this weekend, all I can say is – sign up for the trainings to take place on April 9-16. Help organize more trainings. Invite as many occupiers to attend as possible. Consider the advantage of influencing all those moderate, not radical enough people likely to attend and how our superior political praxis will surely attract them to let go of their electoral illusions.

And then, after considering such a vision, let it go, because it’s bullshit. The training is quite good. Go because it’s great to be on the same page for a moment with eager, enthusiastic 99 percenters who want to make this great land of ours a better one. Drop your defenses (if you have any) and rest assured no one is talking about elections. Let’s focus on the original OWS vision: mass, creative, effective direct action against the banks, Wall Streeters and political forces that drove our economy off a cliff and want to charge us for getting back on the precipice again.

Sign up already.

55 comments

  1. @CynPrice

    Great post. The more engaged in Activism in 50 ways, the better. Isnt that how Football & Basketball works, get at them from all sides!!

  2. Urbaned

    Great, Charles. I was invited to a training out here in CA, and totally appreciated your well-researched recommendation to attend in order to learn how to organize and stay focused. What do you mean by “superior political praxis?” Thanks

  3. David Berger

    This is a reply to the document linked to below. I want to analyze this document point by point as it present a unique and definite challenge and danger to the Occupy Movement, a challenge and danger that is, moreover, extremely sophisticated. I want to add that I am an active member of the Occupy Wall Street Labor Outreach Committee. – David Berger

    Reportback: The 99%Spring Training for Trainers and the Plot to Coopt #Occupy

    http://tech.nycga.net/2012/03/25/reportback-the-99spring-training-for-trainers-and-the-plot-to-coopt-occupy/

    Charles Lenchner: This past weekend I attended the Training for Trainers (T4T) of the 99% Spring. This is being organized by a very large and powerful coalition in which MoveOn is one of the larger partners, as is the AFL-CIO. The 99% Spring action plan is fairly straightforward: train 100,000 people in non-violent direct action (NVDA).

    David Berger: Actually, the action plan is not straightforward at all. The question still remains: Why has such a “very large and powerful coalition” emerged in the first place, and what is its relationship to the Occupy Movement? Neither of those questions are ever addressed. In my opinion, this constitutes a serious omission.

    Charles: On the one hand, this is obviously a progressive agenda that most occupiers would agree with. On the other, occupiers have struggled with the fear of cooptation to an exhausting degree.

    David: I suggest that people read both these links above. None of the arguments against 99%Spring that they present are answered. The evidence is overwhelming that this is a MoveOn front for the Democratic Party.

    Charles: I’ve participated in online and in person conversations about the 99%Spring, and the critiques fall into three main arguments:

    1. MoveOn and the DC based labor movement bureaucracy can’t be trusted as they are committed to working within the system and for Democratic candidates.

    2. The 99%Spring uses occupy inspired themes and memes (“the 99%”) but without doing the hard work of actually working with Occupy Wall Street.

    3. The overall effort seems utterly disconnected from the nationwide May First plans that many (most?) occupiers are actively working towards, which are also referenced with “spring” language.

    4. This isn’t it’s own thing, but rather me making fun of how the nervous nellies respond to larger forces in the political world: “Halp! We’re being coopted! The Democratic Party is both capable and interested in implementing a well thought out plan to make us serve their interests!“

    David: Notice that none of these four points against 99%Spring, which are accurate, are answered here or below.

    Charles: Speaking as an occupier most active in the Tech Ops Working Group of the NYC General Assembly, my first response to the 99%Spring was envy.

    David: That’s an interesting response. An active member of a nation-wide radical social movement is envious of another movement, one, moreover, with a clear liberal, as opposed to a radical, let alone revolutionary, program.

    Charles: Why aren’t we initiating, leading or participating in this kind of serious coalition work?

    David: On our own basis, which is very different from the basis of 99%Spring, we are building such a coalition.

    Charles: But that’s unfair.

    David: Fucking A right it’s unfair.

    Charles: We are working on May First actions, which in New York include a march carried out together with labor and the immigrants’ rights movements.

    David: True, to which you can add elements of the Left, which are absent from the 99%Spring coalition.

    Charles: What we aren’t doing is training 100,000 activists and organizers in nonviolent direct action.

    David: Neither are they doing it. This is their goal, not their reality. And let me add a point, which I’ll reinforce later. As a member of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, I participated in training in nonviolent direct action. I, along with thousands of others, was “trained” by people such as Bayard Rustin, who brought nonviolence to the USA after studying with disciples of Gandhi in India. The training described in the link below has little relationship to this training.

    http://moveon.org/event/events/index.html?action_id=268&rc=99HP

    Charles: So why not welcome an effort that is doing that?

    David: Because their movement ain’t our movement in terms of its goals or methods

    The T4T Training

    Charles: I’m just back from two days of training for trainers, and this is my verdict: the Training for Trainers was fantastic. Hundreds of people in attended the same training as me in New York, and thousands more took part across the country.

    David: We’ll see how “fantastic” it was. And as to your claim of “thousands,” some documentation would be nice.

    Charles: The folks attending the training represented a cross section of our country’s progressive, 99% movement. I met community organizers, peace activists, union members, occupiers, and many more. The group was inter-generational, racially diverse, gender balanced, and included folks from all NYC boroughs, Long Island, CT, NJ, and upstate. My impression is that most are experienced organizers, but from many different traditions and organizational homes.

    David: I think we need a little more than enthusiastic impressions. Also, I would like to know what percentage of these people were affiliated with MoveOn or the Democratic Party. Also, you are saying there were hundreds there. Considering that this training was drawing from the New York area, with maybe 20 million people, with the resources these people have, that’s hardly overwhelming. I’ve been at three-hour GAs in the rain in Zuccotti Park with 300 people.

    Charles: The curriculum had three parts:

    1. The first is your basic Marshall Ganz story of self/us. This is training delivered for years now at countless political and organizational homes, including my old synagogue. For those who don’t know, Ganz started his career at the United Farm Workers, working with Cesar Chavez.

    David: I urge people look at the link to this training. It represents an almost idiotically simplistic form of liberal training. It is person-centered rather than movement-centered. It is virtually devoid of meaningful politics. It’s kind of like a Tony Robbins seminar without the self-help.
    The point of the Occupy Movement is that we have presented a new methodology that has challenged not only the 1% but also the movements that have grown up during the long conservative period of the past 30 years. Our methodology of risky physical occupation where possible, combined with a decentralized action and command structure, has mobilized millions as opposed to what is presented by 99%Spring, which strikes me as warmed-over Saul Alinsky.

    Charles: 2. The second is your basic nonviolent direct action training, with roots in Gene Sharp, Training for Change, and the Direct Action Group that emerged post-Seattle in the anti-globalization movement. It wasn’t out of step with anything that say, Starhawk or Lisa Fithian or the Ruckus society would have done.

