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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The reason that the 1% spend billions on elections isn't to get power. They already have power. What they want, and the reason they spend so much on elections, is to be able to claim that their power is legitimate and has the consent of the governed.

If most people boycotted the election and they only got a small turnout, say less than 25%, in return for spending billions of dollars getting out the vote, they would remain in power, but they would not be able to claim the legitimacy of the consent of the governed, as it would be obvious to everyone, including their global allies and creditors, that they'd spent billions of dollars and had not been able to get the consent of a majority of the governed.

Many of their military allies would break off their alliances rather than be seen by their own people as being allied with a government that lacks the consent of the governed.

Many of their creditors would downgrade their credit rating, as a government that lacks the consent of the governed is not viewed as a stable government.

The results they want are to be able to claim that their power is legitimate power, not illegitimate power. Unless they can get a substantial turnout in 2012, meaning at least the approximately 50% of the electorate that usually turns our for presidential elections, they'd have wasted corporate money and violated their fiduciary duty to their stockholders to maximize profits. You can only maximize profits by getting government to enact legislation to allow you do do whatever you want. A government that lacks the consent of the governed could still act on behalf of the corporations, but it would be seen as tyranny rather than democracy. They're not spending billions to be seen as a tyranny controlling our government, but rather as people supporting a legitimate government that can claim the consent of the governed.

Thanks to corporate personhood and the Citizens United decision, the corporations will probably spend a lot more on the 2012 election than the $5 billion they spent in 2008. I'd venture to guess that they'll spend at least three or four times as much, as there is no really popular candidate, no party has an impressive record of accomplishments to point to, and there are no positions the 1% will allow political parties or candidates to take that would appeal to the 99%. There will be a lot of empty campaign promises, but most people don't take them seriously any more. There will also be a lot of fear-mongering, but even the lesser evil voters are beginning to see that the lesser evil is very little different from the greater evil. So it is going to take a lot of money spent on major media campaigns to get out the vote.

I'd say that the 1% could continue to claim legitimacy with even a 40% turnout in 2012, by simply claiming that people are too apathetic to vote. Not too apathetic to get out in the streets and get tear-gassed, beaten, and arrested, but too apathetic to vote. The problem is that only works when voters are the majority. When the majority don't vote it is impossible to credibly claim that the majority are apathetic.

But if they spend $15 or $20 billion on the 2012 election and get less than a 30% turnout, they aren't likely to consider it money well spent. They don't just want their puppets to enact the legislation they dictate, they want to be able to claim that their puppets are a democratically elected government with the consent of the governed. That protects their military alliances and their credit rating. 

Sure, the puppets of the 1% would still take office and would still enact whatever legislation the 1% want if there is only a 30% election turnout. But it would cost the 1%, through the loss of legitimacy in the eyes of the world, more in losing military allies and global credit, than they'd spent on the election. One thing corporations are very good at is assessing profits and losses.

Spending 3 or 4 times as much as they spent on the previous presidential election, and getting 30% fewer voters, would obviously be a loss.

(I edited this comment to correct some misstatements. If you see any more, please let me know.)

Thank you for elaborating, Mark.  How close is that to the core of your case?

The Citizens United decision ignores the fact that many corporations are chartered by a state for the purpose of "maximizing profit for stockholders."  As I see it, that keeps any corporation with such a purpose from being a "person."


I think you are on to something here.  Please elaborate on "As I see it."

Bill is correct. Unfortunately, the Supreme Court sees it differently. Can we replace the Supreme Court with Bill? 

There's great potential for political theater, if nothing else, in treating corporations more and more like persons, taking the absurdity to its various illogical conclusions.

For starters, imagine marriage proposals (where?  how?) and alienation of affection suits....

Actually, Bill, there's a very interesting legal hstory on Citizen's United.  The Supreme Court based their decision on flawed citation as precedent.  I will try to locate the details and bring them here ( we did a lot of work on Citizen's United at TED).  My recollection is that the original case (was it (some)Railroad v.Santa Clara Calif???) was brought by the railroad against a local taxing jursidiction to protest how impossible it was to run a national road  with so many different local taxing jursidictions involved.  The clerk who entered the case summary ( which is used in citing precedent) mis stated the findings of the court ( intentionally it was implied as he had a major financial intereset in the issue) .  The court did not find that corporations are persons with protection under the law as stated in the summary cited by the supreme court in Citizens United.

Again, I have to review the details, but it is my recollecetion that it is the opnion of constitutional scholars that the flaw in the citation used to support the Supreme Courts decisions does not now override or invalidadte the Citizens United decision.

The only thing that will do that is a consitutional ammendment stating that corpoations are not "persons".  The 28th ammemndment that I believe started in Vermont and that is now active on the floor s that ammendment and is what consititional schlars have said is the only way to tackle Citizens United.

