One of the most interesting questions for the Occupy movement relates to how it might engage with the existing political system, especially with an election year looming.

Many respected voices from outside the movement have urged that it work from within the Democratic Party, much as the Tea Party has done with the GOP.  See, for example, this recent piece by George Lakoff, where he draws a comparison to the Tea Party:

What's next? That's the question being asked as cities close down Occupy encampments and winter approaches.

The answer is simple. Just as the Tea Party gained power, the Occupy movement can. The Occupy movement has raised awareness of a great many of America's real issues and has organized supporters across the country. Next comes electoral power. Wall Street exerts its force through the money that buys elections and elected officials. But ultimately, the outcome of elections depends on people willing to take to the streets - registering voters, knocking on doors, distributing information, speaking in local venues. The way to change the nation is to occupy elections.

Whatever Occupiers may think of the Democrats, they can gain power within the Democratic Party and hence in election contests all over America. All they have to do is join Democratic clubs, stick to their values, speak out very loudly and work in campaigns for candidates at every level who agree with their values. If Occupiers can run tent camps, organize food kitchens and cleanup brigades, run general assemblies and use social media, they can take over and run a significant part of the Democratic Party.

And from, Hendrik Hertzberg of the New Yorker:

For O.W.S., though, there is danger ahead. Winter is coming. The strategy of static outdoor encampments is straining the patience even of sympathetic mayors in cities like Oakland, where last week riot police stormed the site and a Marine veteran was left in critical condition. If the weather and the cops pare the numbers in the camps, it’s far from unimaginable that ideologues in the mold of the Old New Left—people for whom the problem is “capitalism” per se, as opposed to a political economy rigged to benefit the rich at the expense of the rest—could end up dominant. As it is, the Occupiers’ brand of romantic participatory democracy can too easily render their decision-making vulnerable to a truculent few. In the most notorious example, Representative John Lewis, the revered civil-rights hero, was prevented from speaking at Occupy Atlanta—not because the crowd didn’t want to hear from him (the great majority did, as they signalled, in the movement’s semaphore language, with raised hands and wiggling fingers) but because one man clenched his fists and crossed his forearms, thereby exercising a consensus-breaking “block.” A vegan filibuster, you might say. The pollsters tell us that Americans like O.W.S.’s essential message. They like the Occupiers, too—not as much as they like the message, but more than they like the Tea Party. But if the pressures of hypothermia, frustration, and correcter-than-thou one-upmanship converge to push them toward more provocative, less mellow forms of civil disobedience—“occupying” a nice warm state capitol building, for example—the messengers will mess up the message. And the public will cross its fists.

Unlike the Tea Party, which was born when the alien/socialist enemy held all three of Washington’s elected redoubts, Occupy Wall Street inhabits a different political world, one whose most prominent figure, the President, has fallen short of not only many Occupiers’ hopes but also his own—in large part because of the Republicans’ conscienceless exploitation of the perverse veto points of the congressional machine. Yes, O.W.S. has “changed the conversation.” But talk, however necessary, is cheap. Ultimately, inevitably, the route to real change has to run through politics—the politics of America’s broken, god-awful, immutably two-party electoral system, the only one we have. The Tea Partiers know that. Do the Occupiers?

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The choice to get in bed with the GOP was not without controversy for many Tea Partiers, who felt that their grass-roots efforts (yes--there really is, or at least was, a grass roots Tea Party!) were utterly coopted by the GOP machine and big money from the Koch brothers, Dick Armey,etc.  It seems that the lesson being learned from their experience by many on-the-ground Occupiers is to avoid that fate by adopting a strict "non-partisan" stance (officially, at least) and to cast the Dems, and affiliated groups like MoveOn, as part of a system that cannot be reformed from within.

Here at Occupy Cafe, Mark E. Smith has argued passionately for an election boycott as the only rational response to a system that fails to count our votes accurately and is utterly corrupted by big money.  While I am sympathetic to this argument, for me (and many others, I imagine) this stand evokes painful memories of Nader 2000.  The world would be a very different place today if he had stepped out of Florida, voter suppression and recount-rigging notwithstanding.  No way Gore takes us into Iraq after 9/11.  Instead, I could well imagine him using the attacks as a launching pad for a global shift from oil to renewable energy.  

And then there's the Supreme Court. Gore wins, no Roberts or Alito and Citizens United goes the other way, not to mention a host of other crucial decisions.  And the winner in 2012 is likely to get one or more appointments as well.

