After researching and writing for some time on one hand and volunteering on the other, after watching Organizing for America to became Cheerleading for America and watching Obama caving on almost every possible issue, I made my last two tries about activism trying to convoke activists at Daily Kos for the issue in which I thought I could make my best contributions and, after that, I got tired. That’s All this time I have written nothing because, beyond pandering to my own vanity, saying “I warned you about that long before them,” but this Thursday I visited Occupy DC and I felt I owed them this entry.
This Thursday I paid a visit to Occupy DC at its two sites: McPherson Square and Freedom Plaza. I have been told of a group of hippies and homeless who defecated on the streets and fought and had posters with idiotic slogans like “I hate stuff,” as quoted by Jonah Goldberg, financed by George Soros. Of course, knowing the source, I knew there had to be more than one exaggeration but what I found was this: Jonah Goldberg is full of that stuff you know and the low blows were false.
A. What I didn’t see:
1. When I heard the accusations about lack of hygiene I remembered similar accusations made against blacks and Hispanics during the struggle of White Supremacists against integration. Occupy DC had at least three portable toilets in Freedom Plaza so despite being a cold day in DC I saw nobody urinating in the streets. At the side of the information tent you could even see a notice about schedules for showers from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm. They have a place to wash (with even sanitizer and detergent) the very humble pots and utensils they use to feed themselves and whoever gets in the line, even the homeless without discrimination. I know it because I helped them with the dishwashing for a few hours. They are even recycling!
2. The accusations of being financed by Soros (if that could be a serious accusation) obviously aim to compensate the accusations against the Koch brothers’ money oiling the Tea Party. If you go to McPherson Square or Freedom Plaza you won’t see the fancy buses or catering paraphernalia you could see during the parades and demonstrations of that Astroturf. Many of them looked like hippies? Yes. So What? They don’t shop at Neiman Marcus. They don’t have the solvency of the Tea Party. Is that a disqualification? Their ads were handwritten on pieces or cardboard, including the ads where they ask food donations: Nothing like the expensive photographic treatment of the Tea Party ads. Actually, Mr. Soros, your money would be very well directed there and, to everybody, if you have some extra food or blankets you could spare, they are in very real need of them.
3. Accusations of violence had also no basis in reality. Actually among the rules of Occupy DC are invocations to mutual respect and tolerance: nothing resembling the Tea Party members parading with their guns outside the places where Obama was presenting his Health Care plan to town halls.
4. In an open movement like this you could expect all kind of slogans but no matter how much I looked for I didn’t find a poster with something as idiotic as “I hate stuff.” Though some of them were maybe too idealistic, I especially liked one with 5 statistical facts about the top 1% that made me remember another one from Occupy Wall Street: “Regulate CDS” (Credit Default Swaps). I have seen nothing like that coming from the Tea Party demonstrations: Nothing like “Stop de Death Panels” or “Stop the Enslavement of the White Race.”
B. What I saw:
1. I saw basically a young group of people angry with the way America has excluded them from the American Dream not because they were lazy or stupid but despite the fact they did the right thing; many of them are college students or graduates who have had not a fair chance to succeed and not even to pay their student loans. These and those facts have made them aware and angry at the path America had taken in the last thirty years: increasing gap between poor and rich, decreasing chances of social mobility and a political class every day more devoted to the people who have created and supported this unfortunate trend.
2. In this small community I could see even a library and people willing to engage in intelligent conversations, people who even had a schedule of activities about different issues where debate and participation was encouraged: Nothing similar to the moral lynching perpetrated by the Tea Party against anybody who dared to dissent during the town halls on Obama’s Health Care proposal.
3. That day I joined them in a protest against Rahm Emanuel. It made all the sense of this world. Not many people have done as much as Rahm Emanuel to dismantle left activism, especially during the health care debate, when Obama’s priority was not challenging Nelson, Lincoln and Baucus, but courting Schmidt, Snow and Grassley.
