The "99% Spring" Movement to Train 100,000 Activists: Co-Opting Occupy or Helping Spread its Message?
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Next month, activists and organizers across the country are planning to train 100,000 people in nonviolent direct action for what they call The 99% Spring. But despite borrowing one or two of the Occupy movement’s favorite slogans, The 99% Spring hasn’t been called for by any general assembly. Rather, this massive and controversial effort is coming from the institutional left — a diverse coalition of labor unions, environmental and economic justice groups, community organizations and trainers’ alliances. While some celebrate what appears to be a mainstreaming of resistance thanks to Occupy, others are crying co-option.
“This spring we rise!” write 99% Spring organizers in a letter to “America.” “We will reshape our country with our own hands and feet, bodies and hearts. We will take non-violent action in the spirit of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Gandhi to forge a new destiny one block, one neighborhood, one city, one state at a time. We are the 99%. For the 100%. And this is our moment.”
In a press call organized by The 99% Spring, Liz Butler of the Movement Strategy Center affirmed the effort’s solidarity with the Occupy movement. “The focus,” said Butler, “is to give additional amounts of people the tools to take direct action around these issues, complementary to what is happening in the Occupy movement.” On the same call, MoveOn.org’s Justin Ruben explained that his organization is promoting the training for nonviolent direct action to its more than five million members.
Joy Cushman, an organizer and trainer from the New Organizing Institute, insists that the intention of the project is not to compete with the Occupy movement. Rather, it’s a framework so that existing organizations can incorporate direct action into the work they’re already doing and capture some of the Occupy spirit. “The hope is that if people are not directly connected to campaigns, they will be able to take action locally for what is affecting them,” she told me.
What is now The 99% Spring actually began last summer. Inspired by the Madison Capitol protests and the Tar Sands actions, leadership from Jobs with Justice, National People’s Action and the National Domestic Workers Alliance realized that the 2012 election year needed to be about issues, not the candidates.
A meeting was called for November 2011 — and then, in mid-September, Occupy Wall Street began. “As a professional organizer, I was really humbled” says Cushman about OWS. “They were able to shift the entire national debate with the way they were organizing. We realized that nonviolent direct action is the way we have to go because the democratic system isn’t responsive anymore.”
Earlier this month, more than 70 people participated in a two-day national training in preparation for the upcoming regional trainings. The hope is that more than 1,100 trainers will be equipped to organize local trainings in their communities during the week of April 9–15, when more than 700 trainings around the country have already been scheduled.
Each training will have its own local flavor, depending on who the trainers are and where it is located, but a common curriculum ties The 99% Spring together. In an email sent from SEIU Vice President Steve Thorton to potential trainers, he broke down what to expect at each event: storytelling; teach-ins on economics; community-building skills; goals, strategies and tactics to mount campaigns; and, of course, techniques of nonviolent direct action.
OWS Press team volunteer Dana Balicki sees this as at least a step in the right direction. “The groups of the 99% Spring are groups that can engage mainstream America,” she says. “They haven’t stepped up enough, they need to be pushed, but this effort can be a good thing.”