    Charles: As I said above, the concept of nonviolent training described seems to have little to do with such training and action as I experienced it. I think that the sum total of this kind of notion is expressed in the link below. This is politics, and I will say that on the basis of my own set of politics, revolutionary socialism, this is bullshit. Read it for yourself.

    http://www.trainingforchange.org/manifesto_for_nv_revolution

    Charles: 3. The third part was the story of the 1% vs. the 99%. It’s basic training in understanding the economic crisis and our collective crisis as a country. This is more or less the kind of training being used by unions and community organizing groups around the country for the last 2-3 years.

    David: I can’t comment without any specific references. But I find the fact that there is no mention of the role of the Occupy Movement is disconcerting.

    Charles: There was zero, none, nada discussion of the Obama campaign, electoral politics, the Democratic Party, or MoveOn.

    David: How about any discussion of the Occupy Movement? I mean, not to get into conspiracy theories, but if I were working for a front for the Democratic Party, I wouldn’t mention it either.

    Charles: To sum up then, the critiques against the 99%Spring are false.

    David: Bullshit. Here are the four objections that Charles himself raised. Let’s see if he answered them.

    Charles: 1. MoveOn and the DC based labor movement bureaucracy can’t be trusted as they are committed to working within the system and for Democratic candidates.

    David: This remains true. It hasn’t been answered, nor has the presence of MoveOn and the labor bureaucracy been discussed. This presence has been evaded.

    Charles: 2. The 99%Spring uses occupy inspired themes and memes (“the 99%”) but without doing the hard work of actually working with Occupy Wall Street.

    David: This remains true. The question still arises: Why didn’t this movement avail itself of the Occupy Movement, which is truly national and either work within it or form an alliance? The answer seems obvious: 99%Spring is an attempt to circumvent the Occupy Movement.

    Charles: 3. The overall effort seems utterly disconnected from the nationwide May First plans that many (most?) occupiers are actively working towards, which are also referenced with “spring” language.

    David: This is wholly true, and Charles has made no effort to refute it. The timing of this movement, in the crucial weeks leading up to May Day, is both unfortunate and deliberate.

    Charles: 4. This isn’t it’s own thing, but rather me making fun of how the nervous nellies respond to larger forces in the political world: “Halp! We’re being coopted! The Democratic Party is both capable and interested in implementing a well thought out plan to make us serve their interests!“

    David: It sure as shit is “capable and interested” in coopting the Occupy Movement and, wittingly or unwittingly, you’re a part of that effort.

    Charles: Those who lobbed uninformed critiques are now in a position of having to apologize and take back their words or lose a certain amount of credibility.

    David: Actually, it’s of those who are fronting for 99%Spring who are losing credibility. You have completely failed to make your case that this is a benevolent development that the Occupy Movement should participate in. It is, in fact, a genuine effort to coopt.

    Charles: The[y] ‘proved’ that MoveOn provided real support for an amazing, collaborative effort resting on principles and teachings widely used inside and outside the Occupy movement.

    David: The principles, teachings and methods of the Occupy Movement are, in fact, antithetical to this movement. The Occupy Movement represents a physical presence and an ongoing struggle against the power of the 99% and the system that they run for their own purpose. This new movement presents a set of toothless methods that will prove of little help to our work.

    The Larger Context

    Charles: Questions might still be asked about the ultimate purpose of MoveOn, unions, and the long list of community organizing groups that make up the 99%Spring effort.

    David: They sure can be asked. Let’s see what your answers are.

    Charles: One of the most important is: Where is this coming from? What might it be going?

    David: Yeah. Indeed.

    Charles: The information I have is based in part on conversations with folks who know better than me. Sorry about no sources, but here goes:

    David: That’s ridiculous. If you are going to make assertions about people’s and group’s motivations, sources are crucial. This negates your entire effort. You are asking us to trust both you and your informants with no proof.

    Charles: Liz Butler of the Movement Strategy Center is one of the prime movers and shakers of this effort.

    Charles: Are you sure, Charles, that Liz Butler is an ally you want? In a recent article posted on the National Journal website, the following two sentences appear:

    “Now, Butler, director of the Network Organizing Project at the Movement Strategy Center, and Cushman, organizing director for the New Organizing Institute, are harnessing the momentum from Occupy and bringing organizations together to train 100,000 activists to participate in the “99 Percent Spring” planned to start next month. … Progressive groups like Cushman’s and Butler’s have capitalized on Occupy and are continuing to play a strong coordinating role in the 99 Percent Spring movement.” (emph added)

    http://www.nationaljournal.com/daily/occupy-s-new-mantra-99-percent-spring–20120313

    Note these terms: “harnessing the momentum” and “have capitalized on.” There’s a political synonym for these: “cooptation.”

    Charles: The overall strategy seems to be similar or based on what Stephen Lerner (formerly of SEIU) was articulating in a series of talks about “creating a crisis for the rich.” In a nutshell, it proposes mass direct action aimed broadly at the 1% in order to force them to make concessions.

    David: Well, I would be kind of careful before I use Stephen Lerner as some kind of guide to action. One the one hand, Lerner has said in the most recent issue of The Nation:

    “Emerging movements are complicated, exciting, messy, confusing and wonderful things to be a part of. When the passion, fearlessness and vision of Occupy intersects with the resources and membership of community groups and unions, we’ll find the sweet spot that makes it possible to force the richest to negotiate with the rest of us. It is where these two worlds meet—horizontal and vertical—united around common issues and enemies, that we create the potential to start winning together.”

    http://www.thenation.com/article/166817/horizontal-meets-vertical-occupy-meets-establishment

    Some of this is cool. But are we really interested in “forc[ing] the richest to negotiate with the rest of us”?

    And in the very same article, while Lerner talks about things like debt strikes and resisting evictions, there is no mention whatsoever of the Occupy Movement’s plans for May Day mobilization, nor is there any mention of industrial action: strikes, boycotts, etc. It is striking that Lerner, as a union man, completely ignores the most conspicuous victory of progressive forces in the past few months: the alliance between the West Coast longshore union and the Occupy Movement, which helped to win a major victory for labor.

    Charles: When we talk about ‘demands’ or ‘goals’ there are laundry lists galore. Winning strikes, raising taxes, winning elections, targeting specific corporations, etc. But behind all those disparate goals lies a framework: increasing the share of wealth that flows to the 99% and reducing the portion controlled by the 1%. That’s the prize. And large parts of the power structure (i.e., Democrats and even some corporations) think it’s a good thing too.

    David: And here we have it: the essence of the liberal agenda: “increasing the share of wealth that flows to the 99% and reducing the portion controlled by the 1%.” No Charles, that’s not the primary agenda of the Occupy Movement. The agenda of the movement is the elimination of the 1%. Now you and Stephen Lerner and Liz Butler may want to adjust the tax rates and all that, to which no rational person can object. However, that is not our goal.

    Charles: Getting MoveOn to be part of this coalition isn’t as simple as it looks.

    David: Note the sneaky shift of ground here. We began by questioning the propriety of having MoveOn, which is a Democratic Party front, in any coalition that the Occupy Movement is involved in. And now, instead of a question and a problem, we have a victory! Well, lemme ask ya: easy or simple why should the Occupy Movement be in a de facto coalition with the Democrats?