On the other hand, we have Obama behaving time and again as if he is captive to the same monied interests and/or deeply misguided institutional biases and assumptions that have characterized presidential politics for decades across both party lines.  And then there's the fact that he and the and others at the highest levels of the Democratic establishment have at best turned a blind eye to the abusive tactics of police towards the encampments, while many Democratic mayors have been active parties to it.  So it is understandable that many in the movement are deeply unhappy with Obama and the Dems, are protesting the DCCC despite its expressed support for the movement, etc.

There's another important aspect to his situation as well: the Occupy movement may be nominally non-partisan, but its "members" and supporters also clearly lean Left on average, to the extent that such a spectrum has meaning.  If we want to be "non," or even "trans" partisan in any meaningful sense, we need to start by acknowledging who is currently in the room, and whether or not that room is truly welcoming to people who consider themselves Centrists, Right of Center, Libertarian, etc.

I had one Occupy Cafe member remark that he had never seen so many angry liberals gathered in a single phone call before.  He almost didn't come back.  Fortunately, when he did he was pleasantly surprised when his random small group breakout landed him with someone whose views were far closer to his own.  I think that for now, we need to treat representatives from portions of the politcal spectrum outside the progressive wing as precious and honored guestsin this house.  Otherwise our "99%" slogan is merely empty rhetoric.

At the same time, we should be honest about the fact that many, although certainly not all, of the policy ideas being advocated throughout the movement have a history of being associated with the Liberal/Progressive end of the political spectrum.  If we deny that and try to limit peoples' energy only to those ideas that have a chance of appealing across the board in the current US political environment (getting money out of politics comes to mind as the signature initiative with this potential), I believe we will stifle much of the creative juice that is currently flowing and create a huge schism in the movement.

So... I am interested in hearing what YOU think about these questions, and in seeing if either some consensus or a clear outline of the various positions that define this terrain can emerge.  I suggest that you limit your posts to a single idea at a time, and also try to keep them fairly brief, in order to help keep this thread coherent, easily followed and in the nature of a dialogue rather than a series of diatribes.  

I realize I haven't helped matters by mixing a few different points together under this general theme.  Nor have I practiced the brevity I am now preaching.  Nevertheless, I hope that this discussion can model a higher order of "asynchronous" dialogue.  Are you up for the challenge?

We might start with these questions: 

  • How might the Occupy movement effect major change in the near term without working within the current political system?
  • How might the Occupy movement engage in electoral politics without being co-opted by major players within the political system?
  • What does it mean to be a movement of "the 99%?"  For example, the latest Pew Research Center survey shows that only 38% of Americans believe that global warming is caused by human activity and is a very serious problem.  Does that mean global warming is off the table for the Occupy movement?

Please note that this is a hosted discussion.  We will periodically be asking people to step back or step up, to make sure it is balanced and there is space for all voices to be heard.  We will also ask that side conversations that emerge be taken onto new discussion threads so that this core conversation remains focused and readable.  Thank you in advance for your help with this, and if you are interested in hosting a discussion yourself, please email


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In reality, Ben, other third party candidates got more votes in Florida 2000 than Nader, but Nader, being a consumer protection advocate and the enemy of their big corporate donors, was the designated Democratic Party whipping boy.

As for what would have happened if Al Gore had won, I submit that Al Gore had been aware of and speaking about trying to counter global warming when he was just the son of a Senator, but at that point in his life he had no power to do anything about it. When he became a Senator himself, he also spoke out, but lacked the votes to get anything done. When he became Vice-President, he was only the second most powerful person in the country, so he couldn't be expected to accomplish anything, And I believe that if he became President, or even Lord of the Universe, he would continue to speak out against global warming, but would not do anything that might hurt the value of the oil stocks in the investment portfolio he keeps behind a fire wall but benefits from anyway.

Had Al Gore become President and actually tried to oppose the big corporations that bankroll and fund this country's politicians so that they can write and control legislation, I think he would have been taken out like JFK, and his successor, Joe Lieberman would have accelerated the same policies we saw from Bush, starting more wars and giving the rich bigger bailouts, just as Obama did.

As you know, the military junta and the police that work under their command, violently attacked the protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, Egypt, using many weapons including much of the 21 tons of CS gas that was given to them by the USA. Many protesters were blinded by pellets aimed directly at their heads and many others were killed. I view OWS getting involved in US elections the same way that I would view Tahrir holding a recruiting drive for the military and police.

