Occupy Movement and the Economy

Operation Cooptation:
The Dems Try to Seduce the Occupation Movement

By Glen Ford

If the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon were to collapse tomorrow, it will have already greatly advanced the struggle against the rule of finance capital, simply by virtue of having pointed out that Wall Street does, indeed, rule. For the general, white American public, from which the initiators of the movement spring, the idea that finance capital utterly dominates every mechanism of societal power, is felt as a kind of revelation. The relatively sudden intrusion, historically speaking, of this elemental fact of life under the current order, which was thrust so painfully into the collective consciousness by the meltdown of 2008 and the great “betrayals” that followed in such swift and stunning succession, threatens to detonate like a social bomb. The explosive human device has implanted itself in the very “belly of the beast”—politically, figuratively and, in the case of the New York City encampment, literally.

Like a political Andromeda Strain, the anti-Wall Street phenomenon has replicated itself in a thousand locations, a pattern of leftish activism resembling a new and successful cell-phone service map; everyone seems, potentially, connected.

The Lords of Capital understand they are at peril—or, more accurately, they employ legions of people in all social sectors and both major parties (and plenty of better camouflaged political groupings) who are well compensated to figure out such situations for them, and to respond accordingly. The cooptation offensive is in full swing, commissioned from the very top of the Democratic Party, which is determined to claim the Occupation movement as its own.

African Americans are the indispensable ingredient in any genuine U.S. progressive movement. Historically, Blacks are the constituency that is most opposed to war and to concentrations of economic power, most eager to join unions, most concerned with issues of elemental social justice, and the most aggrieved in good times and bad. That African Americans were initially slow to join the occupations can be explained by the white organizers’ shallow contacts with Blacks. But a much more serious challenge looms. The Democrats, who are as wedded to Wall Street money as the GOP, know full well that any significant crack in the “Black Wall” around Obama will mean defeat in 2012. And they are aware that historical Black progressivism and distrust of Power has been effectively short-circuited by the advent of the First Black President. That’s why African Americans are prime targets of the Democrats’ cooptation response, along with the heavily overlapping union constituency.

The goal, of course, is to keep the attentions of African Americans and unionists focused on the Republicans and their Tea Party annex, as opposed to Wall Street, with which the administration has been intimately entwined from day-one. Therefore, the Democrats are the most clear and present danger to the Occupation Movement, because their entire purpose is to negate the central message: that Wall Street controls both parties, all three branches of government, and most social discourse in the United States. Republicans growl on the sidelines about “mobs” and “anti-Americanism,” with little effect. But the Democrats aim to divert the movement into nonexistence, to reduce it to (warmed over) Obama groupies and snuff out its potential in the bud.

Obama will contort himself to woo the Occupation forces while simultaneously raising a billion dollars from Wall Street—a great learning and teaching moment for the movement, if it is not itself enmeshed in the charade. The president believes he can convert the movement into an asset, blaming Republicans for “obstructionism” while offering them bigger social service cuts than they’ve demanded; keeping Social Security “on the table” for his entire term in office; expanding the theaters of war while claiming to be saddled with an inheritance from Bush; and protecting the bankers at every significant juncture. But, like all corporate operatives, Obama has no shame. The U.S. Parks Department’s decision to offer the 2011 October occupiers of Washington’s Freedom Plaza a four-month permit, rather than summarily evicting them, shows the White House believes it can use the protestors as a stick against the GOP. Obama’s handlers are mistaken but, apparently, they think cooptation is their best shot., the Democrat’s front group in movement politics, is all over the protests. The party’s fundraising unit in the U.S. House, the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, is attempting to get 100,000 rank and filers to declare: ‘‘I stand with the Occupy Wall Street protests.’’ Meanwhile, the DCCC fills its coffers with Wall Street money.

Al Sharpton is the point man for the strategy to keep African Americans in the Democratic fold for the only purposes the party has for them: the 2012 vote. He’s the drum major for an October 15 Washington “march for jobs” that is, for all practical purposes, an Obama campaign event to bring together the president’s Black and union supporters. The administration’s doomed and fatally flawed jobs bill is the centerpiece. “The American Jobs Act is the solution,” said Hillary Shelton, director of the NAACP’s Washington bureau.

No, breaking the power of Wall Street is the solution, and any movement will have to fight the Democrats to do it.

Veteran journalist Danny Schecter reported that Occupy Wall Street “has now endorsed” the October 15 march. That’s apparently a misunderstanding. ALF-CIO chief Richard Trumka visited Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, endorsed the occupation, and asked for an endorsement of the Washington march. But OWS spokespersons insist they did not, and would not, endorse any event, because their platform prohibits it, although expressions of solidarity are allowed. Other key activists tell us there was never any question of endorsing the march for Obama’s bill. But Democrats and their operatives may have gone away thinking they had a deal. They’ll be back, over and over again.

As we said at the beginning, the Occupy Wall Street movement’s contribution to human welfare to date has been to call out the enemy’s name and address: finance capital, Wall Street. In time, substantive policy positions will emerge from the laborious process to which the demonstrators are wedded, and new forces and coalitions will appear. But the essence of the movement requires that there be no compromise on the necessity to remove finance capital from the commanding heights of U.S. politics. Absent that fundamental focus, all coherence vanishes. Any collaboration with Obama and his corporate Democrats means the instantaneous death of the movement—and rightly so.

Ultimately, finance capital must be utterly destroyed, or it will kill us all. But that’s a truth that will be learned in struggle, once joined.

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at

Black Agenda Report, October 15, 2011