    Charles: MoveOn is large enough to do whatever it wants without local partners, and for a long time that’s what it did.

    David: Is that supposed to be a virtue? Remember that we are dealing with a Democratic Party front.

    Charles: But the last few years have seen greater efforts to partner, with Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream as the shining example

    David: If you consider an organization that is, basically, a front for MoveOn and boasts that it provided a document, the Contract for the American Dream, which “became the basis of legislation that the Progressive Congressional Caucus introduced into Congress,” then you have a strange notion of that constitutes a “shining example.”

    http://www.rebuildthedream.com/about/index.php

    Charles: But the 99%Spring is an example of a large powerful organization placing resources in the service of a pretty radical agenda and allowing others to take the lead.

    David: That “large powerful organization” is, I presume, MoveOn. Again, we have slipped, subtly, into admiring a Democratic Party front. Interesting that at the beginning of your post, you referred to a “very large and powerful coalition.” Now, instead, we have a “large powerful organization.”

    Charles: Others that include Domestic Workers United, a labor rights organization representing working class women of color. One of their staff members, Harmony Goldberg, was a lead trainer this weekend. If you think Goldberg is a MoveOn/DemParty dupe, please shoot yourself right now. Whew! You’re still here! Thank god.

    David: As to Harmony Goldberg’s relationship to MoveOn and the Democrats, I can’t comment. As to MoveOn, all the sarcasm in the world won’t make it anything other than a DP front.

    Where Does That Leave Us?

    Charles: Based on my experiences this weekend, all I can say is – sign up for the trainings to take place on April 9-16. Help organize more trainings. Invite as many occupiers to attend as possible. Consider the advantage of influencing all those moderate, not radical enough people likely to attend and how our superior political praxis will surely attract them to let go of their electoral illusions.

    David: Fabulous that in the weeks prior to Occupy Wall Street’s most important effort in months, May Day, an effort which 99%Spring is studiously avoiding, you are advocating people taking a week off to hobnob with … . I’ll let people make their own decisions about what this is.

    Charles: And then, after considering such a vision, let it go, because it’s bullshit. The training is quite good. Go because it’s great to be on the same page for a moment with eager, enthusiastic 99 percenters who want to make this great land of ours a better one. Drop your defenses (if you have any) and rest assured no one is talking about elections. Let’s focus on the original OWS vision: mass, creative, effective direct action against the banks, Wall Streeters and political forces that drove our economy off a cliff and want to charge us for getting back on the precipice again.

    David: We are focused on the “original OWS vision.” It’s our May Day work. See you then at Union Square. 99$Spring, I think, won’t be there.

  4. Urbaned

    gotcha, thanks!! BTW, having productive dialogues with people like you online is a good example that we have over other groups at the moment (I think).

  5. Ana R Cisi

    I think the reason Occupy Wall Street became more than one more little leftie demonstration in downtown Manhattan was exactly that it was not associated with the Democratic Party or its front organizations and allies.

  6. Manuel Barrera

    Hello, I posted this reply at the NorthStar.info site after reading your post (awaiting moderation), but I thought I would copy it here. I am a part of Occupy Twin Cities and believe there is much more to this “training” than its innocuous work. I submit this reply in comradeship.

    I would say that the one of the original questions you pose is still unanswered: where is this NVDA training going? In contrast to the “no demands” Occupy movement, this no demands NVDA training has no true apparent motive except its own existence. But then, perhaps, is the intent; to find something “interesting” for organizers and potential recruits to the lesser-evil campaigns to do. I believe the seeds of “contrast” between this MoveOn/Democratic Party effort (make no mistake, it is such an effort albeit most likely the most radical wing of the Democrats) and the effort to build a truly significant mobilization on May Day lie precisely in the pretend-political focus of NVDA “TFT” and the actual political and struggle focus of the Occupy movement.

    Nature abhors a vacuum, so, an effort at “mass direct action aimed broadly at the 1% in order to force them to make concessions” is truly a double-edged sword. Wouldn’t electing Obama be considered a way to “force concessions” on the 1%? Wouldn’t NVDA be “really great” if it could be used to pressure the Democratic Party to adopt a more radical party platform at the 2012 convention in August as well as to provide media grist by doing similar but “outsider” actions at the Republican convention? So, why is this NVDA TFT for direct action NOT being focused on the OWS to mobilize workers and communities of color, women and immigrants, and all sectors of society at May Day? Why is THIS Democratic Party-inspired (if not DP direct participation) being contrasted to THAT work? It’s not like May Day is such a long way off that this “broader” effort could not be focused into using May Day as an exemplar of its guiding philosophy. I believe that you have been hoodwinked at best. Indeed, I do agree that engagement in this “left wing” of the Democratic Party organizer training is not a really for “nfluencing all those moderate, not radical enough people likely to attend and how our superior political praxis will surely attract them to let go of their electoral illusions”. But the “bullshit” is the belief that there is no tacit outcome to contrasting the REAL need to mobilize against the 1% at May Day to the PERCEIVED “need” for training in how to “wrest concessions” from the class who is IMPERVIOUS to such cajoling. I would encourage you to reflect on the class nature of the intentions of liberals (Peter Camejo’s excellent explanation in “Liberalism, ultraleftism, and mass action” at http://www.marxists.org/archive/camejo/1970/ultraleftismormassaction.htm).

    I hope you will reconsider.
    Manuel

    • Charles Lenchner

      Thanks Manuel. I reply as a comrade as well!
      My understanding is that different groups ARE active or planning specific campaigns. But rather than direct ‘everyone’ towards them, they are using a flexible model that doesn’t assume anything about who is attending or what they end up doing.
      At my training, I was given a chance to talk about Occupy’s May actions, direct people to a website, and suggest that folks consider how the training will help them link up with our general spring awakening. Folks applauded. I’m aware though of other campaigns related to Bank of America, foreclosures, environmental issues like climate change, etc. The training was designed to meet the needs of any specific target or campaign. The coalition that came together isn’t keep secret some grand plan; they are openly working on lots of plans that complement each other. I see OWS as integrated with some of them, maybe not with others.

  7. sumumba

    The more OWS chooses NOT to get in Actions or Trainings with others the more it CO-OPTS itself….i’m wondering when OWS or those who say we’re always being ‘co-opted’ or threatened by it will realize that u CAN NOT be ‘co-opted’ without your permission….but then again i guess ‘training’ in non-violence would be a part of such a ‘co-option’ …. smdh

    • Shannone Ball

      actually you can be we are. The 99% Spring is shutting down our local GA this Sunday. We asked them to move the location the time the day anything and they refused in fact said we will be absorbed by them and even have us listed as sponsoring their event. Thats a co opt and we didn’t allow it nor are we going to allow it. but in reality its happening

  8. Ana R Cisi

    We have the example of what the Democratic Party did to the anti-war movement. You can get involved with them if you like, but you should understand that their intentions are probably different from your intentions.

