Bil Browning

It's Not Occupy Madison Avenue After All

Filed By Bil Browning | October 20, 2011 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Politics
Tags: bumper sticker, Democracy for America, occupy Wall Street, selling out, TV commercial

The Occupy Wall Street folks have put out a commercial. Well, probably not the actual occupiers, but some outfit supporting the protestors and who mean well.

I got an email today from Democracy for America touting Occupy Wall Street bumperstickers. You can get one for free if you voluntarily give them your personal information so they can keep hitting you up later for donations or to assist one of the political parties who've put us in this position with their craven ass-kissing of the bankers and big donors.

You can send them $10 and they'll send you ten bumperstickers to put on your shining symbol of American capitalism and industriousness that was potentially built by one of the large companies deemed "too big to fail" and given a bailout by the government.

So does this undermine the authenticity of OWS? Are they co-opting Occupy Wall Street?

During the planning for the National Equality March, I advocated frequently for the small grassroots group to put together the funding to hire a public relations professional to help them spread the word and get media attention. One firm I found agreed to do it for a large discount, but the organizers still deemed it too high. They ended up hiring a small-time outfit who basically did it for cost; you get what you pay for, however, and the story of the march didn't garner much lasting mainstream media attention.

During the planning for the march it frustrated me to no end when some of the folks would argue that since they were a grassroots group they didn't need any paid professionals doing anything. It didn't just extend to the public relations segment either.

When I first met Kip Williams, one of the main organizers, I kept hammering home how important it was to have the event planned and not just flying on a hope and a dream. I'd ask questions about "How is this or that going to happen?" and get a shrug in response. Granted, it was still early in the process and I'm known for being a little contrary, but it seemed like a given that some of this stuff simply had to happen.

Jerame, Kip, and I met up with a friend of mine in New York who's a veteran organizer and politico. I'll never forget what he said to Kip about planning the event and how it related to the media's coverage.

After dismissing all of the flowery talk about equality and hope and whatnot, my friend asked one question as his opener. "What's your plans for the porta-potties? That's the most important thing."

Kip looked at him and admitted that he didn't know.

"You've got hot bears and twinks who've been marching and drinking water (or more) all day long and don't have a place to go to the bathroom? So how is your march going to look on CNN when you've got all these guys pissing in the wading pool and fountains?"

His point was made. The best of intentions simply aren't enough.

One of the most common memes coming out of Occupy Wall Street has been that the organizers have no cohesive message. They're flailing around like damn liberals proclaiming all of society's ills. Can't they just concentrate and spoon feed it to us like the Tea Party did? What were they upset about? Taxes. "Obamacare." Too much government (except in limited circumstances where it benefited them personally, of course).

The OWS protesters have had varied reasons for participating, but so did Tea Party participants. Sure, several of them have spoken to the media and made idiots of themselves. So did several Tea Party attendees. Your general "man on the street" interview gets you more of the same. Not all people are rocket scientists and even the smart folks don't always sound/look good on TV.

I've seen some overarching solid themes the Occupy Wall Street protesters keep repeating. Wealth distribution. Unemployment. Government collusion with Wall Street. So how do those simple items get lifted up to talking points and repeated non-stop on the nightly news?

You get outfits like the one who made this video to create viral messages that help to reinforce the protesters demands for social justice. With a grassroots base, you'll end up getting some crap but you'll also get some really good stuff like this one. And then you use it to the best extend of your capabilities. You let others do your work for you.

Professionals and grassroots organizers can work together. This isn't an either/or proposition. As with all things, there's shades of grey involved. If you ask me (and if you've read this far in the post, you want to know what I think so I'm gonna call that close enough), this isn't about co-opting the movement; it's about building on it.

Unfortunate tie-ins notwithstanding.


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Bil you are right. Too often we have a ton of people behind an issue and they have no idea how to get their message to others. We should all be commenting and cross connecting our comments to twitter, facebook and any other social interface we can find. We should be asking our links to tweet and post to their walls. We should ask for likes and ups and we should be asking our newspapers to review what we are posting. The professionals can work with us and we need to be working with them.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 21, 2011 8:43 AM

These, as the English say, are early days. OWS, at its best, is a precursor, a mild pre-shock indicating the massive upsurge of fury against the depression, mass long term unemployment and escalating poverty - one in six for workers and one in five for children. That anger is fueling a change in consciousness among millions.

OWS lacks the power of unions, the heavy infantry of the workers movement. Both OWS and the old guard union leaders are incapable of posing questions in sharp class conscious, class warfare terms. Even so, for all their naiveté OWS is much better at it than Trumka and most of the AFL-CIO leadership. At some point as the movement begins to grow and as the looter class try to derail or defeat OWS, the antiwar, antiracist, women's, GLBT and union movements will have to mature to survive. The looter class plays for keeps. That will mean adopting a revolutionary and socialist perspective.

