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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Hi Ben,

What I have learned connecting a bit with Occupy Portland, Occupy Bangor and Occupy Blue Hill here in Maine ( throughfreinds involved) is that Occupy throughout America, people using that monniker, are only doing that..they don't know about or assocaite with the adbusters anarchist ideas and tactics....they are answering the pulse Occupy and so many other big movements have sent out acrss Ammerica, across the wolrd, in their own vernacular their own culture and traditions.  Using the word "Occupy" provides an umbrella that is non partisan not driven by the voice and agenda of any one othere existing orgnaization.  That's all great and as it should be.

I guess I was suggesting that  I hear an opportunity in the occupy expressions here in Maine for the adbusters/anarchist folks who sparked this Occupy movement to think of itsellf as an Umbrella  and to think about ways that begin to fold these many different unique expressions of Occupy into  co-hearted collaborative work directed mainly   at  helping people to awaken  to action..That Occupy central think about  actions that might  capture media attention ( still, although less) and which model the kinds of actions local Occupy's could take .

In other words not so much driving to a a unified common agenda ( although we do have  a list we are all united on and working for) as working to ignite and inspire authentic individual expressions.  That's where the real power is. An awakening to engagement at the level of individuals. When people see that..when they see people they know right here in their own neighborhoods awakening, speaking, acting, making time to commit to helping us all out of this more  and more will do that. 

If Occupy is to have any "hallmark" in the elections it should be that the Occupy umbrella is non partisan..that it transcends party lines and seeks to get others to do get as many encumbents as possible to give up all party attachments and run as independents..real independents...

That is the participatory process we seek is it not?  Everyone awake,  Everyone actually actively engaged in the process of governing?  Everyone doing that on a sustained basis?

The seeds are these little local small groups giving unique and beuatiful use of the monniker "Occupy".  We need to grow and support these seeds allowing them to keep that authentic very local, very colloquial expression of that .  That's what their neighbors will relate to and be inspired by.  Thats what will build more and more of the 99% into awake and engaged  citizens.

I'd like to share an idea about creating a tent which is big enough for all.

If the Election Boycott thread also on this site has made anything clear, it's that the system is gamed a thousand ways from Sunday. For that reason, incremental change either won't work, will be cosmetic, or can easily be rolled back. The end result is that we don't have a functioning democracy.

How about rallying around the idea of establishing a functioning democracy? I would think that would be a completely non-partisan position that leftists, conservatives, Ron Paul folks, and independents could agree on.

But the question is how, when incremental reform is all but impossible?

Check out Their idea is to force reform on every aspect in which the system has been gamed, all at one time. No, they will not address every grievance in OWS's Declaration, only the ones that prevent us from having a functioning democracy, addressing such issues as corporate personhood, electoral reform, and media issues such as the Fairness Doctrine.

How do they plan to do this? I think you guys should go to and check it out for yourselves, but I'll do a quick summary.

Basically, some time in the Spring, the Peoples Congress will convene in Washington, pass a bunch of legislation internally that addresses all the issues that prevent a functioning democracy, and then insist Congress pass all of this new legislation into law.

Now, how do they plan to get Congress to act? (I can hear the voice of Mark E. Smith in my head about now: "What are they going to do? Hold their collective breath until they turn blue?")

Well, yes, basically, they intend to hold their breath until they turn blue. In other words, camp out in Washington until Congress passes the laws (or until they're dispersed by riot cops or put in indefinite detention). The organizers behind the Peoples Congress seem to be relying on large numbers of protestors making it impractical to throw everyone in jail.

Personally, I don't think simply sticking around and demanding Congress passes the laws will work, at least not by itself. I think a more effective way would be for the entire movement to support the Peoples Congress with a general strike and blockade, lasting as long as Congress won't pass the laws. Basically, shut down the entire country until the 1% capitulate.

Would it work? Who knows? But I think it's worth a try.

Hey Mr. Blue,

 I like this approach too and agree this is a good one ( haven't seen their exact language)

Interestingly new consititutions address this at the consituonal level and I am coming to believe that is where it belongs..laws come and go..they are not permanent.  Constitutions are permamnent. ( until they become outdated and are scrapped  and rewritten)

Soup to nuts Iceland by an act of legislature set the nationon a course of a totally new constitution ; elected 25 ordinary people to do the drafting, who did so in no time in a completely transparaent process in which the whole country particpated on line.  It's  a fascinating docuement and the electoral process, the standrds for it, and what law must insure are part of it.


(AT TED I am hotsing a conversation that is exmaining and comparing these modern and some ancient constitutions all of which address almost all of what we have been pointing to her at Occupy Cafe..even bio diversity..!!!  Yes yes everyone's doing it!!!)