    • sumumba

      doesn’t matter what their ‘intentions’ are it matter what we believe and will and won’t do…and it was the REPUBLICANS ie Nixon and company who increased our involvement in that war…and it ended because there was a MASS movement of people who stood up and organized against…same thing with our largest actions..it was in solidarity and coalition with others that we’ve made our largest impacts to this date…

  9. sumumba

    its because we have many elements and ill-informed people in this movement who overreact any time another group is involved in anything that may or may not resemble ‘direct action’ or a movement against economic injustice….its the elitist/exclusionary view that OWS is the first or BEST movement to address the injustices of today..and until we let go of that view others will see us as such……funny thing is all of our LARGEST actions have been in conjunction with OTHER groups and movements…. go figure…

  10. Devin

    OWS destroys fascists. We should get trained, hang with good intentioned people and partner with them to build a more free society.

    • Charles Lenchner

      David, your response was blocked, but it was automatic, not the result of a human making a decision. It is now visible up on this thread. I suspect our system blocked it because it contained multiple links, which is often a sign of spam. Thanks for alerting us.

  11. Ana R Cisi

    The connection between the Democratic Party and 99% Spring can be found here: http://www.counterpunch.org/2012/03/16/99-percent-spring-the-latest-moveon-front-for-the-democratic-party/
    ( http://tinyurl.com/86yl8y5 )

    I think it’s fine for different groups and movements to work together, but before working with another group you might want to know who they are, who they’re connected to, and what their intentions, plans and methods are. For instance, in the material I’ve seen so far, the specific targets of the non-violent direction action for which people are going to be trained haven’t been mentioned.

  12. Urbaned

    the core issue here is that if OWS is going to be “leaderless” and “horizontal,” then taking a training with moveon is like going to somebody else’s church. I guess Charles has a point when he says to take the training and then forget it. I was happy to hear that the idea of May Day was applauded.

    On the other hand, the very nature of OWS is then extremely frustrating (which I’m finding out more and more as time goes on). We have the right to say “no” to Soros, Dems, unions, (woops, maybe not them) Constitutional Conventions, etc., but without being able to make statements of values and nominate spokespeople, we have no power to assert within an antithetical structure. Can we be content to be a force that merely glues these things together?

    What to do, what to do?

  13. Shannone Ball

    HI all
    our local GA is being totally hijacked by 99% spring. Its the most bold faced attempt to co opt to date I think. We can’t seem to get the support we need. Everyone from NYC to the Windmill in Sag Harbor should be out here making the message clear. I will post all I can find related to whats going. above is our press release. If anyone has any questions contact me shannone426@gmail.com

  14. vets74

    First off, this 99% Spring concept has to be a first-rate continuation of the Occupy Wall Street effort. Why? Because it adds “Play Well With Others !” to the agenda.

    That was the one missing link during the Zuccotti occupation. OWS NYC generally failed to build enduring relationships, excepting the unions. Never expect such as a leaderless “General Assembly” to demonstrate common sense. 99% Spring puts paid to such lingering paranoia.

    “The Plot to Coopt #Occupy” — a hoot. Folks with no resources to speak of, no organization beyond twitter followers, no plan of action are obsessed that somebody is going to co-opt their followers and friends. This is about as funny as watching the Berlusconi scandal in Italy.

    Second, more seriously, the training at 99% Spring is heavily in the mold of Gene Sharp’s work and the implementations of his followers in Serbia and Egypt.

    That is the quick-n-easy no-challenge version of doing nonviolence. Gandhi was much tougher. He asked a helluva lot more of his people. “Change yourself. Then change the world” — that is difficult.

    Gandhi had the requirement down to his Pledge by 1921. Dr. King had everyone in his civil rights marches sign a paper agreeing to his Americanized version. Nonviolence is the fulcrum; discipline is the lever. With both, a community can change the world.
    ________________________________________
    Pledge For Nonviolence
    1. As you prepare for Occupy Wall Street, please open yourself to life, love and the blessings of faith, hope, and charity.
    2. Refrain from violence of fist, tongue and heart.
    3. Walk and talk in the manner of love; for truth and love are the core of life, neither ambition nor the temptations of control.
    4. Sacrifice personal wishes that all might be free.
    5. Observe with friends, with false friends and with your foes the ordinary rules of courtesy.
    6. Perform regular service for others and the world.
    7. Pray or simply ask within to be moved so that all men and women might be free.
    8. Remember that nonviolence seeks Justice and Reconciliation – not victory.
    9. Strive to be in good spirits and in good health. We are the 99% and we must go in peace.
    ________________________________________
    Each action would require local adjustments. Same thing happened for civil rights marches in the 1960s.

    Also, a banner with these principles can define a Green Zone within a protest where nonviolence of fist, tongue and heart shall prevail. If an individual wanted to go with “Red” or “Black” behaviors, then that would be their choice.

    We are the 99% and we must go in peace. (Occupy Nonviolence page at FB)

    • Shannone Ball

      What are “Red” or “Black” behaviors? I can’t speak for any other group but us on the east end actually do things and its not Facebook and twitter. WE are active in our local community. We have groups of people helping others learn to grow food. We have free non GMO plants for anyone who would like them. provided by Produce in the Projects. We organized a march for International Womens Day from Union Sq to Liberty. We do outreach all over Long Island we have active working groups who actually work. Like it or not its real

      • DirekConek (aka Dallas)

        So much hatred for “clicktivism” and “Facebook and Twitter” activism, but people sure don’t mind posting about it on a website! :D Go write on a wall about it if internet activism sucks so much!

        I’m (mostly) just blowing off steam, don’t take that personally. Obviously the ability to grow one’s own food or organize one’s own marches > the ability to type text into a field and hit ‘Submit’.

        Now, if Move On is really saying they have support from orgs that don’t support the 99% Spring, that’s a serious problem… rather than doing an email Q&A though, may I suggest doing the Q&A out where everyone can see it?

      • vets74

        SB :::

        “Red” and “Black” behaviors have to do with confronting police and doing different level of civil disobedience during large-scale protests. “Green” is nonconfrontational and always peaceful.

        The topic, here, is the scope and organization of this 99% Spring initiative. My second item recommends a deeper, higher-cost approach to nonviolence.

        We have put in hundreds of hours and thousands of air travel miles assuring that an approach can be constructed that is mutually agreeable among Occupy folks and the Black community’s civil rights people and such as the anti-corruption movement in India (which is enormous) and the several ad hoc NDA resources.

        (I do have a small garden. We’ll have to talk about that and what grows here, but maybe better offline.)

