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.]

Nuggets from MoveOn’s 99%Spring documents
Occupy Wall Street Activists Respond to the 99 Percent Spring

  • Drax Sleeta

    Glad to hear that people were so unenthusiastic! I’m curious as to why you went in the first place though…I am one of those people who worries about co-option a lot, mostly worried about the SEIU and Moveon people trying to turn Occupy into an offshoot of Obama 2012, and I would never give the Moveon people the time of day

    • nomadnewyork

      I don’t generally worry about co-option and I really thought that I was going to get training.

      This incident reconfirmed for me that there is no real threat of co-option. Yes, it’s an attempt at co-option but a bad one.

      I am pretty open minded. I used to support Move-On, up until it became an industry, I support SEIU because I support the membership, like the home care workers who have gone something like 5 years with no contract. My ancestors fought hard for the vote, so I’m going to exercise it and vote for Obama because I really don’t like the alternatives, particularly given what they promise to do to women’s health care.

  • http://www.facebook.com/thomas.garner1 Thomas Garner

    i’ve had a disquieting ‘feeling’ about 99%Spring and moveon from the first i saw/heard them… thanks for the heads up. There are some things coming up here in western NC sponsored by both groups. I’ll try to inform as wide a circle as i can. peace…

    • nomadnewyork

      The thing that really made me uncomfortable was the constant repetition of “I am the 99%”. We are all the 99%, That’s ok, but in this case it was stressed allot and felt a little creepy and awkward.

  • http://twitter.com/CalFireNews Cal Fire News
  • http://profile.yahoo.com/JVNOHSEBLJN44FWESI5AIVYFQE anonymous

    I think the point of the training is to help others get involved in the Occupy movement or at least in organizations who will work for the same ideals.I attended the training and thought it too concentrated on planning events, which I have been organizing for two years now. I was more interested in non-violent direct action techniques as to passive resistance and the police issues and issues of first amendment rights and knowledge about exactly what they were and how to be sure I had certain rights. The only real teaching of that was the film which I found interesting as to history, but the protesters then did not have police and courts upholding rights violations like today

    • nomadnewyork

      I think that many people who attended the training believed that it was to help others get involved in the occupy movement.

      I think that the audience would have enjoyed the film more if we hadn’t believed that we were going to be trained.

  • Biafra

    You went to a volunteer-led direct action training, with a mix of experience and a trainer just starting out, and it was (gasp) awkward? And the facilitator made a disclaimer that he wasn’t speaking for Occupy, and subsequently went into a training program that had zero electoral component, and what you take from that is that this is a co-opt of Occupy by an electoral front? And then you leave before the training is even 1/6 over, admittedly without any idea what actions people were going to be promoting, and proclaim that the actions you wanted promoted weren’t promoted?

    Is this a joke? I’m sure this is a parody of paranoid activists who think they invented direct action, but I’m seeing people take it as a serious piece.

    This seems to be the current standard for 99% Spring and any non-Occupy direct action training by any group, even those (incl. signatories like Code Pink, Ruckus Society, etc.) that have been doing this forever:

    Mention Occupy and its programming? “Oh no, they must be trying to co-opt Occupy!”

    Don’t mention Occupy and its programming? “Oh no, they must be trying to distract from Occupy!”

    Have a smooth, well-facilitated presentation and training? “Oh no, this is a smooth attempt to blind us!”

    Have a first-timer, awkward presentation and training? “Oh no, this just shows how desperate they are!”

    You close by lamenting how newcomers to Zucotti were intimidated by those who were the activist in-crowd. Given that you implicitly deride anyone who didn’t know the historical component of the training (one you attended less than 20% of), and mock the trainer for being less-than-smooth, it’s quite clear where you stand in that particular divide.

    • nomadnewyork

      You sure did read allot of words that I didn’t write.


  • The North Star

    I’m curious based on this account (http://www.thenorthstar.info/?p=496) if you two went to different meetings or just had different impressions/experiences of the same event?

    • nomadnewyork

      That article is about the “training for the trainers”, the workshop that I missed. I had originally planned to be a trainer. These were the folks running the training that I went to.

      I thought that article was great. It got me pretty excited about the workshop. I went to a 3 hour “training” Tuesday night.

  • William Hamilton

    If you want a sustainable movement, you have to put a lot of time into training and preparation. It isn’t all fun and exciting. It isn’t about how you feel. It is about what you do and how that changes the lives of others. If you really plan to put a line of trained people between the police and a demonstration, I can assure you it will take a lot more than six two hour sessions to prepare for that. At least one of them would involve talking to the police and I can promise that will be awkward. However being total strangers on the day a thousand demonstrators meet a lot of nervous cops in riot gear is worse.

    Time to learn that change is hard work. Just holding on to what you have is hard work. Throwing noise of political candidates is easy.

    • nomadnewyork

      What a great comment. You are absolutely correct about training and preparation. I think that it’s badly needed.

      As far as “fun and excitement”, One of the things about Occupy is that there was allot of energy and excitement around a specific issue that got it off of the ground in the first place. People followed that up with hard work. The organic nature of the movement is what helped it to grow.

      Every movement that I have been involved with started up based on the energy and anger around one issue. I personally found the idea of going in and coming up with ideas didn’t have that same ring of authenticity about it.