Hi, Lindsay.

Examining modern and ancient constitutions sounds sounds worthwhile. Perhaps the folks at Peoples Congress can get some ideas from the Iceland, Ecuador, Venezuela, and other Constitutions, to avoid reinventing the wheel.

I am suggesting that looking to law to secure these cucillaly important things  is not sufficient unless there is concurrent or pre exiting consitutional support for what is expessed in law. 

Law can be fact 3 decades of law thatglass setgall, the Housing & Community Devlopment Act of 1974 , the community reinvestment act all right out the window..there was no consitiutional mandeate that prevented what happened in one fell swoop.when Clinton signed into law  the massive deregulation that lead us to where we are now.


That's the whole point of Citizen's United..that since they have say on interpreting the constitution ( and I now see ours as pretty shabby)they disembwled all the campaign elctroal reform laws we lal worked so hard to pass.  A 28th ammendment will take just as much time and effort to secure as doing what iceland did and dcsarpping everything..

There is no point working on any laws on crucial issues unless we have a constituion that mandates that law.


Also another beautiful new creature emmerging creates a consitutional court  sperate from the judicary to which the people have direct access.  2% of citizens can put an iissue before the court.  10% can initiate  a repeal of  law, a rmeoval of someone from office.tec.  Direct dmoarcy is not far off remote still debated ideal.  Smart folk are doing it.  Smart nations are building citizen referendum  and other citizen rights to revoke right into ther constitutions.

Everythings we are responding to,Occupy all of us awakened to the reality that we live in a corporatocracy a plutocracy, is a constiutional faiulre..our system just isn't set up right. People are writing into existence  brand new from scratch constitutiins all over the world everything, everything we have spoke off here at Occupy Cafe.  it isn;t some far off dream. It can be done.  Soup to nuts in three years...just like Iceland..crowbdsources, fully transpaent th ehwile nation in each nation collaborating to call into being through new consitions a totally new way of governing. 

Why argue and work hard for three years on patches to the consutions, tlaws that can be revoked when in that same time we can rebuild the entire system.

Let's go for a 2% citizens referendum ( that's 12 million signatures) calling for that!!! If we get 12 million signatures that would indicate at least 10% maybe more are lobbying for it too and that's the thershold..the tipping point for a "new majority"

Excellent, Lindsay! In Germany, the case that got electronics out of elections because they conceal election processes from the public eye and are therefore incompatible with democracy, was filed by two people, a man and his father. In Germany right now,it doesn't even take 2% of citizens to bring something to the Supreme Court. But I suspect that their Supreme Court can't just refuse to hear 99% of the cases brought, the way ours does.

The rest of my comment is posted in the appropriate discussion:

I don't see a clear path to setting up a whole new constitution in the United States, but I tell you what. If you or someone else sets up a citizens referendum calling for a constitutional convention, I'll support it. I just hope that those people will also support a Peoples Congress. Whichever one makes it out of the gate first is fine with me. And if the Peoples Congress works out first, and people aren't satisfied, I'm fine with having a Constitutional Convention and starting from scratch.

Oh, I should probably mention that the People's Congress would be crafting both Constitutional Amendments and laws, so Constitutional support would not be an issue. The whole idea is to plug all the holes in the Constitution that allow the 1% to control the political process, and that would of course include amending the Constitution as needed.

Oh dear me, here I am back again when I was just snooping out of interest, but I just wanted to tell you that I helped John Mulkins with his idea for the People's Congress since January. He would love for you and anyone else to get involved asap in spreading the idea around starting constructive dialog about it in the Occupy movement. The anarchists won't like it, but we know that already.

Mr Blue, Lindsay, everyone interested. 

Thank you for this discussion.  I am not able to read all of it, but have glanced it over for highlights.  Perhaps we can talk at some point since these threads seem to go on forever!

We are looking at events in New Zealand and Iceland, and have contacts through one of our members to several Constitutional scholars who are focused on these particular issue. It is certainly within our view that "experts" from various countries should be invited to part-take in the People's Congress.

There will be several developments to consider as the new year unfolds, and as anything of this nature, success of any initiative all depends on how broadly the proposal is supported.  If Occupy were to decide nationally that it wanted to be participate in the People's Congress, I believe it would signal to the entire progressive community that Americans were ready for real self governance.  That alone would be an important step. 

Currently I am seeing more and more talk about the People's Congress, and believe it may well become the "endgame" we all need, but is something else better comes along, I am all for it.

If you would like to know more, please feel free to call me anytime. 

John Mulkins

Founder, The People's Congress



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