  15. Paul Mcisaac

    Very important debate, to which I would add this…
    1. Charles says that the 99% Spring trainging he attended, “wasn’t out of step with anything that say, Starhawk or Lisa Fithian or the Ruckus society would have done”. I suggest you check with Lisa on what she thinks about this debate.
    2. With Lisa I produced a video history of nonviolance for NVDA trainings and while the MoveOn video is very well done, I think its interesting to compare to ours…OCCUPY HISTORY. You can see it at..
    https://vimeo.com/39866539 The password is— view
    Feedback welcome…Paul

    • lp

      it’s excellent… in all honesty though, I would have prefered a different narrator voice… esp a female, maybe non Caucasion

  16. Dean Taylor

    Charles–you make me nervous: in the way that a chronic bullshit-artist makes me nervous…

    In our initial correspondence you shot down EVERY SINGLE plan of action for engaging Labor with OWS–all via the same enfeebled argumentation you demonstrate above, i.e., NO argument whatsoever. But, rather, verbose, inane explanation serving to DIVERT ENERGIES! That’s right, Darling! Who are you? A figure engaged with labor and union liaison work who, it appears, has never had to labor in his life? What can you demonstrate NOW that makes you an authentic OWS activist–other than the fact that you attend meetings? SORRY–that’s NOT enough!

    from website This Can’t Be Happening
    Yes, The 99% Spring Is A Fraud
    Fri, 04/13/2012
    by:
    Charles M. Young

    With hindsight gained by googling “MoveOn” and “co-opt” after the fact, I can’t claim that nobody tried to warn me. Many websites with left and even liberal politics had said in so many words, “Be wary of this organization called the 99% Spring. It is a Trojan horse for the Democrats.” I just didn’t read that anywhere in a timely fashion. I’ve had a lot of stuff on my plate lately. That’s my excuse. And in my ignorance, I responded to some spam about “nonviolent direct action training” organized by MoveOn and got invited to this 99% Spring thing on April 10 at the Goddard Riverside Community Center in Manhattan. Somebody even called me all the way from San Francisco to make sure I was a sincere seeker on the left and would be attending, along with 120,000 others in training sessions around the country.

    Which I did. The meeting was a few blocks from where I live. The spam said it was “inspired by Occupy Wall Street.” I wasn’t sure what that meant, but I was vaguely hoping that whatever the 99% Spring was, it would start a chapter of Occupy Wall Street on the Upper West Side, conveniently near my abode, and agitate for the Democrats and MoveOn to move left.

    The first clue that my evening might go otherwise was the sign-up table, where there were a bunch of Obama buttons for sale and one sign-up sheet for the oddly named Community Free Democrats (are they free of community?), which is the local Democratic clubhouse. That killed the “inspired by Occupy Wall Street” vibe right there. No piles of literature from a zillion different groups, as there had been in Zuccotti Park. No animated arguments among Marxists, anarchists, progressives, punks, engaged Buddhists, anti-war libertarians and what have you. Just Obama buttons, which didn’t appear to be selling.

    Inside the hall, it looked like an alumni reunion for the 1966 Fifth Avenue Vietnam Peace Parade. Almost all the 150 or so people were 55-80 years old. The ones I talked to expressed curiosity about Occupy Wall Street and enthusiasm about “nonviolent direct action” but didn’t have the knees or the ears for full participation in OWS activities in the financial district.

    A large man with long wavy hair combed back started the presentation with a stirring call for…the meeting to be off the record. He didn’t want any stories that would violate anyone’s privacy, and if there were any lurking journalists, they weren’t allowed to use any names and they must see him afterwards for further instruction on the ground rules. This struck an even more dysphoric note than the Obama buttons.

    WTF thought #1: This was a public event ostensibly to convince members of the public to engage in behavior that challenged the legitimacy of government authority in public and might cause angry police to beat the public crap out of them. Why would anyone risk that without trying to get publicity for their cause? Nonviolent direct action that no one knows about is like jerking off. It might make you feel better, but you’re not changing the world.

    WTF thought #2: Transparency is the only protection that nonviolent people have against police spies and provocateurs and other infiltrators. Occupy Wall Street does a pretty good job with transparency. An organization claiming to be inspired by OWS but shunning transparency is deeply suspect.

    WTF thought #3: Washington press corp rules for a meeting on nonviolent direct action?

    WTF thought #4: I actually wasn’t there with the idea of writing about it, but neither did I agree to anything, so there was no agreement.

    WTF thought #5: The name of the large man with the wavy hair was Marc Landis. He is a District Leader for the Democrats, who were paying for use of the meeting room. He is running for City Council. According to his law firm’s website his areas of experience are: “Real Estate, Banking & Finance, Corporate & Business Law, Securities & Private Placement, Fund Formation & Investment Management Group…” His Facebook page, which is geared for his City Council campaign, makes it sound like his specialty is pro bono community work. I don’t know. He might be a nice guy, but it doesn’t take a lot of intuition to wonder if he’s really been “inspired by Occupy Wall Street.” He’s a corporate lawyer. I can think of no reason for him to demand that the meeting be off the record other than he and his party don’t want to be publicly associated with anything radical, even it’s a pseudo-radical front group meant to steer people away from the truly radical Occupy Wall Street and into pointless activities that don’t embarrass Obama.

    Next they showed a video that invited us “to tell our story” so that the 99% Spring could post us online along with hundreds of other people who had been foreclosed, bankrupted, lost their medical insurance or whatever. It appeared they all wanted to raise taxes, so that the rich would “pay their fair share.”

    It was sanctimonious. It was supplicating before power. The audience looked like it wanted to puke.

    Next some guy whose name I didn’t catch gave an astonishingly simple-minded lecture on the history of American radicalism since the populists. “This might be okay for Iowa, but not the Upper West Side,” said a woman near me.

    That’s an insult to Iowa, but let me explain about the Upper West Side. It used to be a liberal-to-radical neighborhood that was ferocious in its support for civil rights and the anti-war movement. Its nickname was the Upper Left Side, and people here could read three biographies of Leon Trotsky before breakfast. Disastrously, it has become the most desirable living space in Manhattan, and Wall Street/corporate/real estate weenies have been taking over. But a significant radical remnant remains, thanks to rent control laws that Democrats seem to understand are necessary to preserve their voters.

    “And then in the 50s, we had the civil right movement…” the guy droned.

    “ Uh, I think we should conclude the lecture and break up into groups to discuss our nonviolent direct action training,” said Landis. “We seem to be losing people.” A lot of them, too.

    So the hundred-odd remaining Upper Left Siders split into four groups for discussion. My group happened to be led by Landis, who directed the 35 of us to sit in a circle and identify ourselves with an explanation of why we were there. I was about #15 in the circle and the people who preceded me all appeared to have no experience with Occupy Wall Street and wanted to get involved. When it was my turn I said that Zuccotti Park was the most entertaining place to be in Manhattan for a couple months last fall and I hoped it would revive. And I said that the other thing I liked was that it was to the left of the Democratic Party and was pushing it from outside. There had been some mention of “the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act during the 90s” and I pointed out that it was Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who deregulated Wall Street.

    “Excuse me,” said Landis. “We have a limited amount of time and a lot to discuss. We need to let everyone speak.”

    I’ve thought about that a lot. I don’t believe I spoke for more than a minute, but I habitually obey the rules in a group, so I shut up. In retrospect, I was censored. I should have demanded a discussion of the true purpose of the 99% Spring and why Obama’s Department of Homeland Security orchestrated the violent destruction of hundreds of nonviolent Occupy camps around the country last fall.