Walk like an Egyptian is a very good start, but at some point we're going to have to learn to walk like Sam Adams and John Brown.

If we're up to it the emergence of redemocratized, reenergized unions, the recreation of mass struggle organizations for women, people of color, GLBT people and the antiwar movement imbued with a revolutionary perspective is the only thing that can save us. Beyond that we need to create workers parties that can tap and then galvanize the energy of newly radicalized activists and fighters.

Those activists are undergoing a huge change in class consciousness. For now it's only a few tens of thousands, but soon it'll draw in hundreds of thousands and in a surprisingly short time that will increase to millions. Organizing them, leading them with better unions and mass struggle organizations and above all with workers parties are the most important things we need to do to win.

In those efforts we'll need more, not less democracy and an elected, as opposed to a self appointed, leadership.

Considering that Sam Adams was an upper middle class Harvard boy whose early life was shaped by his farther's participation in a fraudulent "land bank" scheme that got shut down by the government and who was never able to hold an honest job in his life, he's a pretty ironic person to be naming as a role model for OWS.


Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 21, 2011 8:51 PM

Let's get this right. You're actually claiming that your faux aristo, royalist version of Adams father's actions somehow makes Sam Adams inclusion in the roster of revolution heroes 'ironic.' That doesn't make a whole lot sense. It appears to be unscientific, mean spirited and contrived.

"Adams's life was greatly affected by his father's involvement in a banking controversy. In 1739, with Massachusetts facing a serious currency shortage, Deacon Adams and the Boston Caucus created a "land bank", which issued paper money to borrowers who mortgaged their land as security. The land bank was generally supported by the citizenry and the popular party, which dominated the House of Representatives, the lower branch of the General Court. Opposition to the land bank came from the more aristocratic "court party"… which "used its influence to have the British Parliament dissolve the land bank in 1741. I guess your evaluation of Adams depends on whether you're a mean spirited faux aristo or a left winger who supports the people. I didn't know much about Adams father until you donned your powdered white wig and slandered him. Now I like him and his son even more.

Sam Adams was a revolutionist who famously said "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!”

What kind of 'people' do you think he was referring to Arceneaux?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 21, 2011 2:12 PM

Let's get this right. You're actually claiming that your faux aristo, royalist version of Adams father's actions somehow makes Sam Adams inclusion in the roster of revolution heroes 'ironic.' That doesn't make a whole lot sense. It appears to be unscientific, mean spirited and contrived.

"Adams's life was greatly affected by his father's involvement in a banking controversy. In 1739, with Massachusetts facing a serious currency shortage, Deacon Adams and the Boston Caucus created a "land bank", which issued paper money to borrowers who mortgaged their land as security. The land bank was generally supported by the citizenry and the popular party, which dominated the House of Representatives, the lower branch of the General Court. Opposition to the land bank came from the more aristocratic "court party"… which "used its influence to have the British Parliament dissolve the land bank in 1741. I guess your evaluation of Adams depends on whether you're a mean spirited faux aristo or a left winger who support the people. I didn't know much about Adams father until you donned your powdered white wig and slandered him. Now I like him and his son.

Sam Adams was a revolutionist who famously said"If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude than the animated contest of freedom, go from us in peace. We ask not your counsels or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains sit lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen!”

What kind of 'people' do you think he was referring to Arceneaux?

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 21, 2011 2:14 PM

Oops, my reply is above.

John Brown was a terrorist and murderer, not a role model.

Bill Perdue Bill Perdue | October 21, 2011 8:49 PM

"John Brown was a terrorist and murderer, not a role model.

Only to those unablereal terrorist and those who, however vainly, resisted them. Brown scared the bejebuz out ot the slavers. His raid appeared to be motivated by his dual desire to arm slaves and to prevent encroachments by the slavorracy into Northern 'Free' states.

It's not hard to identify the real terrorists. Karl Marx did it a few months after the Civil War began. The Second American Revolution was forced on a reluctant Lincoln and the Republicans by slave owning traitors. Finally the secessionists resolved to force the Union government out of its passive attitude by a blatant act of war, and solely for this reason proceeded to the bombardment of Fort Sumter near Charleston. On April 11 (1861) their General Beauregard had learnt in a meeting with Major Anderson, the commander of Fort Sumter, that the fort was only supplied with provisions for three days more and accordingly must be peacefully surrendered after this period. In order to forestall this peaceful surrender, the secessionists opened the bombardment early on the following morning (April 12), which brought about the fall of the fort in a few hours." Karl Marx, London, October 1861

Brown attempted to follow in the long and splendid history of revolutionaries including Nat Turner, Denmark Vesey, Gabriel Prosser and Toussaint L'Ouverture of Haiti. His great and fatal mistake was his wrongheaded, desperate belief that he could short circuit history and 'spark' a revolution without a huge network of supporters and without the determined consent of those who'd be doing that fighting and the dying.