As the Occupy movement enters its second month, it has remained fiercely resistant to any kind of political message beyond "We are the 99 percent." If a recent encounter between Occupy Oakland and an established political advocacy group is any indication, that resistance is unlikely to erode any time soon.
The advocacy group, MoveOn, raises money for candidates and supports progressive causes. Earlier this year, it worked with Van Jones, an Oakland activist who served briefly as President Barack Obama's green-jobs czar, to launch “Rebuild the Dream,” a campaign to counterbalance the tea party movement’s influence in politics.
To support that campaign, the national MoveOn organization issued a mandate to its local branches: Organize protests and marches on Oct. 15 around “Rebuild the Dream” and voice a list of 10 demands on topics ranging from green jobs to health care.
Following that directive, an East Bay MoveOn group on Saturday led a march to the Federal Building in Oakland and presented the demands to a representative of Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
The group had initially planned to hold the event a block away, at Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, and applied for permits months in advance — before Occupy Oakland set up its encampment there.
But when the Occupy group learned about the event, which was tightly scheduled and included more than 30 speakers, including the mayors of Oakland, Berkeley and Richmond, participants voiced strong opposition.
“We, as a group, don’t want any political office at this time speaking to us for any reason,” said Adam Willis, 42, who has been active in the Occupy movement. “We’re against the Democratic party and the Republican party. I think it’s important that we don’t let anyone or any organization co-opt this movement.”
Occupy Oakland appears to be as much about rejecting the current political process — including the well-oiled advocacy groups that participate in it — as it is about denouncing corporate greed.
“The problem is when political parties co-opt a movement like this and incorporate it into the system, it loses its effectiveness,” said Jason Ozolins, 28, an Occupy Oakland protester who has been camping out at Occupy Oakland and was at the MoveOn demonstration. “MoveOn seems to be trying to take the Occupy Movement and turn it into a get-out-the-vote for Obama in 2012.”
Occupy Oakland said if MoveOn wanted to hold its demonstration in the plaza, which is a public space, it had to follow Occupy's rules for using the plaza's auditorium. Occupy requires speakers to follow a “stack” system, in which anybody who wants to speak lines up.
MoveOn rejected the stack system and chose instead to have the politicians speak at Laney College, where it had also secured permits to demonstrate. From there, the group marched to the Federal Building, and then to the plaza in support of Occupy Oakland.
“When they moved in to Oakland last week, we were really happy,” MoveOn volunteer Selina Williams said. But conversations about the event quickly became “aggressive and conflict-ridden.”
Williams disputes the notion that MoveOn was trying to co-opt the Occupy movement. “I don’t understand. Does wanting to help raise awareness of Occupy mean we want to co-opt it?” she said.
As the Occupy movement spread across the nation in recent weeks, MoveOn added a pop-up window on its website, asking readers to sign a petition supporting the “Occupy Wall Street” movement.
But many members of the Occupy movement in Oakland and beyond say such actions are too little, too late. They claim that MoveOn was silent in the early days of Occupy Wall Street when the mainstream media marginalized it, said Occupy protester Andy Susich.
“If they really cared about the movement, they could have brought us into the conversation early on,” Susich said. “But they didn’t and now they’re focusing on the election angle of it, and they’re showing their true colors.”