    As it was, we finished going around the circle. Everyone was a teacher or writer or connected with the labor movement. Wisconsin came up a few times. Landis asked what kind of a world we wanted to see. Someone said, “Socialism” and Landis said the topic for discussion was now how to plan for a “hypothetical direct action.” Every time somebody brought up something that was actually happening, Landis insisted that our agenda was set and we were only discussing hypothetical situations. So we talked about hypothetically withdrawing money from a hypothetical evil bank, or hypothetically stopping the hypothetical fracking in the Catskills that is going to poison New York City’s hypothetical drinking water.

    “What about May 1?” said a retired professor.

    “What about it?” said Landis.

    “I heard that Occupy Wall Street was calling for a general strike. They’re planning actions all around midtown and they’re saying that nobody should go to work that day.”

    “I don’t know anything about that,” said Landis. “We’re talking about hypothetical situations here.”

    And so it went from 6:30 to 9:30 last Tuesday night. Over half the crowd left early. Most of those who stayed appeared to be angry and mystified that they had received no training whatever in nonviolent direct action. I doubt that the Democrats or MoveOn succeeded in co-opting anyone, and I predict that they will be inventing more dreary front groups as the election year grinds onward. “Front groups, not issues!” should be Obama’s rallying cry.

    “I’m taking the subway to Wall Street,” said a guy in his 20s (probably the only guy in his 20s) as he walked out the door. “That’s where the action is. People are sleeping on the sidewalk there. Apparently the police can’t arrest you if you take up less than half the sidewalk. Go to Maydaynyc.org if you want to find out about the general strike.”

    • DirekConek (aka Dallas)

      I don’t really have too much of a beef with the dealing in hypotheticals only in a training for beginners. It’s supposed to be a *training for beginners* right?

      Pretty sure the +Brigade training doesn’t start people right off with the the super sekrit re-occupation plan and one of those Mission Impossible communiques that self-destructs… no, it starts out with “do this because the instructor says so, in a safe and orderly context so that you can *learn*…. Jeez…

      If you’re taking teaching beginners like they are beginners ,and either feigned or actual total ignorance of plans for M1GS as ‘co-option’ I wouldn’t worry about these co-opters either way. ::D

      “Hypothetical” scenario – if I want to ‘co-opt’ an activist group that is stealing my org’s thunder and ruining my political party of choice’s PR… I think I’d probably have it together to know their events calendar for the next 2-3 weeks to SOME extent. I certainly wouldn’t expect that feigning ignorance of a major campaign that is easily Googled, FB’d, Twitter searched, etc. was going to work for steering people away from the real deal in order to keep them involved with my own hypothetical bootleg DA training.

      I guess what I am getting at is…. could be the MoveOn organizers working on this project are just straight up clowns…. just sayin’.

  17. DirekConek (aka Dallas)

    I’m going to be very blunt because it is too early in the morning for BS:

    First of all, it’s obviously up to each of us to decide whether we want to participate in, support, or stand aside from taking and backing up a publicly expressed position WRT this 99% Spring. Nothing wrong with expressing an opinion or giving reportbacks… but it strikes me as quite ridiculous and a bit condescending to persist in referring to what is apparently a knockoff of he worst Canal Street variety as a trojan horse, a sneak attack, a co-opt/takeover attempt, etc. It may well be the Dems’ attempt to put what we have in a bottle and slap an Obama label on it… why is this a bad thing? You know the saying about imitation and flattery..

    If MoveOn is using their staff and mailing lists to get thousands of people who want Occupy DA training together in publicly announced locations…. do we tell them to stop and get all huffy and paranoid, or do we remain calm and send some outreach staff to each site to catch the folks leaving in disgust? I personally would go with the latter option, it’s far more productive.

    TBH, given the fact that none of our “IP” so to speak is copyrighted or trademarked, I figure we’re ahead of the game if it’s MoveOn and/or the DNC biting our style, and not some weak-ass corporate music festival or pyramid scheme cult a la Scientology. =p

    • Urbaned

      I thought we’d have our act together before November to propose and run candidates, but that’s not going to happen. So, the political machine will continue without OWS, (vote, don’t vote, write-in, whatever.); in the meantime, we should continue to strengthen our base via tech ops, meetings, protests, dialogues, etc.

      • opposedtoOWS

        you want Dialogue? all you have is dialogue I started out a supporter but all I see is infighting, a thief with check book, anarchists, and people proposing to “eliminating the 1%.” OWS was co-opted six months ago by an exclusionary force of revolutionaries.

      • DirekConek (aka Dallas)

        @urbaned, also consider that this allows Occupy to continue largely without “the political machine”…. we could call ourselves a party, get some candidates on some ballots, sure – but then (if there is to be a realistic expectation of winning some of these elections) we’d end up cutting all kinds of deals with various devils.

        Just for one example, I’m thinking we wouldn’t be getting a lot of free promo and sweetheart deals from any Dem (or GOP) members of the House if we were actually honest about their fundraising practices, to say nothing of their votes on key legislation such as NDAA or HR 347.

        Staying out of the actual elections makes it MUCH easier to refrain from pulling punches, if you ask me.

    • @CynPrice

      What’s the Harm of MoveOn? What’d I miss? Im protesting the Govt with other groups, will my membership with OWS be revoked? The 1% term came from the movie “Capitalism, a love story” but since OWS made famous “the 99%, but not the 1%”, do I need OWS permission to use my 99% sign and Michael Moore my 1% sign if I protest Govt.with another group? Help!..:)

  18. opposedtoOWS

    @reddave ‘s response on March 29 says OWS is a “revolutionary movement” with a goal “to eliminate the 1%” Has that been consensed? It is clear that Dave is Red. Is OWS Red?
    That kind of talk is why you are not 9,000 people in dialogue but more like 50 people in dialogue and 8,950 people who created accounts and dropped out.

  19. @CynPrice

    What’s the Harm of MoveOn? What’d I miss? Im protesting the Govt with other groups, will my membership with OWS be revoked? The 1% term came from the movie “Capitalism, a love story” but since OWS made famous “the 99%, but not the 1%”, do I need OWS permission to use my 99% sign and Michael Moore my 1% sign if I protest Govt.with another group? Help!..:)

  20. Dean Taylor

    “It may well be the Dems’ attempt to put what we have in a bottle and slap an Obama label on it… why is this a bad thing? You know the saying about imitation and flattery..”

    You’ve heard it said of OWS that “you cannot evict an idea”? If the ‘idea’–i.e., manumission of those in thrall to the capitalist machine–is appropriated by a cohort having access to hedge-fund coffers, Madison Ave, MSM, etc., then the idea is adulterated. Once this occurs, all-important momentum becomes diffuse, less focused.

    When people like Marc Landis, et al., gain credibility then we fall under sway of the investor-class configured status quo–the VERY thing we are seeking to undo–versus “rehabilitate.” The system cannot be rehabilitated. To believe to the contrary is to falter, mortally.

