“Should Occupy get involved in electoral politics?” was the question that kicked off a panel today on “Occupy and electoral politics,” part of a national Occupy forum happening in DC all this week.
No, seemed to the short answer from most of the speakers and attendees here. And while any Occupier will say no one can speak on behalf of the rest of the movement, the consensus inside the Quaker Meeting House in Dupont Circle, at least, was that Occupiers should be focused on something much bigger than winning a few elections in November.
“I don’t see any opportunity inside electoral politics this year,” long-time activist and former Ralph Nader spokesperson Kevin Zeese remarked.
The speakers called for building a “deeper” grassroots movement outside electoral politices to “build power first,” then maybe a robust third party or infrastructure several years down the road.
“There’s always this emphasis on winning,” Occupy Wall Street’s Ian Williams said. “But do we want to win or do we want to transform the world?”
And while conservative claims that the Occupy movement is a vanguard wing of the Obama campaign, the Occupiers themselves seem uninterested in helping anyone. “The Democrats are a graveyard for progressive movements,” labor organizer Mark Dudzic said. “To think that you can somehow transform that party into something that it’s not designed to do is a fools errand,” he said, dismissing the Tea Party’s approach to remaking the GOP.
“[Do] not get involved in the Obama campaign this year,” Zeese made it clear. Follow Martin Luther King’s advice, Zeese, suggested — “never endorse a candidate.” “He didn’t want to be master or servent of either party. … And that’s, I think, where Occupy should be.”
Existing third parties like the Greens aren’t of much value either, according to Dudzic, “except they make some people feel good for thinking that they’re being pure.” “It’s like lifestyle activism, where you buy organic coffee and think you’re saving the world.”
Still, the mood was more optimistic when a man from Ohio brought up activists’ efforts to overturn the state’s anti-union SB-5 law. Local elections and ballot initiatives, most seemed to agree, offer better opportunities for engagement than presidential elections.