99%Spring is a bust at co-opting Occupy Wall Street
(Edited 4/11 for clarity – Edits are bracketed).
Everyone knows that I’m a big fan of Van Jones, and it’s not just because he’s hot. That’s not why I chose to participate in 99% Spring, however.
I’m not one of those people who goes around worrying allot about co-option. I assume that if we all have the same goals, it doesn’t matter much. [I was looking forward to non-violent training. I like the idea that there might be a more structured option that allows individuals to engage with the 99% movement. I went into this with an open mind.] I didn’t think that 99%Spring was out to co-opt Occupy Wall Street.
I was wrong.
The web site doesn’t tell you much about what 99%Spring is. The web site promises:
This Spring We Rise!
April 9-15 we will gather across America, 100,000 strong, in homes, places of worship, campuses and the streets to train ourselves in non-violent action and join together in the work of reclaiming our country. History is calling; it’s time to step up.
So here we were. We were shown a movie of historical progressive movements on a lopsided screen with crappy sound. This happens. Not a big deal. We were educated about Harriet Tubman and the textile mills in Lawrance. The songs that my chorus sings ran through my head as I watched. People began to get restless and leave. It was mostly an older crowd. We were already activists. We already know this stuff. The organizers cut the movie short and we (200 of us) broke out into 4 separate groups.
We all introduced ourselves. Each participant was given 5 minutes to make their 30 second introductions. There were some amazing people in the room. We were then asked to come up with some ideas about direct actions we could take.
“I thought that we were here for training”, somebody said. The leader seemed a bit uncomfortable. It turns out that this was the first of what would be six programs (surprise!) and that our task was to come up with some actions. He read through a list of three ideas that the organizers had come up with. One of them was a “move your money day“, when large numbers of people would go into banks to move their money. “That’s already been done”, someone else said. The second and third idea I have forgotten. The leader made it clear that this program has nothing to do with Occupy. We were not there to train for May Day. This further confused people. We weren’t sure what we were doing there.
Everything felt wrong.
Participants did come up with a handful of ideas. One dealt with fracking and another with the bonuses that are being handed out by large corporations who don’t pay taxes. One older woman was very involved with the occupiers living in the church uptown and was interested in re-housing them. She also brought up the clinic being built by Mt. Sinai and the fact that there was no free clinic associated with it. People were largely unenthusiastic. At the end of this session as we were herded back into the main room, this same woman said to me, “I thought that we were here to be trained in Non-violence for May Day. I thought that we were going to stand between the police and the protesters.” I thought that she was really cool.
I was chatting in the back of the room with her, getting her number when the trainers/organizers began to get restless. There were several of us networking. One woman, clearly not ever any kind of occupier, ordered us to go to our seats. When we ignored her, she asked us more politely to take it outside. I decided to leave.
It was largely an older crowd. Many had been to Zucotti but hadn’t found a way to get involved. If you visited Zucotti after the change, it was a difficult place to fit into. In the early days of Zucotti, I knew allot of the people in the park. It was easy to pop in and do something to help out. They were the kindest, most loving people you could have met. It was hard to visit Occupy Wall Street and not fall in love with the place. A good chunk of them disappeared some time around the first threatened eviction in October and when the tents went up. When the tents went up, the park became insular and intimidating. The “real occupiers” frequently showed contempt for people who didn’t sleep in the park. There used to be a guy sitting at the “information” desk on Broadway who was so rude and contemptuous that I saw people who came to visit turn away (I haven’t seen him since the eviction).
Yes. 99%Spring really is an attempt to co-opt Occupy Wall Street. There is a huge hunger right now by people who want to get involved but do not know how.
Instead of enhancing an existing movement with experienced activists who very badly want to be involved, 99%Spring is attempting, very badly, to replace that niche and attempting to formalize something that is organic.
This article in Gawker had it right here:
And while it’s certainly possible that the 99 Percent Spring will give a structure and strength that only aids Occupy, it’s just as likely that they’ll drown it out and sanitize it, “mainstreaming” progressive populist outrage by beating it down….
And had it wrong here:
and dragging it back to the spineless middle
And MoveOn will be there, too. Only this time they’ll have 100,000 volunteers ready and able to get out the vote in 2012, helping Occupy to astroturf for the same slate of corporate disappointments that sent people screaming into the streets in the first place.
No, they wont. Most of the people present tonight will not be back. There is none of the excitement and the engagement that exists in the Occupy Movement. There is nothing but a lame attempt to steal it. It’s like choosing stale bread over bread that’s fresh out of the oven.
We were not prepared to come up with ideas for direct action. That’s not what we were there for. We came for training. It’s time for the Occupy Affiliations, the community neighborhood Occupations to get cracking. I’m going to tell you what the people at this 99%Spring training want: “Give us our non violence training and we will be there on May Day standing between you and the Police”.
[Additional note: I was one of the people who initially signed up to be a trainer. I missed the opportunity due to other obligations. The trainers are all volunteers and I'm sure that they mean well. Our trainer was a sweetheart and, although I do take exception to being ordered to do anything, it is not my intention to slam them.]