    Occupy’s last best friend is that group we find at the heart and soul of the Cause–i.e.,the Labor rank and file, and most definitely NOT the Labor union execs who’ve sold out to the Beltway. One-hundred thousand in the streets in Madison, WI in 2011! And just how did these admirable numbers materialize? Because, the System hit these good people where they live and breathe–i.e., it hit them at the hot point of their lives, in the essential fact of life (for most of us) that we must work for our Daily Bread. To entertain thoughts of more (read: “better”) politicking via this or that candidate is to corrupt the Cause, to deviate from the Cause as expression of the immiseration of the working class by the investor class in a war of their (1%) making, their aggression, their heinous, murderous behaviour toward US! And, yes, when well-placed politicoes and their consiglieri are casually exploring ways to delimit already stretched thin wages of the working class–i.e., to the point that families become food insecure–then this is murderous behaviour by an elitist collective of ‘players’ exhibiting the “banality of evil” Arendt wrote of.

    Here, from a Counterpunch article by Brian Tierney, “Labor Politics and the Captive Electorate of 2012
    Big Labor Folds, Endorses Obama”.

    Tierney describes in great detail how union execs–i.e., the very SAME union execs that OWS Labor liaison Herr Lenchner deems viable to the Occupy Cause– have sold out their constituency (the working class rank and file) to the Established Programme of greed, crony capitalism, entitlements, purposely volatile markets, etc. Tierney:

    “Clearly, more rank-and-file involvement is needed to both challenge union officials and undercut misconceptions on the left about the labor movement.

    “Ultimately, real union power is not displayed by workers canvassing for Democrats. It’s exercised by workers on the job, like the 70 UE factory workers who again occupied their workplace last month and won their demands to keep the plant open while they find a new buyer, or perhaps run the factory themselves. Or the nearly 500 Seattle port truck drivers who went on strike for two weeks in February in protest against abuse and deregulation that has prevented them from organizing with the Teamsters. Or the teachers in New York City and Chicago who, along with Occupy protesters, have led fiery demonstrations against budget cuts and school closures.

    “Sometimes there are tactical reasons for unions to engage in electoral politics, but trade unionism is not about electing Democrats. Workers join unions to enforce decent pay and working conditions on the job. Organizing in an active union also raises the consciousness of workers around working-class issues beyond an individual workplace, like national healthcare policy and globalization. And like other social justice movements, labor cannot attribute much of its success to voting within the corporate confines of the two-party system.

    “Real power for workers and the oppressed exists in the streets and in the workplace, in the form of militant grassroots struggle.

    “Every national election points to the urgency for radicals to free the muscle of the union movement from the grip of the Democratic Party – to tighten the grip of the working class around the machinery of profit” [Tierney; Counterpunch].

    The working class are not easily led. From years of hard-learning have instilled a kind of intuitive, higher sense about values. Yet more politicking in this, the final stage of Late (finance) Capital is NOT the way to go. Rather, reach out to us DIRECTLY, bypassing the union pols, the “elected” pols, and anyone else seduced by the money/Power dyad.

    Tieney’s article in full below…

    • Urbaned

      As a member of a union, now that I made a career change, I have seen little direct benefit. But, it’s clear that the ongoing battles for better wages reflects a struggle that will never be won. When OWS started, I envisioned no hierarchies, and then going to OWS meetings run by union leaders became offensive and scary to me.

      I think we’re surviving with a non-hierarchical structure so far. This, in itself, is scary, because we (have built) build these structures to protect us – and for unions, to protect our working rights. So, unions basically reflected government and corporate hierarchies.

      I am not sure if OWS should be “angry” at these structures…but, we should be, and many of us are, painfully aware of their limitations. If we flip the pyramid so that *all* are on the top, then all will achieve the comfort of the 1% and union elites.

      This can be done with dialogue and social media.

  21. Dean Taylor

    MARCH 14, 2012
    Labor Politics and the Captive Electorate of 2012
    Big Labor Folds, Endorses Obama
    by BRIAN TIERNEY

    Back in 2010, Randi Weingarten, president of the 1.5 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT), lashed out at President Obama who she said was part of the “blame the teacher crowd” of education reform.

    “I never thought I’d see a Democratic president, whom we helped elect, and his education secretary applaud the mass firing of 89 teachers and staff,” she said – referring to the firing of all teachers at Central Falls High School in Rhode Island earlier that year.

    Last month, the AFT executive council unanimously voted to endorse Obama for reelection.

    “While we have not agreed with every decision President Obama has made, he shares our deep commitment to rebuilding the middle class and ensuring everyone has an opportunity to achieve the American dream,” Weingarten said. Never mind those 89 teachers or the thousands more whose “opportunity to achieve the American dream” is under the gun of Obama’s school “reform” agenda.

    Last year, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka criticized Obama for aligning with the right and cutting social programs.

    “If they [Obama administration] don’t have a jobs program, I think we’d better use our money doing other things,” the leader of the nation’s largest union federation said, threatening to withhold labor’s support for Obama. Less than two months later, Trumka told reporters that the AFL-CIO would most likely endorse the reelection campaign, saying, “President Obama has been a friend for us.”

    On Tuesday the AFL-CIO’s executive board unanimously voted to endorse Obama.

    “Although the labor movement has sometimes differed with the president and often pushed his administration to do more – and do it faster – we have never doubted his commitment to a strong future for working families,” Trumka said in a statement announcing the endorsement.

    None of this should surprise anyone who is familiar with labor’s captivity in the machinery of the Democratic Party. What appears to be schizophrenic in the real world is normal behavior in the world of organized labor and electoral politics.

    But this election comes after a year of unprecedented attacks on workers.

    Both Republicans and Democrats have been ratcheting up the war against unions, a fact that is making it increasingly difficult for union leaders to justify their support for Obama to their rank-and-file members.

    “Notwithstanding all our disappointment with the Obama presidency, it’s clear that the clowns on the Republican side would be devastating to working people,” a Communication Workers of America (CWA) official told In These Times last month. “But we’re anticipating a tougher challenge motivating people because there is a lot of disappointment and letdown,” he admitted.

    That’s probably because workers are hard-pressed to imagine what could be more “devastating to working people” than what they’ve seen in the last year alone. Workers have faced the erosion of collective bargaining rights, the first state in the Midwest passing “Right to Work” legislation, an FAA reauthorization bill signed by Obama that makes it more difficult for airline workers to organize, plans for massive layoffs of postal workers nationwide, and ramped-up attacks on public education.

    And that’s by no means an exhaustive list of the recent blows suffered by the labor movement.

    In addition to the AFT and AFL-CIO, major unions that have declared their endorsement for Obama’s reelection include SEIU, AFSCME, Laborers’ International Union (LIUNA), United Food and Commercial Workers, CWA, the Machinists, United Farm Workers, United Steel Workers, and the National Education Association. The list is sure to grow as the election season moves forward.

    “We’ve been treading water as a labor movement,” says Chris Townsend, Political Action Director of United Electrical Workers (UE). At best, supporting Democrats is a strategy to buy time. And union leaders won’t admit to their members that they are stuck,” he adds, echoing a point he made in a recent interview on Al-Jazeera’s Inside Story.

