Why the “Left” Establishment Can’t Create Demands for the Occupy Movement

Why the Left Establishment Cant Create Demands for the Occupy Movement

Occupy Wall Street at Liberty Square in New York City, NY. October 10, 2011. (Photo: a c o r n)

Did you hear the big news? The 99 percent released nine demands! After months of hectoring, we finally know what the movement is after: it's all right there on a web site – 9 DEMANDS OF THE 99%.

Four problems immediately spring to mind:

Firstly, the whole “9 for 99” bit smacks a bit of Herman Cain.

Secondly, this was not endorsed by Occupy Wall Street. Readers would be forgiven for the confusion, since the “99 percent movement” is used in many media outlets as a synonym for the nation's various occupations, which are famous for chanting, “We are the 99 percent.” The 9 Demands web site is registered to Working America, a coalition of labor unions and, somehow, Daily Kos, which, of course, never directly claims that it speaks for the occupiers. (The general assembly's statement of autonomy says, “SPEAK WITH US, NOT FOR US,” after all.) But the site does a lot of insinuating to create the impression that it does the latter and not much at all to clarify. Indeed, when you click the “Tweet” button, the automatic tweet has affixed to it the hashtag #ows, meaning Occupy Wall Street, which is unmentioned on the web site.

Thirdly, there aren't actually nine demands. There are eight demands. The last demand is blank. “ADD YOUR OWN!” the web site commands you. Then it asks for your first and last name and your email address and zip code, and offers you the option to “Become a member of Working America” (default option: yes). This means building Working America's email list. Of course. Working America is not actually interested in what your demand is. It's not actually interested in what Occupy Wall Street's demand is. It's got an agenda to promote. And speaking of which …

Fourthly, it's suspiciously close to the endorsing groups' already existent agenda. The web site was registered more than a month ago at this point. Robin Hood tax, education funding, mortgage relief, Volker rule, tax the rich, banks should start hiring, unemployment insurance and campaign finance reform. It's great stuff, all of it, but it's not any different from the talking points of the more liberal Democrats in Congress. The message to Occupy Wall Street is, “Thanks for the iconography and energy and framing, we'll take it from here.” Given the statement of autonomy's principle, “Any organization is welcome to support us with the knowledge that doing so will mean questioning your own institutional frameworks of work and hierarchy and integrating our principles into your modes of action,” the message should really be, “How can we help your project? What can we learn from you?” Working America did not reply to requests for comment.

MoveOn is doing its part to contribute: Occupy Wall Street is a great excuse to continue what MoveOn is already doing and claim more support, sending out an email to members, encouraging them to “Take Back the Capitol.” (We once had the Capitol?) The email begins, “Last week, a committed group of 99 percent protesters, with tired feet and exhilarated souls, arrived in Washington after a 230-mile march from Occupy Wall Street. Next week these few marchers are getting some serious reinforcements, because we're joining with a coalition of community groups, unions, occupiers, and more to 'Take Back the Capitol' from December 5 – 9.” See what they did there? Mentioned some really awesome thing Occupy Wall Street did and then invited themselves to the party. Just as they did when arranging a music video shoot for Third Eye Blind at Zuccotti Park. In 2011.

The actual demand of Occupy Wall Street, if anyone cares, is that other occupations start everywhere and, through the consensus to direct democracy, complete political equality, individual liberty and collective care, each occupation “create a process to address the problems we face, and generate solutions accessible to everyone.” See? Occupying public space to devise new solutions. MoveOn's “The People's Camp,” “where,” it reassures the more yellow-bellied among its membership, “a permit has been arranged,” does not operate in this spirit, however vociferously they insinuate that it is roughly the same as marching 230 miles, one marcher reportedly having completed this task barefoot. MoveOn claims the endorsement of Occupy DC.

Mary Kay Henry, president of SEIU, got arrested joining Occupy Wall Street for some civil disobedience on November 17. The day before, her union, without its members' approval, endorsed President Obama. SEIU is instrumental in organizing “Occupy Congress.” She shrugged off the question about co-optation, talking to The Washington Post's Greg Sargent:

Of course, Occupy Wall Street is distinguished by its organic, bottom-up nature and its critique of both parties' coziness with Wall Street. Does a coordinated effort by labor and liberal groups to channel the movement's energy into pressuring one party risk compromising the essence of what's driven the protests?

Henry said she wasn't worried about that happening, noting that Occupy Wall Street had created a “framework” – which she described as “we are the 99 percent” – within which such activities would fit comfortably.

To be clear, Working America and MoveOn and SEIU should by all means be pursuing their agendas, and I'm sure they are grateful to Occupy Wall Street for creating the political space for their agendas' mainstream appeal, and they want to signal to people that they are grateful, and they want to associate themselves with that energy. But these groups are not authorized to lobby on behalf of Occupy Wall Street or set up bogus camps on behalf of Occupy Wall Street or issue demands, which I have already addressed at some length, on behalf of Occupy Wall Street.

Next up for Occupy Wall Street: direct people-powered confrontation with financial interests in the form of foreclosure resistance. MoveOn says it is “organizing folks to show solidarity.” Just the way it always has.

[This article has been corrected to remove quotation marks which implied that MoveOn had made a statement which the organization had not.]