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?

Read more

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


Views: 924

Reply to This

Replies to This Discussion

I'm a year younger than you, Joel. This nation, during periods of the capitalist boom cycles, was better with economic justice and equality for whites, but never for Native Americans and blacks. The rich have always controlled government policy, but when there was a larger white middle class that benefited from imperialism and injustice, the beneficiaries didn't notice or care that they alone were allowed a share in the spoils. For example, those who took pride in automobile ownership, and enjoyed a large selection of imported foods, didn't really care how many millions of innocents our government killed in Central and South American for Standard Oil and United Fruit. 

I agree that one should never let cynicism and pessimism remove one's ability to keep fighting for change, but I cannot support either violent revolution or bandaid-style temporary reforms. The US government is a military superpower with no regard for human life, so a disorganized violent revolution would probably fail amidst much needless bloodshed. Moreover, trying to violently oppose a government that you've already consented to by voting for it, is self-defeating. By legitimizing the government, you delegitimize your own efforts to remove it.

As for reforms, what the government giveth, the government can taketh away, so I believe that the entire system must be changed so that it is the people who make the laws and decide on issues, not the government. However it should be obvious that people who grant a government their consent of the governed by voting in its elections, are not capable of changing a government they support. If people wanted something different, they'd stop voting to consent to the status quo. Merely changing the players or getting some reforms won't change the system and in my opinion it is the system, our capitalist, imperialist, racist, genocidal system, that is the problem, not who holds office. 

The reason I posted the link above is because if Constitutional amendments worked, we would have abolished slavery a long time ago. It has taken different forms, but slavery, like capital punishment, still remains legal punishment for a crime in the US. It took a Civil War to get the 13th Amendment and a much greater percent of blacks are in prison now, doing forced labor for the 1%, than at the time it was passed. You may not call that slavery, but I do. Have you read David Waldstreicher's book, Slavery's Constitution, or Michelle Alexander's book, The New Jim Crow? There are several new ones out on the same subject. Since we weren't successful in abolishing slavery through a Constitutional Amendment, I don't think new Constitutional amendments will change the system either. After all, it is the Supreme Court, an unelected and totally undemocratic body with supreme power, that will interpret such an amendment, and if they should interpret it to mean the exact opposite of what is intended, and strike down any attempts by citizens or Congress to clarify it, there is no appeal from a Supreme Court ruling. The Constitution vested supreme power in the Supreme court, not in the hands of the President, Congress, or the people, and unless that power is removed, the corporations and the rich need only control nine people in order to control the entire country. Easy peasy.

We need to take a page out of Grover Norquist's book. He has managed to take over the entire Congressional process, getting the majority of the House and many members of the Senate to sign a pledge promising to never raise taxes. Politicians that don't sign it face the prospect of losing re-election. I think we've got to make a similar pledge statement and ask our Congressmen and future candidates that run to sign it. It would go something like this. I [Name] pledge to end corporate personhood, get money out of politics, and will no longer accept contributions from corporations, lobbyists, and special interest groups. Let's get a pledge together, agree upon the wording and get people behind it. 

The pledge to not raise taxes was backed by the 1%. Those who don't sign it run the risk of losing big corporate donors.

The pledge to get corporate money out of politics has no credible "or else." If voters refuse to vote for people, Congress can just seat them anyway, as they did with at least six stolen elections in 2006. Since Congress is Constitutionally the sole judge of the elections of its members, and the only appeal that candidates whose races were stolen have is to appeal to Congress, it is Congress that decides who takes office, not the voters.

Corporations already spend billions of dollars funding politicians and political campaigns. Most politicians don't want to lose that money. As for voters, since their votes don't have to be counted (Supreme Court, Bush v. Gore 2000), it doesn't really matter who they vote for, as Congress will select the Congressional winners the same way the Supreme Court can select the President. Unless, of course, both major candidates have the same corporate funding and therefore the same corporate agenda, as in '08, when they probably flipped a coin.

Imagining that uncounted, unverifiable votes are valuable is a delusion. For votes to be valuable they have to be counted and there has to be a way to verify that they were counted accurately.

Our electoral process meets neither requirement.


The "or else" is voters running as independents, stealing votes from candidates in the two party system we have today. It would be difficult for those candidates to win, but they could pose a credible challenge to the political system we have today.  If our politicians can't solve the problems we face, maybe its about time we decide to run ourselves. 