    Townsend is one of the few union officials in the labor movement who forcefully criticizes labor’s allegiance to the Democratic Party. He points out that the more unions continue the bankrupt strategy of supporting a party that is often ambivalent or hostile to the movement, the harder it will be for them to beat back the right-wing agenda to destroy unions altogether.

    “How many more times is labor going to go back to the members and tell them to vote for some Democrat that has left us hanging? It’s no wonder that many union members and workers are not buying the Obama-Biden rhetoric this time. Instead of tackling the corporations and the Republicans head-on, the White House stands by in silence while organized labor is subjected to a life and death struggle in Wisconsin and Ohio. If union members get stuck voting for Obama because Romney is so much worse, we should just tell the truth. We are trapped in a profoundly corrupt and rigged political system. By going back again and again and hanging the union seal of approval on candidates who are not supportive of our cause, we merely hasten our own demise.”

    On Saturday, the Los Angeles Times reported that labor leaders are talking about “shifting” their tactics by spending less on politics and more on movement-building. The Times reports that the Amalgamated Transit Union, which represents some 190,000 transit workers in the U.S. and Canada, “has shifted ‘the culture of [the] union from…political activity to broader coalition building,’”

    Meanwhile, an election battle is brewing within AFSCME, a union that represents 1.6 million public sector workers and which spent more money during the 2010 elections than any other group. One of the candidates vying to replace the outgoing President Gerald McEntee says he wants to put an end to the “checkbook unionism” that has so closely tied the union to the Democratic Party.

    But the political landscape since the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision has seen unlimited spending on politics in the form of “SuperPACs.” And it’s not just corporations that are taking advantage of the new terrain. At the end of January the ALF-CIO’s “Workers’ Voice” SuperPAC had raised up to $4 million.

    Of course, union leaders will not be able to mobilize their membership the way they did in 2008. Four years ago, the AFL-CIO sent 250,000 volunteers knocking on doors for Obama and other Democratic candidates. Much of that base of members and allies is deeply disenchanted with the Obama administration. And for good reason.

    Before he dropped labor’s biggest priority in 2009 by abandoning the Employee Free Choice Act, Obama was busy stacking his administration with Wall Street insiders. More recent corporate additions include the anti-union General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt who chairs the president’s “Jobs Council.”

    Over the past few years teachers from California to Chicago to New York have essentially been held at gunpoint by austerity-driven governors and mayors whose cuts and test-based reforms are supported by Obama and his education secretary, Arne Duncan.

    In the private sector, American Airlines is using Chapter 11 bankruptcy to tear up union contracts, “restructure” pensions and cut up to 13,000 jobs. And for his reelection, Obama has received nearly $29,000 from AT&T, a company that is looking to layoff hundreds of workers in the Southeast.

    Last year, Democrats in Indiana fled the state and successfully stopped a bill that would have made Indiana the first “Right to Work” state in the union-heavy rust belt. But this year, the Democrats chose to stand down, giving the green light to employers to bleed members and money from the unions.

    But it seems Democrats can rely on Obama’s celebrity and eloquence to win back the hearts of labor leaders. Introducing Obama at the recent United Auto Workers conference, UAW leader Bob King praised Obama as “the champion of all workers.”

    If King feels he owes Obama a bit of gratitude, it’s because the president extracted huge concessions from his members in exchange for “saving the industry.” So King’s job is safe, even if hundreds of thousands of workers suffered massive layoffs and cuts to wages and benefits. Years of outsourcing, two-tier wage structures and other concessions have led to job loss and stagnant wages throughout the industry. Now the UAW has joined Obama in celebrating the return of some outsourced jobs thanks to these “competitive wages.”

    In an apparent mission to turn the U.S. into a source of cheap labor, policymakers in both political parties have for decades demonstrated their commitment to permanently lower working-class living standards. And recently Obama has been less shy about his role in this effort, touting his own policies for helping to make the U.S. more competitive with low-wage countries. Indeed, the cover story in the latest issue of Mother Jones magazine, documenting journalist Mac McClelland’s time working in an online retail warehouse, leaves readers wondering how far the U.S. working class is from experiencing the same grueling conditions that have made Apple factories in China so famous.

    Manufacturing isn’t the only target, though. The logic of Obama’s “Race to the Top” (RTTT) program – offering education funding to states in exchange for teacher evaluations based on student test scores and opening more charters – has permeated school districts across the country, with devastating effects for students, teachers and their unions. In many cities, as “underperforming” teachers are fired and “underperforming” schools face closures and “turnarounds,” low-income students of color are being impacted the most.

    But even if RTTT is aimed at privatizing public education and undermining teacher unionism, AFT President Weingarten is more likely to be heard giving her qualified praise for the program. That’s not the only reason AFT’s exuberant endorsement of Obama is unsurprising. After all, in addition to running the second-largest education union in the country, Weingarten is an active member of the Democratic National Committee. The fact is that countless other paid Democratic Party functionaries cycle through the upper echelons of the labor movement. But they are a lot less powerful than the corporate forces in the party, which begs the question: who is working for whom?

    No wonder, then, that labor has at times had trouble relating to the Occupy movement. Reasonable concerns about cooptation aside, the movement includes ultra-left elements who claim to represent the “89 percent” – that is, excluding what they call the “privileged” minority of workers who are union members.

    Such anti-union rhetoric used to be the exclusive domain of conservatives aimed at antagonizing union and non-union workers. But with labor leaders so visibly entrenched in the Democratic Party, maybe it isn’t so astonishing that leftist activists who fail to differentiate between union leadership and the rank-and-file are prone to such ideas.

    Clearly, more rank-and-file involvement is needed to both challenge union officials and undercut misconceptions on the left about the labor movement.

    Ultimately, real union power is not displayed by workers canvassing for Democrats. It’s exercised by workers on the job, like the 70 UE factory workers who again occupied their workplace last month and won their demands to keep the plant open while they find a new buyer, or perhaps run the factory themselves. Or the nearly 500 Seattle port truck drivers who went on strike for two weeks in February in protest against abuse and deregulation that has prevented them from organizing with the Teamsters. Or the teachers in New York City and Chicago who, along with Occupy protesters, have led fiery demonstrations against budget cuts and school closures.

    Sometimes there are tactical reasons for unions to engage in electoral politics, but trade unionism is not about electing Democrats. Workers join unions to enforce decent pay and working conditions on the job. Organizing in an active union also raises the consciousness of workers around working-class issues beyond an individual workplace, like national healthcare policy and globalization. And like other social justice movements, labor cannot attribute much of its success to voting within the corporate confines of the two-party system.

    Real power for workers and the oppressed exists in the streets and in the workplace, in the form of militant grassroots struggle.

    Every national election points to the urgency for radicals to free the muscle of the union movement from the grip of the Democratic Party – to tighten the grip of the working class around the machinery of profit.

    Brian Tierney is a freelance labor journalist in Washington, DC. Read more of his work at Subterranean Dispatches, where this article first appeared.