Unfortunately, a consititutional ammendment takes a long time and will not happen in time to stop the money manipulations in the upcoming primary and other elections.

That says to me Occupy Wall Street can do some excellent work here pointing in a non partisan way to each memeber of Congress on the take ( I just posted something recently here at Occupy Cafe on the failure of congress to support the  bill on congressional insider trading..for example)..hold up every piece of leglstaion brought to the floor that serves the interests of the 1% WAY BEFORE IT IS READY FOR VOTE..hold up and name who sponsored the some math and some leg work and track that back to where those reps get their money from. 

As I have been posting here at OCCUPY CAFE  those who are on the take and serving the 1% include both Democracts and Republicans..which is why it is critical for OCCUPY if its going to have any positive effect at all in this critical election year to stay non-partisan and above any party interests..stay connected only the interest of the transparency, to keeping private money out of the electorla process, out of the legsilative process.  

Found some of my cites on Citizens United

First, I love this diseenting opinion and the the very unusualy way it was given by Justice Stevens


Justice John Paul Stevens, writing for the dissent and expressing a view held by the majority of Americans , said

"Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires…Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their 'personhood' often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of 'We the People' by whom and for whom our Constitution was established."

more on the vermont case from my blog ( from which I extracted this quote)

It was indeed a railroad case (Santa Clara County V Soutgern Pacific) that was cited as key to Ctizens United and here is the story mpre or less as I recounted above:

In May 1886 United States Supreme Court clerk J.C.   Bancroft Davis, former president of the Newburgh and New York Railway   Company, inserted a headnote to the United States Reports pertaining to the   Court's decision in Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad Company.

Thus with out a formal court ruling, this simple act   set a precedent and effectively established corporations as legal persons   entitled to the same rights as living, breathing persons under the 14th   amendment.

What has followed is 125 years of case law giving corporations   Constitutional Rights leading to the destruction of our democracy at the   hands of greedy corporations. The most recent, of course, is the Supreme   Court's 5-4 decision in Citizens United vs. Federal Election Commission that   opened the floodgates of corporate money in elections. From the environment,   energy, and healthcare to jobs, education and the economy, the greed of big   multi-national corporations is laying waste to the American dream, and our   democracy.

The 125th anniversary of the Santa Clara Railroad case   is upon us. As an endorser of Move to Amend, POCLAD hopes you'll mark this   anniversary by signing the petition   at Move to . Our shared   goal is to collect 125,000 signatures for the 125th anniversary of corporate   personhood."


I did a quick look ( nothing to deep) and did see a cite I hadn't seen before  syaing that that the flawed headnote was not flawed in law because Blackstone ( the reference on Commonn Law which is the largest part of our legal framework) has always recognized corporate personhood.  Beacuse of that Glutch, Schumer, Udall and others have tried to oppose citizens united nit via an ammendment to the Consitution that corporations are not persons biut through reform legislation..campaign finance +..perhaps OCCUPY should check that out as well.  If the cite I quickly saw is correct that may have implications for the 28th ammendment approach. 

"Unfortunately, a consititutional ammendment takes a long time and will not happen in time to stop the money manipulations in the upcoming primary and other elections."

That is correct. And since a Constitutional amendment won't effect the next four years, during those four years the US government can start four more wars at the cost of trillions of dollars each, agree to four more bailouts for corrupt banks at a cost of trillions of dollars more each, and further indebt our grandchildren in ways that can never be repaid.

But it isn't just that millions of more innocent people will be murdered in crimes against humanity, and that our grandchildren's future will be foreclosed even further, it is that nobody seems to really care. Why worry about what is being done now, when you can make glorious plans for some mythical future in which the Supreme Court will allow public opinion to reverse their decisions, Congress will vote against its own best interests, and uncounted, unverifiable votes will magically be counted and verifiable?

So what if your vote for a third party or independent candidate, for None of the Above, for Nobody, for yourself, or your blank or deliberately spoiled ballot counts as part of the election turnout that grants the present system the legitimacy to claim that it has the consent of the governed to continue to wage imperialist wars and fund capitalist scams?

And anyway, you've signed a petition showing that despite granting your consent to the system, you really do want change. Or, if not change, at least a few reforms. After all, capitalism and imperialist are the best systems in the world and you wouldn't want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

Not even if the baby is global warming and the bathwater is a mix of Coca Cola and crude oil.

There'll be pie in the sky by and by.....

"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."

Mark, I think you underestimate how important ending corporate personhood and getting money out of politics are. It took the 1% 150 years of bought judges hammering away at the legal system to pull off their coup. I also think you overestimate their ability to come back from such a crushing defeat.

You do a good job of pointing out all the ways the electoral system is corrupted, but I would say that there is a limit to how blatantly the 1% and their operatives can rig an election in this country. If the election is close, then yes, the 1% and their operatives can turn victory into defeat. I doubt they can swing an election 5 points. Obviously, this is not optimal, but not necessarily fatal.

