The "99% Spring" Movement to Train 100,000 Activists: Co-Opting Occupy or Helping Spread its Message?
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Both OWS and the organizations involved in The 99% Spring encompass a wide range of views regarding electoral politics and the means for social change. MoveOn.org actively campaigns for Obama, while other participating groups like the Ruckus Society are known for more radical, issue-based campaigns involving direct action.
Still, some are skeptical that an organization like MoveOn.org must be up to something. An anonymous writer at CounterPunch has alleged that The 99% Spring is really a MoveOn.org front for the Democratic Party, here quoting activist John Stauber:
[“]In this latest case, the so-called 99 Spring, MoveOn is enlisting other NGOs to create the appearance of a populist uprising from the Left, when it’s all about keeping the rabble in line and aimed at the Republicans to re-elect Obama,” he continued.
As will be seen throughout this series on foundation-funded Democratic Party aligned non-profit groups poisoning the genuine grassroots, MoveOn.org is far from the only culprit playing this rotten and cynical game.
CounterPunch also cites former MoveOn.org employee Ilyse Hogue’s controversial article in The Nation, “Occupy is Dead! Long Live Occupy!”, which contends that Occupy’s modus operandi has outlived its usefulness — while having fired up the more established institutions. A 99% Spring, therefore, would seem to be Occupy’s grown-up, more institution-friendly replacement. The CounterPunch article has circulated on Occupy organizer email lists, spreading fears that progressive organizations are trying to hijack OWS’ energy or co-opt its message for their own purposes.
But, in the same issue of The Nation, historian Frances Fox Piven rejects the “false dilemma” between electoral politics and protest movements. Piven argues that
movements work against politicians because they galvanize and polarize voters and threaten to cleave the majorities and wealthy backers that politicians work to hold together. … [T]he great victories that have been won in the past were won precisely because politicians were driven to make choices in the form of policy concessions that would win back some voters, even at the cost of losing others.
The Occupy movement and establishmentarian anything — politics, corporations, non-profits — will always have an odd relationship, but that they would have some relationship is inevitable. Just as many Occupy organizers have backgrounds working in more traditional organizations, it’s hard to imagine The 99% Spring without the inspiration of Occupy. “It says something about the power of the Occupy movement,” says Zack Malitz, a Tar Sands Action volunteer who is planning a 99% Spring training,“to have made it politically possible for so many organizations to commit to training 100,000 people for nonviolent direct action.”
But OWS is about more than just direct action. Its emphasis on horizontalism and decentralization is at the heart of its approach to achieving social change as well. The OWS General Assembly’s “ Statement of Autonomy” warns, “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.” It’s not clear to what extent organizers of The 99% Spring intend to do this. It may end up happening just by default, because so many people have been involved in Occupy encampments over the past few months, participating in Occupy culture.
The organizers of The 99% Spring have been careful not to imply that they are OWS. “We don’t want to pretend that this is an Occupy-endorsed thing,” says Joy Cushman. “But the 99 percent and 1 percent frame is very helpful to explain our understanding of the world and our constituency.” She adds that individual occupiers have been involved as trainers and in shaping the curriculum for The 99% Spring. “The energy that they bring, the moral clarity is very helpful for more institutional groups — unions, MoveOn. It’s radicalizing them, in a way.”