Okay, Hirak, then 2000 never happened, the Supreme Court doesn't exist, the popular votes has to be counted, and we all live in a yellow submarine. Dream on.

I'm not denying that 2000 happened. But my idea is getting people to run that represent the real people that make up this country. I can not see how being cynical and boycotting the entire process will solve anything. If a candidate that's honest runs and loses with his principles intact, and was affected by voter fraud, it would go viral. Mark, we have numbers, that's what our "or else" is to the pledge. And we will leverage these numbers to create a better future. We must. 

Yes, you have the numbers. There are millions of you who believe that your votes, votes which don't have to be counted, can make a difference. It is a belief so deeply held that there are very few atheists or agnostics. You know your vote doesn't have to be counted, but you believe that an uncounted vote, if enough of them go uncounted, can make a difference. I don't know why I waste my time arguing with a belief so deeply held by so many.

The or/else is get the wrath of the we the people, led by the Occupy movement.  Of course the current system is engineered to favor money influence.  The only alternative as long as you play in the electoral process is voting against the bastards.

"the wrath of the we the people, led by the Occupy movement"

This is where you're placing your bets?

Well, under the current system, asking folks to sign a pledge not to accept corporate money would be asking them to commit political suicide, which is probably not reasonable. Sticking to pledging to end corporate personhood and get money out of politics is probably all we can reasonably ask.

I think that would be a good approach, but I see some possible problems with it, though. If the reps know there isn't a 2/3 majority for such an amendment, they can safely vote for it, knowing that nothing will change. The other problem is that I don't know how many people will be able to get past the lesser of two evils argument and either withhold their vote or vote for an independent, knowing that this will possibly get a Republican elected, in the event that their rep won't sign the statement.

That said, I still think it's a worthwhile approach. As the economic and political situation gets worse (and it will), I think not signing such a pledge will become increasingly politically untenable.

Why don't you start a discussion group dedicated solely to agreeing upon the wording of such a pledge? I will be happy to participate.

Maybe after we get a pledge together, we can start a website and have a running list of our elected representatives and current candidates for office who have signed the pledge. What do you think?

Why would more corporate-funded politicians be willing to sign a pledge to get corporate money out of politics (political suicide, as they would no longer get corporate money) than to sign a pledge not to accept corporate money?

As the economic and political situation gets worse, more and more people will continue to blame individual politicians, political parties, and corporate money, instead of blaming a system in which individual politicians and political parties don't have to represent the will of their constituents and are free to represent the interests of the capitalist imperialist system that enriches their stock portfolios.

Even when their investments are behind a firewall, and they supposedly don't know which stocks their financial managers have chosen for them, they do get reports on whether the value of their stock portfolios have increased or decreased, and they aren't stupid enough to think that when they vote for war and the value of their portfolio doubles and triples in a single year, they don't have any defense stocks.

I created a discussion group in the member-initiated discussion groups. I think we should start hammering out the wording there. 


Weekly Cafe Calls

Regular Calls are no longer being held.  Below is the schedule that was maintained from the Fall of 2011 through Jan 10, 2013.

"Vital Conversations" 

8-10a PDT | 11a-1p EDT | 3-5p GMT 

Tuesdays (except 10/16)
"Connect 2012"

1-3p PDT | 4-6p EDT | 8-10p GMT

"Occupy Heart" 

3-5p PDT | 6-8p EDT | 10p-12a GMT

Latest Activity

Clay Forsberg posted a blog post

"Happy Birthday Occupy Wall Street ... thoughts on Year One"

Fifteen years ago, I ran across a book, "100 Most Influential People in History," during one of my dalliances to my local Marin County bookstore. "Influential People" was one man's assessment on exactly that. But how he determined his rankings was the interesting part. They weren't always the reasons you would think. But after thinking about it, they made complete sense. For example:George Washington was ranked in the top 40 of all time. Understandable. But the reason why ... not so much. You…See More
Sep 20, 2012
Clay Forsberg is now a member of Occupy Cafe
Sep 20, 2012
Vic Desotelle posted a group

Leadership Ecology

When a Leadership Ecology occurs, a web of relationships emerges revealing each person’s authentic leadership qualities through the transfer of their power to others. When done in a conscious way – a shared collaborative awakening happens.See More
Feb 6, 2012
Vic Desotelle posted a blog post
Feb 3, 2012


  • Add Photos
  • View All

© 2024   Created by Occupy Cafe Stewards.   Powered by

Badges  |  Report an Issue  |  Terms of Service