Is Occupy’s ‘Purity’ Under Assault?

Hardliners in the Occupy movement have begun equating police infiltrators and other enemies with Occupy supporters who favor some practical electoral and legislative goals. There is alarmist talk about the need to protect Occupy’s revolutionary purity from these reformers, as Danny Schechter explains.

By Danny Schechter

Perhaps my problem is that I live in too many worlds at once, while many political eras live in me. That may be why I responded so negatively to a recent polemic wrapped up in a poetic communiqué from Adbusters, the culture jammers in Canada who do so much good work (and often so creatively) battling the consumption virus promoted by big corporations many of us have grown to despise.

I respect their magazine and marvel at the impact they have had in helping to stir Occupy Wall Street into existence. They clearly feel a sense of ownership in the movement and act not just as the midwife that promoted the Occupy idea, but as the guardians of their version of the movement’s essence, as if they own the copyright and have to defend it aggressively in the court of public opinion.

Adbusters' graphic regarding alleged assault on the "soul" of the Occupy movement

Their latest communiqué, directed to “jammers, occupiers and Springtime dreamers,” is offered up almost like a new commandment from the mountaintop of political purity, warning one and all “that a new enemy is in their midst that is threatening to neutralize our insurgency with an insidious campaign of donor money and co-optation.”

Batten down the hatches! Defend the ramparts! Fly the flag! They then call for a “fight to the finish” to defend the “soul of Occupy” that they claim is menaced by a “THEY” that is out to get us like some boogie man that acts like a virus and can’t be resisted. Will “Black Bloc” militants become their enforcers?

Who is the THEY? Nefarious bankers on Wall Street? The CIA and Blackwater-type mercenaries? Karl Rove and the Koch Brothers? No, their new enemy is not an external threat but an internal one that the Adbusters have no use for, alleged operatives of the Obama campaign urging Occupy activists to take part in the electoral process and to seek concrete legislative reforms.

But read on: “First they silenced our uprising with a media blackout then they smashed our encampments with midnight paramilitary raids And now? They are planning to destroy all that that we built.”

The brutal police raids on Occupy and the initial media indifference are conflated with these alleged Obama operatives on a stealth mission of co-optation. There’s no real evidence cited, but that’s not the point of this appeal to fear. Political paranoia is always driven by what COULD happen, not necessarily what is happening,

The political theory behind all this is that Occupy is not just the vanguard of the revolution but the revolution itself, and it is in danger of being stifled by reformers who fear its imminent success in toppling capitalism. How realistic is that?

This worst-case scenario is projected as a coordinated and calculated strategy by groups that Adbusters put down in terms reminiscent of the way the Chinese cultural revolution demonized and stigmatized millions of people as counter-revolutionaries, a process that tore the Chinese Revolution apart using strident ideology to silence a “class enemy.”

Were there class enemies? Sure, there always are. But thousands of innocent people were accused and abused by ultra-leftists on a mission from Mao. Today’s self-appointed and unelected commissars of new consciousness say they see  a new set of counter-revolutionaries out to snuff Occupy.

They ask: “Will you allow Occupy to become a project of the old left, the same cabal of old world thinkers who have blunted the possibility of revolution for decades? Will you allow MoveOn, The Nation and Ben & Jerry to put the brakes on our Spring Offensive and turn our struggle into a ‘99% Spring’ reelection campaign for President Obama?”

Is this really what is happening or is it more like a conspiratorial fabrication? Is this type of insulting language really appropriate for a movement that claims to be democratic and inclusive?

MoveOn and Van Jones have denied they are trying to control the movement, refuse to speak in its name, and couldn’t steal its thunder if they wanted to. The Nation is just one magazine of many that has been sympathetic to Occupy, but also supports the more structured but very democratic resistance in Wisconsin that Adbusters ignores.

Ben & Jerry are individuals, former business partners, who want to help by raising money for Occupy after consulting with many activists on how they could be helpful. They seem sincere to me.

Why is all this so threatening? Why the fearful and purist denunciation? Can’t they respect people who unlike Occupy’s core activists don’t make decisions at General Assemblies?

Occupy has in the past sought coalitions with labor unions and black community groups that often have more traditional leadership structures. They haven’t tried to dictate politically correct processes that allies and supporters must accept. Why this intolerance now?