Getting money out of politics is a worthy goal. Of course it can't be done until we are able to elect people who aren't beholden to corporate money themselves. And we can't do that until we get money out of politics because the 1%, their multinational corporations, and their wholly-owned two major political parties have the ability to spend billions of dollars promoting their candidates and smearing ours, while we have neither the money nor a Fairness Doctrine that would allow us to respond appropriately. Since we don't have enough votes in Congress to restore the Fairness Doctrine or establish publicly-funded elections, before we could do either one, we'd have to elect sympathetic politicians who weren't beholden to the 1%, and we can't do that until we have a Fairness Doctrine and publicly-funded elections. Without the ability to bring about change in the electoral system, such as ensuring that the popular vote be counted and verifiable, participating in elections is like being a hamster on a treadmill. The faster you run, the more you stay in the same place.

How might the Occupy movement effect major change in the near term without working within the current political system?

Trust and drive Occupy Yourself.  As soon as possible, help as many as possible to get off the path to mediocrity and on the other path, without necessarily congregating in hard, grey places.

This actually goes one better than What does it mean to be a movement of "the 99%?" in that even members of the 1% are unbalanced, disintegrated, fragmented, truncated, distorted.... They are merely rich and powerful in the systems that money drives.

Mass-Mobilized Inquiry could be adapted for this, no?

I agree, David.

Trying to work within a money-driven system is problematic. For example, the protesters in Tahrir might decide to have a recruiting drive for the military (and the police which answer to the military) with the idea of getting more good people inside those organizations. But since those organizations depend on the $1.3 billion dollars a year they get from the United States, no matter how many good people they have to court martial or discharge for disobeying orders, their policies will continue to be dictated by their employer, the USA, and will not change.

As long as the 1% hold most of the world's money and assets, no money-driven system of government can change, as they are all beholden and answerable to the 1% that funds them. We have to free ourselves to be the change we want to see.

As people get on the path to greatness (Covey's name for it), they become leaders of some who observe them.  Any observers who get on the path to greatness become leaders of some who observe them.  And so it goes.

In time (need not be long; both the potential and the processing power are out there), a leader-full society emerges.  The many leaders will be rich and powerful in the systems that love drives and the systems that sunshine/gravity drives.

Those two systems are my hope.

The Occupy Wall Street General Assembly just recommended the National Initiative 4 Democracy Act or NI4D.US. This essentially would establish a quasi 4th branch of government—The People. While we are waiting for this to become the law of the land, www.aGREATER.US does virtually the same thing, right now, on your computer or smart-phone—electorally if not government-ally. Any citizen over 13 can read, rate, submit op-eds, and enter competing ideas in 60 categories. Then the best in each will become the GREATER Platform and the best three the GREATER BILL. Then after the winners are verified as having supermajority support by independent polling, WE SIMPLY DEMAND PASSAGE. Not many elected official are not going to run out in front of that wave and yell "follow me."

In order to make an effective demand, you have to have an "or else."

An employer can demand that a worker do the job they're being paid to do, or else they'll be fired.

A spouse can demand that domestic violence cease, or else they'll leave and get a divorce.

A child can demand that their parents give them a piece of candy, or else they'll throw a temper tantrum and hold their breath until they turn blue. That is not a very effective "or else." 

Most people in the US opposed the bank bailouts so vehemently that Members of Congress were deluged. Their fax machines were jammed, their computers crashed, and they had to unplug their phones. In response, Obama and McCain took time out from campaigning to issue a joint statement supporting the bailouts and opposing the will of the majority. Our government does not allow public opinion to influence policy decisions because while the public may be numerous, it has no real power. Once in office, Obama pushed through the bailouts, just as McCain would have, and Members of Congress and the mass media began telling people that without the bailouts the economy would collapse. The economy was already collapsing and did not stop collapsing because of the bailouts, so the 1% claimed that the bailouts, much of which were spent on executive bonuses and yacht parties, weren't big enough.

You can't make a demand unless you have a credible "or else" to accompany it. In a country where the Supreme Court has found that the Constitution does not ensure that the popular vote be counted, the threat of voting for different corporate puppets is not a credible "or else." The 1% will just have their puppets ignore the popular vote, as they did in 2000, and install the puppets the 1% prefer.

The few elected officials who might try to use a populist movement for their own purposes are those who we already know to be hypocrites like Dennis Kucinich, who always demands peace, but whenever election time rolls around throws his support to whichever pro-war candidate his party nominates. The rest make no bones about supporting the 1% who fund them and give them their marching orders.

So what is your credible "or else?" What will you do if 90% of the people DEMAND change and the government responds by spending a few more trillions on weapons to suppress civil dissent?