  • Oracorf

    “We were then asked to come up with some ideas about direct actions we could take.”

    That is the key with what was ‘wrong’. If you want to fight, then you have to know what to fight for. If the organizers start by asking you what YOU want to do, then I’d say they’re on to something.

    If you come to these ‘organizing’ situations expecting to be told what to do, then it is you who are subverting OWS. For the entire point of the Occupy movement is to take back power. But that means learning to chose, to think for yourself, and organize the follow through that insures success.

    As a union rep in France, nothing irritates me more than the attitude that asks ‘what are the unions doing’. Because the only answer to that is what are you doing?

    That being said, you had the right idea in swapping phone numbers with your neighbor. That way both can look for what you need, and share your finds with eachother and with others. That’s what OWS is about.

    If you crave training, my best suggestion is to check out your union locally. Yes, some of the people there might be silly and self important buffoons (but they appear everywhere), but most are people with their ear to the ground. At the local level, they are your colleagues; they speak your language, but they also have the logistical support to show how your situation fits into the greater scheme of things. They have behind them decades of experience of how the world shapes your workplace and life. and how to fight back.

    If the Dem’s start snooping around, fishing for votes, don’t slap them away, coopt them: you have the whipping hand and can shape the party’s objectives. It’s up to you to tell the party what ideas it should have, not the other way around. It’s what the Tea Party did to the Republicans. Democracy thrives on debate, not consensus. to face radical Republican, we need radical Democrats.

    Part of what OWS is about is wresling power from the elites. But that will never happen if you are not willing to touch the very levers of power at your disposal.

    The essence of the Occupy Movement, the 99% and any other of the similar movements, be they politically affiliated or not, is the inalienable Right to the Pursuit of Happiness. That means taking your life back, not fun and games, not playing Beatnick facing off against a Cop.

    It means finding your purpose in life and then offering that purpose to fill the needs of the Collective Good.

    • nomadnewyork

      I agree with you completely. Right now there is a bit of a chasm between occupy & the Unions, in spite of the planning of the May Day protests. Occupy wants participation from the Unions, and I am sure that they will participate, yet Occupy is afraid of co-option by the Unions.

      99%Spring is partially sponsored by SEIU.

      I still believe that the fears of co-option are over blown. This group so obviously wants to “do” occupy “better” in a more structured manner. It could have instead worked to enhance the movement and I am very clear that this is what the attendees want. If they were actually able to do it “better”, I might have joined them and been co-opted myself.

      I do not believe that anyone can do it better. I think that 99%Spring is likely to fail if they are unable to look within and without and respond to what is actually needed and wanted. I could be wrong.

      • Sigmarlin

        Unions are low level-capitalists. I hate my union. They are sexist, nepotistic and corrupt exactly how people not in unions portray us. I love my coworkers but those in charge are embarrassing and loooove money. SEIU gives you Andy Stern who will grab a job in politics and sell you out. And yet, I’m still pro union (in theory) but its more the romantic idea of a 1930s style union. OWS had it right in going around the traditional groups of the left. Top-down NGOs, the PHDs of the liberal non-profit world and unions have been telling us what to do for years and getting nowhere. It’s refreshing that they had to scramble to catch up and learn from OWS.

        • nomadnewyork

          There is a very active group of Union *members* in #ows here in NY. They are participating as Union members, but not as the Union. (I hope that made sense)..

  • Fsmickus

    I have posted and augmented my comments on my blog: oracorf.blogspot.com. Feel free to come and drop more notes there!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Paula-Meninato/653662862 Paula Meninato

    I’m sorry that this happened to you. I’ve never heard of 99%Spring, but the title is extremely simiar to OWS’s Spring Training. It’s really weird that they stole our title but aren’t really a part of OWS.

    But yeah, if you wanna get in touch with some people from OWS, I suggest going to their REAL spring training. I am personally involved with OWS, but I live in Philly so I’m more involved with Occupy Philly. But if you want me to get you in touch with someone whose at OWS all the time, let me know. Every friday until Mayday OWS is doing a weekly march. I believe these marches start at 2pm at Zuccotti Park. These actions are a fun and engaging way to try out different tactics and get everyone prepared for different situations. Actually, on M17 (when we tried to re-occupy Zuccotti Park), my comrades and I used some of these tactics and they worked rather well(even though everyone using these tactics got arrested). However, only 73 of us got arrested and I feel like if all 200 people in the park that day would have participated, we might still be occupying Zuccotti.

    Today OWS will be doing the “Break up Bank of America” action and it’s going to be awesome!! If you can attend, you totally should. Here’s the Facebook event: https://www.facebook.com/events/214546461984370/

    Also, OWS is currently occupying wall street by sleeping ON wall street. Since this occupation is not in a park, its hard to hold the numbers down, but, from what I’ve been hearing, they have about 70 people at night and roughly 20 people during the day (when most of the occupiers leave to go to their working groups). If you check this livestream, you should be able to figure out their location: Ustream.tv/occupiedair

    Finally, friend me on Facebook so we can network

    See you around :)


    • nomadnewyork

      I would love to go to Spring Training. Sadly it’s at 2:00 on Friday when many of us are at work. A bunch of us are trying to put together an OWS Training event or some kind of training that’s available on the weekend.