C. What is next?
1. My hope is that Occupy can become what Organizing for America never was: a liberal base on which to support liberal candidates and, even before that, a liberal platform. My greatest concern is that they don’t realize that the moment is with them now and end up losing. Today the polls are with you: 75% support a tax system that seeks more support on the wealthy. Today even the most mediocre mainstream media cannot avoid mentioning that the top 1%’s income has increased 275% in the last three decades wile the rest 99%’s has remained virtually flat. Nevertheless remember that in a matter of weeks people passed from supporting heavily the public option to an almost 50/50 disapproval of the whole health care overhaul. Remember that readership and deep discussion of the news is not at an all times top in America. If you lose this momentum, you may lose it forever.
2. What to do not to lose momentum?
The support of the polls and of the statistical facts is today here but they most probably will not be here in two years. If you don’t get involved in the Democratic Primaries the way the Tea Party got involved in the Republican Primaries, you will have to wait two years to make that possible and, by then, the Democratic Party will have forsaken you like they have done it before. The Primaries are too close and, if you want real change, this is no time for catharsis. You have to move and you have to move at speed light.
3. You can’t trust the Democratic Party:
In 2004 the best ad against Bush was Cindy Sheehan. Nevertheless, the Democratic Party, afraid of being labeled as unpatriotic by the Right and its cheesy war on terror, forsake her and, some time later, she succumbed to the caricatures the Right consistently had made of her. Her human face would have made a lot to at least begin a serious conversation about the war of Iraq and the way it knowingly ignored years of counterinsurgency experience. Unfortunately it didn’t happen even when the images of the coffins coming from Iraq were made public. Do you think the Democratic Party will not drop you in a second fearing to be labeled as the 1968 Chicago Convention or something else? That’s what you have to do inside the Democratic Party what the Tea Party did inside the Republican Party: not to wait to be invited but to take over in the Congressional Primaries. The worst you could do is to do what Ralph Nader did in 2000: to divide and atomize. Most probably you won’t have resources to face Senatorial races but Congressional races should be your short term goal. What Congressional races? Prefer, according to your resources, swing states. Leaders in Congress would give you that permanent spotlight that would give you time until you can get more ambitious goals in two years but if you don’t take that step now maybe you won’t survive as a movement in two years… even if you survive the winter. The Primaries are almost here.
4. In parallel, but before and even more important, is the outreach.
Many Senators and Representatives have been able to get away voting against the wishes of their constituents because the traditional media is poor and shallow. If you compare CNN to Democracy Now or The Young Turks is like watching reporting about two different countries. The noisy protest unfortunately many times doesn’t let the message go through and be understood. I have referred many times to experiences like the Tienda Docente (Teacher’s tent, a successful Argentine experience) where you can engage people and share with them information, debate with them. A good technique could be putting and add challenging the people patriotism: “You love our country? Give an hour of your time. Study, research and prove wrong the facts of my leaflet if you can.” This is a low budget grassroots tactic to make many conservative or just coward Democrats in line with the interests of their constituents and that should be the way you take from them the seats they have not honored all this time.
“Occupy” may not give birth to an only one message or political movement but whether it generates one or more political movements, it must do it now because the primaries are already here. You don’t have money so you have to generate free press and the best way to do that is with proposals. You don’t need to make proposals on everything but you do on the issues that are the core of your movement: income inequality, the corrupting effect of money in Washington and the role of education in social mobility. That’s enough to begin. Your message has to precede your candidates so you can corner the candidates you are challenging while keeping you own candidates loyal to the spirit of the movement. The are unions and organizations like 21st Century Democrats that can help you with organization and there is plenty of serious think tanks that can help you with specific proposals. Outreach and information are the basic pillars to launch Congressional candidates challenging coward or conservative Democrats to not lose the momentum you have now. Some sympathizers may quit you, so be it, but much worse would be to lose that momentum that can make you that promising movement that, if you fail, may not be reborn in a long time.
If you are willing to assume a challenge like this, let me know.