“We have a real concern about having people latch on to this populist movement for their political agenda,” said Mic Mell, one of the organizers of Tuesday’s Occupy Congress event. In organizing the rally, Mell said his group purposely didn’t reach out to the professional groups that have helped Occupy in the past, including labor unions and liberal organizers such as MoveOn.org and the American Dream Movement.
Infighting presents another challenge to Occupy’s advocacy push. Many Occupiers are sitting out the Capitol Hill rally, arguing that the current political system is too corrupt to engage.
“What’s showing up here is a gap between people who want to see the system completely removed and those that want to see it transformed,” Mell said.
Mell said he wasn’t even sure about the plans of all the groups who are coming to Washington. The official schedule — which includes teach-ins, time to visit Congressional offices and an evening rally for D.C. statehood — serves merely as a suggestion that Occupiers are free to ignore. An online wiki added an ever-evolving list of solidarity events and possible direct actions.
“Everybody gets to do what they want to do,” Mell said.
One of the wiki pages offered intricate plans for lobbying lawmakers and, if that failed, recruiting primary challengers to unseat incumbents. But the post had a big disclaimer running at the top: “This idea has not been approved and is not slated to occur at Occupy Congress.”
Occupy’s consensus-based approach makes it difficult for organizers to plow forward in any one direction. At the same time, many activists in the movement are itching for concrete action.
“In New York, the loss of the camp alone has triggered these kind of arguments because we’re required to make a next step,” said Stuart Leonard, who led a group of politically minded Occupy activists to New Hampshire ahead of last week’s primaries. They staged protests at events for Republican frontrunner Mitt Romney and, on principle, at the Democratic National Committee’s war room in Manchester.
“We’re trying to set the standard here for how you attack the system without necessarily being co-opted by it,” he said in reference to the bipartisan protest.
In addition to campaign finance, Occupy activists identified a host of policies that concern them, from the defense authorization bill that loosened regulations on the detention of suspected terrorists to the Stop Online Piracy Act that Internet giants Google and Facebook say would hamper online innovation. What’s not clear is how Occupy can influence such policy.
Daniel Gorski, an activist from South Carolina, suggested that Occupy’s role should be sparking conversations about how money corrupts politics.
“For those of us who want to work in the system, this is an opportunity to begin to open a dialogue with our elected officials,” Mell agreed.
Organizers of the D.C. rally haven’t discussed next steps, although some are staying in town until Friday for an “Occupy the Courts” event led by Move to Amend to mark the anniversary of the Supreme Court’s decision on Citizens United.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.