"And then in the 50s, we had the civil right movement..." the guy droned.
" Uh, I think we should conclude the lecture and break up into groups to discuss our nonviolent direct action training," said Landis. "We seem to be losing people." A lot of them, too.
So the hundred remaining Upper Left Siders split into four groups for discussion. My group happened to be led by Landis, who directed the 35 of us to sit in a circle and identify ourselves with an explanation of why we were there. I was about #15 in the circle and the people who preceded me all appeared to have no experience with Occupy Wall Street and wanted to get involved. When it was my turn I said that Zuccotti Park was the most entertaining place to be in Manhattan for a couple months last fall and I hoped it would revive. And I said that the other thing I liked was that it was to the left of the Democratic Party and was pushing it from outside. There had been some mention of "the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act during the 90s" and I pointed out that it was Bill Clinton, a Democrat, who deregulated Wall Street.
"Excuse me," said Landis. "We have a limited amount of time and a lot to discuss. We need to let everyone speak."
I've thought about that a lot. I don't believe I spoke for more than a minute, but I habitually obey the rules in a group, so I shut up. In retrospect, I was censored. I should have demanded a discussion of the true purpose of The 99% Spring and why Obama's Department of Homeland Security orchestrated the violent destruction of hundreds of nonviolent Occupy camps around the country last fall.
As it was, we finished going around the circle. Everyone was a teacher or writer or connected with the labor movement. Wisconsin came up a few times. Landis asked what kind of a world we wanted to see. Someone said, "Socialism" and Landis said the topic for discussion was now how to plan for a "hypothetical direct action." Every time somebody brought up something that was actually happening, Landis insisted that our agenda was set and we were only discussing hypothetical situations. So we talked about hypothetically withdrawing money from a hypothetical evil bank, or hypothetically stopping the hypothetical fracking in the Catskills that is going to poison New York City's hypothetical drinking water.
"What about May 1?" said a retired professor.
"What about it?" said Landis.
"I heard that Occupy Wall Street was calling for a general strike. They're planning actions all around midtown and they're saying that nobody should go to work that day."
"I don't know anything about that," said Landis. "We're talking about hypothetical situations here."
And so it went from 6:30 to 9:30 last Tuesday night. Over half the crowd left early. Most of those who stayed appeared to be angry and mystified that they had received no training whatever in nonviolent direct action. I doubt that the Democrats or MoveOn succeeded in co-opting anyone, and I predict that they will be inventing more dreary front groups as the election year grinds onward. "Front groups, not issues!" should be Obama's rallying cry.
"I'm taking the subway to Wall Street," said a guy in his 20s (probably the only guy in his 20s) as he walked out the door. "That's where the action is. People are sleeping on the sidewalk there. Apparently the police can't arrest you if you take up less than half the sidewalk. Go to Maydaynyc.org if you want to find out about the general strike."
CHARLES M. YOUNG is a founding member of ThisCantBeHappening!, the new independent Project Censored Award-winning online alternative newspaper. His work, and that of colleagues JOHN GRANT, DAVE LINDORFF, LORI SPENCER and LINN WASHINGTON, JR., can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net