If there is an opportunity for real debate in this country, with progressives getting the same amount of space as corporatists, then we might actually elect some people who are interested in being public servants instead of corporate servants.

I think that as the situation gets worse in this country economically and politically (and it will), the possibility of real reform becomes even more feasible.

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.

Again, what you say is true, but it hasn't always been the case (the reversal of Prohibition was quick). Besides, as long as the members of Congress refuse to support the amendment, we boycott the vote. I have no problem with that. If you're right and the amendment won't pass even with a threat to withhold the vote, then what we’re talking about is functionally no different from what you advocate, a straight voting boycott.

Let's say, just for argument, that the members of Congress took the threat of a voting boycott seriously enough to pass the amendment. Taking money out of politics and ending corporate personhood would fundamentally change the political calculus. As you've pointed out, it wouldn't solve everything, not by a longshot, but it would be cause for genuine hope. It would give decent candidates who genuinely want to be public servants a chance to get and retain office. And it would make it easier to pass the other reforms that you mentioned, plus many others.

Unlike you, I think that the prospect of a voting boycott would be pretty threatening to the democrats, especially if we follow through. I don't think we necessarily need good politicians to pass an amendment, just a big enough club to threaten the corporatists with. And if it doesn't work, then we boycott the bastards.

Bottom line: if I'm wrong and we threaten a voting boycott and Congress doesn't pass the amendment, then we've lost nothing. We boycott the vote. We're stating in no uncertain terms that if the members of Congress don't get serious about giving democracy back to the 99%, we won't grant the government legitimacy.

Of course, the biggest problem with my solution is the same problem with your proposal. In the worst case scenario (our elected officials side with the 1% for the zillionth time), we have  to be willing, as a society, in solidarity, to boycott the vote in order to undermine the legitimacy of our government. For a lot of people, that's very scary. Hell, I'll admit, it's scary for me. But as long as our elections are overwhelmingly controlled by the 1%, we don't have a chance in hell of real and lasting reform.

Again, as things get progressively more grim in this country, I think more people will come around to the idea of either an voting boycott or a conditional voting boycott. Time will tell.

Mister Blue, I think ending corporate personhood and getting corporate money out of politics are less important than abolishing the Supreme Court so that it cannot make such ridiculous decisions in the future. If we accomplish both, but leave the Supreme Court in place, it can then rule that while corporations are not persons and cannot put money into politics, they are political entities and can run for office and fund their own campaigns like any other candidate can. Or something equally absurd and destructive. There are many think tanks funded by the 1% to come up with alternatives that the Supreme Court could implement if they had to go back on a few decisions. 

Because more than 90% of ballots cast in the US are tallied by central tabulators which can be easily hacked in ways that leave no audit trail and are thus completely unverifiable, even if 100% of the electorate cast their votes for a single candidate, the elections officials could announce that the other candidate got 90% of the votes and we'd have no way to prove they didn't. We'd KNOW they didn't, but we'd have no way to prove it. And since the only avenue for redress of electoral complaints is Congress, and Congress usually doesn't bother to investigate election fraud, it wouldn't help even if we had proof, as Clint Curtis did. Once they'd sworn the unelected President and unelected Congressmembers into office, Congress could announce that there had been a computer glitch and that 90% of the votes had been flipped. But it would then be up to Congress to remove the unelected officials from office, and they would simply claim, as they have in the past (2006), that they won't do it because they believe that it is more important for us to be represented, than it is for us to be represented by the people we actually elected.

More importantly, since the votes don't have to be counted, if one candidate got 90% or even 100% of the vote, the Supreme Court, which usually ignores election fraud, could suddenly decide that various incidents of election fraud in various states had denied voters their rights under the Equal Protection Clause, nullify the election and insist on holding a new one. That would give the political operatives plenty of time to frame the winning candidate for something so loathsome that nobody would vote for them again, or even have that candidate assassinated or suicided. It wouldn't be the first time.

Anyway, I do hope that you're right about more people coming around as things get more grim. But I don't see it happening--political partisans just continue to blame each other instead of targeting the system. Elections are the best divide-and-conquer strategy ever invented.

Wow! And I thought I was a pessimist. You take it to a whole new level, Mark.

Now I understand why you are so passionate on the subject of election boycotts. If I thought the system was as thoroughly and completely rigged as you, I wouldn't be interested in reforming it either.

I dunno, maybe the 1%'s operatives are as ruthless as you suggest. I sure hope not.

But let's say that we passed an amendment to end corporate personhood and get money out of politics and then the long knives came out. If the 1%'s response was as savage as you have suggested it would be, the illegitimacy of the government would be clear to the entire world and the 99% as well.

At that point, I don't think an election boycott would be a hard sell at all.


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