I have seen other polls that say, something approaching a supermajority, is in favor of government subsidies for sustainable energy development, albeit that was before the nightmare of Solyndra. I saw an economist/environmentalist on TV commenting about the Copenhagen (summit) saying he changed his mind as to the treaty approach, and that the only way to green the planet quickly was to align it with profit motives. I have up on www.aGREATER.US a bill called the All Energy Jobs Act 123. In the short run it calls for more (but responsible) drilling especially of natural gas, this will create jobs very quickly. It will also significantly reduce coal usage in power plants very quickly. Then take away all oil company government subsidies and swap them over to fund a green bank for sustainable energy development. Which will also create jobs by stimulating green commerce by guaranteeing loans for solar panels on every sunny roof, smart grid infrastructure, and wind turbines. These technologies are economically feasible if the capital funds are available. This is a plan no one will love but that the 66 (a supermajority) can live with (one definition of bipartisanship). And it puts us on a glidepath to a greener planet, possibly faster (politically) than is likely going to happen without compromising (quickly). You can rate this idea 1 to 5 stars on aGREATER.US. Perhaps its worthy of being on the GREATER BILL or GREATER Platform or not. That is up to the persons willing to spend some time deciding what would make for a greater US.

You didn't answer my question, John.

What will you do if 90% of the people DEMAND change and instead of changing or reforming itself in response to the overwhelming public demand, the government responds by spending a few more trillions on crowd control weapons to suppress civil dissent?

You can't "take away all oil company government subsidies" or do anything else as long as people vote to allow government to have the final say on such policy decisions.

People know what they want, but instead of trying to get what they want, they insist on continuing to vote to empower government to make decisions for them, even when such decisions aren't in their interests and result in everything that they don't want.

I think it would make for a greater US if power was vested in the hands of the people instead of in the hands of government. But neither you nor anyone else on this forum seems to agree with me.

I think it would make for a greater US if we had a direct democracy where we the people could vote directly on policy issues and our votes had to be counted and could not be overridden, but you and everyone else on this forum prefer that the final say be left up to a corrupt government and its corporate lobbyists.


I do believe the people need to be the fourth estate of government. But I also do not agree with, the people running the country without the same checks and balances that government has now. If the people vote to secede from the world stage by a slight majority, even a supermajority, something that serious needs to be deliberated on, and have much more dialogue. The people given total control of government are likely to spend a whole lot more than government spends now, and lower taxes more than they are. This would just lead to us being in the same situation as Greece much faster than we already are. The people unchecked, in my opinion, would not do a better job than government does today (Except we probably wouldn't be in so many wars). I do believe the people need to be the fourth estate of government. And figuring out how is the work that needs to be done. I believe the Electoral Reform Act, reversing Citizens United, term limits, and NI4D, are excellent places to start. I also believe that it is unlikely that many of these will become law for at least a few years. And in the meantime citizens can engage in leadership of Congress through efforts like www.aGREATER.US. That might not be transactionally resolute, but it may be something even better—transformational in how we the people engage with government.

The fundamental problem with our government is that it has been co-opted by business interests. Our elected officials work for the 1% instead of for us. Either that changes or at best, we might get piecemeal reforms which will eventually be whittled down more or less the way laws regulating the financial industry were cast aside or watered down.

Move To Amend (and others) are working on a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics (which would include ending corporate personhood), which would target the fundamental problem. It would seem such an amendment would have a lot of popular support.

Now, that raises the question “How on earth do you get politicians to change the laws to favor the 99% when the 1% is pouring money into the political system to get them elected?” Well, we have to remember that politicians use the money they get from corporations to influence the 99% to vote for them.

So far, the Occupy movement has been concentrated on the financial industry. We’ve let Congress alone. If we converge on Congress and demand that they pass a constitutional amendment, will they accede to that demand? I don’t know the answer to that question. I do know that such a strategy has not been tried.

Mark E. Smith pointed out that most people were overwhelmingly against the bailouts and they got passed anyway. The democrats figured the voters had no place to go, and sure enough, folks voted for Obama. Maybe the democrats will figure that they don’t have to pass a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics because the 99% will vote for them anyway as the lesser of two evils. It’s worked for them many times before.

Which brings us to Mark’s perfectly valid observation: ‘In order to make an effective demand, you have to have an "or else."’ What is the “or else” in this situation? We have to be clear that if our elected members of Congress won’t vote for a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics and end corporate personhood, we will withhold our votes. And then we have to make good on that threat, even if we end up with Newt Gingrich as president, or whatever other bogeyman the democrats threaten us with.