By the way, I have been pouring my heart out in books, blogs and films and opinion pieces on about the failures of Barack Obama’s administration in combating the financial crimes that enabled the depression we are coping with. My latest exposes his campaign’s pandering on terrorism and threatening Iran.

MoveOn would not help me promote my work, neither has the Nation, really, or, for that matter, Ben & Jerry, whose work I admired more before they sold their company to a mainstream corporation (although they have been engaged in admirable campaigns challenging military spending for years.)

That doesn’t make them all sell-outs. Even if in the eyes of some, they are the “enemy” because they aren’t “horizontal” enough, or anti-capitalist enough, or anarchistic enough and may act more like reformers than Adbusters-approved revolutionaries.

On Friday, NYU hosted a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the Port Huron Statement, the founding document of SDS that sparked activism in the 1960s. Former SDS leader Tom Hayden was on hand to tell his some stories about that era.

He noted that the central idea of Port Huron, “participatory democracy,” also appears in Occupy’s first declaration, suggesting continuity with the so-called “old thinkers” whom Adbusters gratuitously deride.

Hayden also recounted how liberals with whom SDS were aligned at first demanded that their movement become more outspokenly anti-communist, even as the movement rejected the cold war.

When SDS wouldn’t go along with this arrogant old-left thinking, (funded in part by the CIA), there was an internal “trial” and interrogation that led to SDS’s defunding and ouster from its offices. According to Hayden, it was a scene right out of Kafka, not unlike the tone of this recent communiqué.

SDS stood true to its principles and politics and refused to work with the people who tried to control them. The result: SDS grew more influential.

The organization successfully resisted co-optation and fought for racial justice and against the war in Vietnam. It supported organizing on campuses and in communities. It challenged the Democratic Party, which later also fragmented over the war, with Richard Nixon the ultimate beneficiary of all the discord.

But SDS couldn’t find a way of bridging its own ideological divides and the movement broke into warring factions that led to an organizational implosion. There also was plenty of paranoia and repression, with the government covertly pitting one group against another, using the FBI, racism and phony appeals to patriotism.

There was plenty of blame to go around. Today, there may be parallels here with this call to “save the soul” of Occupy. Can we learn from SDS’s destructive history of acrimony and sectarianism or are we doomed to repeat it?

News Dissector Danny Schechter wrote Occupy: Dissecting Occupy Wall Street (Cosimo Books) based on his coverage for his blog, Al and other outlets and also directed a TV film on the organization of Zuccotti Park. Earliet, he  was an activist in the civil rights, anti-war and anti-apartheid movements. Comments to [email protected]

10 comments for “Is Occupy’s ‘Purity’ Under Assault?

  1. F. G. Sanford
    April 15, 2012 at 23:57

    Occupy picked an appropriate target, for appropriate reasons, but has no idea how to pursue a goal, much less any idea what that goal should be. It’s not just dead on arrival, it’s beginning to emit foul vapors. It reeks of putrescine and cadaverine. Reminds me of the “hippy” days, when ‘peace and love’ were all the rage, but the only ones profiting were the pop-culture mercantilists, the drug dealers and the record industry. A few manipulators want to achieve “guru” status by imposing a lofty but unrealistic philosophical point of view, while the whole thing continues to collapse into irrelevance. The hippy drug dealers had it right: “Money talks, and bullshit walks”. It’s over, and you heard it here first.

  2. April 15, 2012 at 19:35

    Yes, The 99% Spring Is A Fraud :

    As are the other demoblican fronts. Republicrats don’t even pretend. Their function is to ‘force’ us to be demoblicans.

    If it says it’s ‘Occupy’… it’s not. Occupy is the non-organization. I’ve got that. I’m a great fan of ‘slime molds’ :

    But showing up and Occuppying… to what end? What needs to be occupied are the House, the Senate, the White House, and the Supreme Court. Our present electoral process makes that impossible, so we must… innovate… seems to me.

    We need write-in ONLY ballots followed by iterative elections until one candidate receives a MAJORITY of the votes cast.

    The only way we’re going to have elections like that is to do it ourselves, setting up on card-tables outside our precinct polls and then counting the votes, Every week until winners emerge from among ourselves.

    This is not a one-shot deal. But if we do whatever it takes… and my ears are open to alternatives… we will prevail.

