By Kevin Gosztola
Dec 5, 2011
Occupiers from occupations all over the United States are headed to Washington, DC, for three days of action that are being organized under the banner, “Take Back the Capitol.” They are driving from Boston, Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Pittsburgh and other cities to the nation’s capital. There they will set up a temporary camp on the National Mall that will be there for four days.
These occupiers are likely bold people, the same bold people the world has been watching sleep out in rainy, windy and cold weather. These are the same Americans who have been standing their ground in the face of police intimidation, harassment and even violence. They are the very citizens who have kept momentum up and creatively sought to launch new campaigns, like “Occupy Our Homes,” to revitalize the energy of the movement, even though mayors, especially Democratic mayors, are ordering crackdowns on encampments all over the country.
They will arrive in DC to protest bank bailouts and exorbitant bonuses on Wall Street. They will protest foreclosures and corporate influence on the court system. They may demand criminals on Wall Street be investigated, prosecuted and sent to jail. And they may raise issues related to police brutality and the loss of civil liberties in this country too, as the Occupy movement has experienced this firsthand over the past months.
But, the occupiers won’t be the only people there. Occupy didn’t come up with the idea for this week of action. The Midwest Democracy Project reports, “Rebuild the Dream, the Center for Community Change, USAction, Interfaith Worker Justice, Faith in Life, MoveOn.org, the Service Employees International Union and the AFL-CIO,” are sponsoring the action. The Project adds:
Piggybacking on the Occupy Wall Street movement, the three-day “Take Back the Capitol” protest will open Monday with construction of a “Peoples Camp” on the National Mall as a base of operations. On Tuesday, protesters will hit Capitol Hill to lobby members of Congress about extending federal unemployment benefits. The group walks to K Street on Wednesday to protest the political influence of corporate lobbyists.
And on Thursday, they’ll host a national prayer vigil for the unemployed on Capitol Hill. At the same time, the AFL-CIO will coordinate simultaneous protests at congressional district offices across the country to call for extending unemployment benefits that are slated to expire Dec. 31 without congressional action.
The organizations sponsoring are a veritable who’s who of the liberal establishment. These organizations have been trying to take advantage of the energy the Occupy movement has been creating for change since Day 1 because they have been miserable when it comes to holding all politicians, including Democrats, accountable for their decisions and inaction on various policies and issues. Especially with President Barack Obama in office, they have been weak when it comes to challenging corporate power and Wall Street’s control over Washington, which the Obama Administration and Democrats have in concert with Republicans enabled.
This week of action will seek to focus all the energy of Occupy into one goal: saving unemployment benefits from being killed by Republicans.
In the scheme of things, this is very timid. These groups are going to bring people together for four days on the National Mall and all they are going to demand is that Congress do something that Democratic leaders like Harry Reid and Nancy Pelosi are already more than willing to defend saving? They are going to “remind Congress to represent all Americans not just the richest 1%” as if the issue here is that they forgot we the people elect them and corporations, special interests and the wealthy do not? Congress knows who votes for them but its members know the money from corporations and special interests is more important. Plus, many of them do not really care what the majority of Americans want done in this country. They have their own ideology, whether it be libertarian, culturally and socially right wing, centrist, neoliberal or liberal-leaning, and they are sticking to it.
The organizations are well aware they could possibly be seen as undermining the Occupy movement. If you go to the websites of these liberal establishment groups, as of 8:00 AM ET on December 5, there is no mention of this week-long event to “take back the Capitol.” That is because they setup their own website. 99 in DC, for the event that does not list the groups that are supporting. Instead, what they tell people interested in who is behind this effort is the following:
“Take Back the Capitol” is being organized by a wide variety of community, labor, Occupy, and other groups around the country.
Why decide to not list the names of the organizations behind this effort? What are these organizations afraid people will think? Or do they know that a significant number of people are leery of any attempt to get involved in Occupy? Are they aware that people know these liberal organizations are only capable of flop attempts at change, like the “One Nation Working Together” rally in October of last year?