You might say, Gingrich would be a disaster. And you would be right. But if you can’t change the fundamental problem, if the members of Congress call our bluff and won’t pass a constitutional amendment the 99% is in favor of, then the only thing to do is to concentrate on hastening our government’s collapse, which will then be inevitable anyway. We can do that by a number of nonviolent means, one of which is boycotting elections in order to delegitimize the government.

Unlike Mark E. Smith, I’m not wild about this idea, but we have to face facts. If we cannot change the fundamental calculus of politics in this country, then I see no reasonable alternative but to take the risk of attempting an orderly collapse, followed by an attempt to install a true democracy.

But let’s at least try to get a constitutional amendment getting money out of politics and ending corporate personhood first.

Well, Mr. Blue, a few hours ago I'd posted on my little website that I didn't know a single Occupier other than S. Brian Willson in DC who understood and agreed with anything I said, you just blew me away, as you obviously understand most of what I wrote and agree at least with part of it.

The strategy of converging on Congress has been tried with regard to other issues, and hasn't worked. At best, as you say, it resulted in some piecemeal reforms which have since been watered down or cast aside. 

While Gingrich would indeed be a disaster, he would be no more of a disaster than Bush or Obama or anyone else who was beholden to the 1% and obedient to their agenda. The players can change, but as long as the 1% fund them, the agenda remains the same.

The problems I see with getting a Constitutional amendment to get money out of politics are multiple:

First of all, it would take more than just reversing corporate personhood and reversing Citizens United. It would also be necessary to abolish the Supreme Court so that they couldn't make similar rulings that served the same purpose in the future. Of course the quickest and easiest way to reverse Citizens United is to simply allow the corportions to spend $15 or $20 billion on the 2012 election and then not vote. If they don't get a return on their investment, their boards of directors won't allow them to do it again. Personally, I always assume that if the big corporations spend a lot of money promoting something, it isn't likely to be anything healthy or good for me.

Secondly, amendments to end corporate personhood and get corporate money out of politics would not be sufficient to enable us to elect a majority to Congress that would be responsive to our objectives. We'd need to reform the entire electoral system to get rid of gerrymandered districts, voting machines and central tabulators that are easily hacked in ways that leave no auditable trace and are therefore completely unverifiable, corrupt elections officials who wait until the results of an election are in and then miraculously "find" enough uncounted ballots to reverse the results, a way to get a recount when election results are flawed but elections officials insist that it was merely a computer glitch that didn't effect the results, the Constitutional power of Congress to reject evidence of stolen elections and seat the "winners" without investigating the fraud, and many more amdnedments that addressed the many other problems with our electoral system, most of which reside in a Constitution that was designed by the 1% to ensure that the popular vote would never be the final say so that the 1% could always rule.

Third, getting Constitutional amendments is a lengthy process that isn't always successful, such as happened with the ERA. The process can continue for twenty or thirty years, all along giving hope to some that it might finally succeed, without ever succeeding in the end.

An essential part of why business interests have co-opted our government is so that private business interests can continue to use the US military, at US taxpayer expense, to pursue and protect their business interests, as Nelson Rockefeller did with United Fruit and Standard Oil, and which still continues today as the US military is sent to control oil and other resource markets on behalf of the private business interests of the 1%. While the government may claim to be doing this for other reasons, those are easily seen for the hypocrisy they are. If we were protecting women's rights in Afghanistan, we'd be doing so in Saudi Arabia also. If we were protecting civilians in Libya, we'd be doing so in Bahrain also. The government only gets self-righteous about something when the 1% stand to make significant profits, otherwise the US doesn't get involved.

Because Constitutional Amendments have to be passed by Congress and ratified by the states, it is necessary to first elect enough politicians at the state and federal level to get that done. And in order to get enough honest politicians elected, we'd first need to get corporate money out of politics. So it is a paradox because we can't do either one until we do the other one first.

Thank you, Mr. Blue. While there may not be enough people in the US who oppose the capitalist and imperialist engine of global genocide and ecocide we call government, to pull off an election boycott, it is heartening to know that my words haven't fallen entirely on deaf ears. Thank you.


"Of course the quickest and easiest way to reverse Citizens United is to simply allow the corportions to spend $15 or $20 billion on the 2012 election and then not vote. If they don't get a return on their investment, their boards of directors won't allow them to do it again."

Wait!  Why wouldn't they get a return on their investment?  Are you implying that they'll be so angry they spent money they didn't have to spend that they won't even value the results that they wanted?


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