Reprinted with permission from the author, Charles Lechner. First published here.
This past weekend I attended the Training for Trainers (T4T) of the 99% Spring. This is being organized by a very large and powerful coalition in which MoveOn is one of the larger partners, as is the AFL-CIO. The 99% Spring action plan is fairly straightforward: train 100,000 people in non-violent direct action (NVDA).
On the one hand, this is obviously a progressive agenda that most occupiers would agree with. On the other, occupiers have struggled with the fear of cooptation to an exhausting degree. I’ve participated in online and in person conversations about the 99%Spring, and the critiques fall into three main arguments:
- MoveOn and the DC based labor movement bureaucracy can’t be trusted as they are committed to working within the system and for Democratic candidates.
- The 99%Spring uses occupy inspired themes and memes (“the 99%”) but without doing the hard work of actually working with Occupy Wall Street.
- The overall effort seems utterly disconnected from the nationwide May First plans that many (most?) occupiers are actively working towards, which are also referenced with “spring” language.
- This isn’t it’s own thing, but rather me making fun of how the nervous nellies respond to larger forces in the political world: “Halp! We’re being coopted! The Democratic Party is both capable and interested in implementing a well thought out plan to make us serve their interests!“
Speaking as an occupier most active in the Tech Ops Working Group of the NYC General Assembly, my first response to the 99%Spring was envy. Why aren’t we initiating, leading or participating in this kind of serious coalition work? But that’s unfair. We are working on May First actions, which in New York include a march carried out together with labor and the immigrants’ rights movements. What we aren’t doing is training 100,000 activists and organizers in nonviolent direct action. So why not welcome an effort that is doing that?
The T4T Training
I’m just back from two days of training for trainers, and this is my verdict: the Training for Trainers was fantastic. Hundreds of people in attended the same training as me in New York, and thousands more took part across the country.
The folks attending the training represented a cross section of our country’s progressive, 99% movement. I met community organizers, peace activists, union members, occupiers, and many more. The group was inter-generational, racially diverse, gender balanced, and included folks from all NYC boroughs, Long Island, CT, NJ, and upstate. My impression is that most are experienced organizers, but from many different traditions and organizational homes.
The curriculum had three parts:
- The first is your basic Marshall Ganz story of self/us. This is training delivered for years now at countless political and organizational homes, including my old synagogue. For those who don’t know, Ganz started his career at the United Farm Workers, working with Cesar Chavez.
- The second is your basic nonviolent direct action training, with roots in Gene Sharp, Training for Change, and the Direct Action Group that emerged post-Seattle in the anti-globalization movement. It wasn’t out of step with anything that say, Starhawk or Lisa Fithian or the Ruckus society would have done.
- The third part was the story of the 1% vs. the 99%. It’s basic training in understanding the economic crisis and our collective crisis as a country. This is more or less the kind of training being used by unions and community organizing groups around the country for the last 2-3 years.
There was zero, none, nada discussion of the Obama campaign, electoral politics, the Democratic Party, or MoveOn. To sum up then, the critiques against the 99%Spring are false. Those who lobbed uninformed critiques are now in a position of having to apologize and take back their words or lose a certain amount of credibility. The ‘proved’ that MoveOn provided real support for an amazing, collaborative effort resting on principles and teachings widely used inside and outside the Occupy movement.
The Larger Context
Questions might still be asked about the ultimate purpose of MoveOn, unions, and the long list of community organizing groups that make up the 99%Spring effort. One of the most important is: Where is this coming from? What might it be going?
The information I have is based in part on conversations with folks who know better than me. Sorry about no sources, but here goes:
- Liz Butler of the Movement Strategy Center is one of the prime movers and shakers of this effort.
- The overall strategy seems to be similar or based on what Stephen Lerner (formerly of SEIU) was articulating in a series of talks about “creating a crisis for the rich.” In a nutshell, it proposes mass direct action aimed broadly at the 1% in order to force them to make concessions.
- When we talk about ‘demands’ or ‘goals’ there are laundry lists galore. Winning strikes, raising taxes, winning elections, targeting specific corporations, etc. But behind all those disparate goals lies a framework: increasing the share of wealth that flows to the 99% and reducing the portion controlled by the 1%. That’s the prize. And large parts of the power structure (i.e., Democrats and even some corporations) think it’s a good thing too.
- Getting MoveOn to be part of this coalition isn’t as simple as it looks. MoveOn is large enough to do whatever it wants without local partners, and for a long time that’s what it did. But the last few years have seen greater efforts to partner, with Van Jones’ Rebuild the Dream as the shining example But the 99%Spring is an example of a large powerful organization placing resources in the service of a pretty radical agenda and allowing others to take the lead.
- Others that include Domestic Workers United, a labor rights organization representing working class women of color. One of their staff members, Harmony Goldberg, was a lead trainer this weekend. If you think Goldberg is a MoveOn/DemParty dupe, please shoot yourself right now. Whew! You’re still here! Thank god.
Where Does That Leave Us?
Based on my experiences this weekend, all I can say is – sign up for the trainings to take place on April 9-16. Help organize more trainings. Invite as many occupiers to attend as possible. Consider the advantage of influencing all those moderate, not radical enough people likely to attend and how our superior political praxis will surely attract them to let go of their electoral illusions.
And then, after considering such a vision, let it go, because it’s bullshit. The training is quite good. Go because it’s great to be on the same page for a moment with eager, enthusiastic 99 percenters who want to make this great land of ours a better one. Drop your defenses (if you have any) and rest assured no one is talking about elections. Let’s focus on the original OWS vision: mass, creative, effective direct action against the banks, Wall Streeters and political forces that drove our economy off a cliff and want to charge us for getting back on the precipice again.