The AFL-CIO, American Federation for Teachers, NAACP, SEIU and the Sierra Club, came together and organized that October event. An individual wearing a United Auto Workers Union T-shirt told me he was glad people came out and there was good camaraderie but he was disappointed because they didn’t march. I noted then the organizers had used the word “march,” that they were going to march for jobs, education, immigrant rights, justice and more, but all they did was hold a 4-hour rally at the Lincoln Memorial.
I concluded what they meant by “march” was they were going to “march” on the polls on November 2 to overwhelm the efforts of the Tea Party to take control of Congress. The Tea Party still won. Additionally, the rally had an indirect benefit to the politicians and corporations that most opposed the agenda being promoted at the rally. The organizers managed the anger and frustration of people and ensured the rally only discussed issues that were not taboo to the power elite (like war). Organizers made certain the event did not involve any kind of an independent movement that would promote major acts of civil disobedience, direct action or electoral activism outside of the two dominant parties in America. The likelihood that the rally would have any sort of influence on politics was minimized by organizers themselves.
Consider the following: the AP reported in November “the jobs crisis has left so many people out of work for so long that most of America’s unemployed are no longer receiving unemployment benefits.”
Early last year, 75 percent were receiving checks. The figure is now 48 percent — a shift that points to a growing crisis of long-term unemployment. Nearly one-third of America’s 14 million unemployed have had no job for a year or more.
What do these liberal organizations plan to say on behalf of these people during the week? How will they speak up for them? These are really the kind of people that have been living at encampments. They are people who have no place to go, who plead with occupiers at General Assembly meetings to be careful what they do because if the police crack down they will be sleeping in a doorway somewhere.
Also, two years ago, Congressman Dennis Kucinich pointed out the extension of unemployment benefits was being tied to a war spending bill. What if Senator Reid or Rep. Pelosi decide to do that again? The Center for Economic and Policy Research has found “the sharp increase in war spending is taking up a greater portion of our Gross Domestic Product” and “will cost the US about two million jobs because such spending ‘is a direct drain on the economy, reducing efficiency, slowing growth and costing jobs.’ Contrary to popular assumptions, massive spending for war does not create jobs. It costs jobs. War spending is capital-intensive, not labor-intensive. War creates unemployment.”
The Occupy movement has expanded the possibilities for change. They have not played by the rules. They are not afraid to make political enemies in Congress or the Obama Administration because they know those in the halls of power already want to keep a measured distance from the movement. They understand the country does not just need to focus on addressing economic agenda items but also on democratizing the system of government rigged to favor corporations and the 1%. And now these liberal organizations want to go to the National Mall, use Occupy tactics and call for the same weak goals they have been calling for throughout the past few years?
Liberal groups are stuck in this mode of playing defense against Republicans. The Occupy movement is an offensive response to Republicans, Democrats and the failure of the whole entire system. Occupy isn’t about saving what might be lost tomorrow. So much has been lost to neoliberalism and Reaganism. It is about what can be gained tomorrow if people take a step out of their comfort zones.
One should not worry that the Occupy movement will be co-opted. They aren’t going to take back the Occupy movement anymore than the people are going to take back Capitol Hill this week. This action has been planned because these organizations have to do this or admit they have become irrelevant. In fact, there is little these organizations can do to contain the current energy and spirit of the Occupy movement, which is advocating for many policy goals these organizations would never have the guts to try and sell with some slick campaign. They have been, as Naomi Klein might say, NGO-ized to the point of sheer impotency.
Occupiers should participate but they should not be willing to be so timid. If this is going to be just about unemployment benefits, because liberal organizations are hedging their bets that Democrats can win this battle against Republicans, make it about that and expanding the social safety net. If this is going to be about the influence of corporate lobbyists, go one step further and make it about the corporate cronies in the Obama Administration and other agencies of government working against the 99%. And, if they get cold feet and back away from a plan to camp on the National Mall, because park police say “no,” show them how it is supposed to be done and occupy.