    We all know that. We just haven’t been punished enough, apparently.

    So the beatings will continue.

  3. Al
    April 15, 2012 at 07:22

    Nobody owns this movement. If Occupy is to succeed, it mus be a hub that unites all of us who have been struggling against capitalism for decades and a foundation for a much larger unified movement. That is happening — at least where I live. I’m not a member of MoveOn though, as a long-time activist, I’m on their list. They are doing good work and not shilling for Obama. The CWA is also on board and this is important because we need organized labor in what is essentially the class struggle. I don’t put any trust in the AFL-CIO but there are good unions and I hope to see more UE involvement. Here in Virginia, Virginia Organizing is playing a part in our coalition of the 99% and they have a great track record of grassroots activism and success. I am a Virginia Organizing member and also in Occupy Norfolk.

    What Occupy is learning is that being organized takes being organized and that there is a big difference between co-option and coalition. Yes, the Feds and their corporatist sycophants on the right will do their best to infiltrate, provoke, set up, and discredit our movement but without all of us, together, united in our experience and our committed determination to crush the monster that is destroying us and to build a better world we are finished. For the 99% this is a life and death struggle. Let’s not let anyone — including Adbusters and “purists” divide and defeat us.

  4. dickreilly
    April 14, 2012 at 16:26

    Have no illusions. What we have here is a slick but pretty predictable astroturf operation to surf the wave created by Occupy Wall Street. Van Jones, MoveOn, the AFL-CIO leadership and other major organizational players know full well that they have the tacit support of Obama campaign strategists, who see real utility in having Occupiers – and progressives in general – target right wing Republican candidates and their corporate sponsors, leaving the campaign free to court swing voters. And Danny knows this.

    The acid test has been the willingness of the 99% Spring organizers to challenge Democratic power brokers- and their corporate sponsors. It ain’t happening. Note that the key NGO’s underwriting and staffing the 99% Spring initative have very pointedly avoided endorsing or supporting efforts to mobilize grassroots opposition to the May 20 NATO summit in Chicago. That’s because they know that the NATO summit will not only be a conclave for the military wing of the global 1%, it will also be a major Obama campaign event, which along with the G8 summit at Camp David, has been scripted to highlight Obama’s leadership role in global affairs. And nobody calling the shots in the 99% Spring initiative wants to rain on that particular parade.

    I’m betting that we’ll see a “Occupy the Ballot Box” meme introduced into the mix before the end of the summer by the same players.
    about an hour ago · Like

    • Lina
      April 14, 2012 at 23:34

      So many people feel like they have the inside line on the ‘direction’ that Moveon, or whoever, intends to take the 99% Spring. Guess what- the 99% Spring is a mass TRAINING effort. There IS no agenda beyond that made by the group that is trained. If a Moveon group gets trained, I bet they will chose to use Non Violent Direct Action to forward their Moveon agenda. But MANY groups who are voiciferously NOT Moveon are being trained in the same push. 99% Spring is A TRAINING PUSH, the agenda is to train people to use NVDA to forward their goals- whatever they are. People who talk about anyones ‘agenda’ in the 99% Spring dont know what they are talking about. Get trained in NVDA and go do your own thing. Thats what the 99% Spring is all about. The paranoia around would be is hilarious if it wasnt so un-informed.

  5. BKAfroLatina
    April 14, 2012 at 16:21

    So typical of self-appointed-ego-driven-messiahs-of-all-oppressed-people, i.e OWS and MoveOn. I didn’t know that anyone or any group had the right to say they own a movement. Then again, us colored people in the hood know damn well that this isn’t our movement. Keep having your “who-stole-the-cookie” fights while the rest of us worry about bread and butter. Shameful.

  6. Bill
    April 14, 2012 at 14:37

    Of *course* the group’s been infiltrated. That’s not paranoia. That’s just common sense.

    No. Anyone who tries to latch this movement to the Democrat Party needs to take a hike. Her leaders are backstabbing little weasels and will be until the day they die.

  7. Hillary
    April 14, 2012 at 10:22

    Surely if the CIA and its offshoots can infiltrate and manipulate groups in Iraq , Libya , Pakistan and Iran they will have no problem infiltrating and manipulating the “Occupy Wall Street” crowd or any other “American Spring” patriotic effort.

    Maybe “The goose is already cooked “

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