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OpEdNews Op Eds    H2'ed 6/7/14

"Occupy for Bernie" Could Literally Rewrite History

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Patrick Walker
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"Occupy Was Right--and Bernie Is Right for Occupy."

Bernie Sanders--Our new movement could keep him .Occupied..
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That simple slogan--concealing depths of complexity and insight--is offered on behalf of a movement that does not yet exist. But ought to. This article, by elaborating the latent power of an "Occupy for Bernie" movement to permanently change our national conversation for the better--just as Occupy Wall Street did--is an attempt to create that grassroots movement from thin air. Intending this as a grassroots movement fully in the spirit of Occupy, I yield to grassroots Occupiers' judgment on whether it's worth creating.

For that reason, I will employ only honest persuasion, the only means of appeal to the genuine grassroots. For only voluntary grassroots buy-in can conjure up this movement; I myself, though its concept has virtually possessed my brain, am impotent to create it.

As a full-fledged progressive who supported Occupy (I worked with Occupy Scranton, PA, strategizing and sometimes writing on that group's behalf), I believe our movement got an undeserved bum rap in our 1%er-owned and -subservient mainstream press. And then, with press connivance, was unjustly squelched by the 1%'s police state. In my view, hard-core empirical research, like economist Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century and Ivy League social scientists Martin Gilens' and Benjamin Page's study of U.S. political influence, has proved that Occupy was right--whatever the movement's ridicule by a Wall Street-servile press. And the prospective presidential candidacy of Bernie Sanders, the one principled national politician who warmly, publicly embraced Occupy from the start, is the perfect occasion for reopening the national dossier on Occupy and stressing just how unjustly that essential dissent movement was crushed.

Only a politician as principled and courageous as Bernie Sanders would accept an Occupy movement supporting his candidacy. Let's make this groundbreaking movement a warning to so-called progressive Democrats: if you're as cowardly in condoning the police-state squelching of Occupy for Bernie as you were in condoning Obama's brutal suppression of Occupy Wall Street--a movement reacting, after all, to Obama's bank bailouts--your falsity and hypocrisy as a progressive stand exposed. America's only possible progress consists in admitting that Occupy was right, that our government is so owned by the 1% that only peaceful grassroots street revolt could fix it. Our electoral process, left simply to its own devices, is obviously utterly useless.

But that hardly makes the electoral process irrelevant. Genuine, desirable change will require the action of genuinely progressive politicians like Bernie Sanders--and possibly progressive Democrats, if they have the guts--lending an open ear to the grassroots' street expression of outrage and pain. Occupy's dissent, if it is to transform our society forever, must ultimately get enacted as policy and law. While many Occupiers visualize a more radical social transformation than top progressives like Bernie Sanders now propose, that transformation has zero prospect of occurring while the 1% hold tyrannical control of our government--at federal, state, and local levels. Whatever our differences on needed radicalism, Bernie Sanders fully agrees with Occupy that our government--again, at all levels--must be restored to the people from the 1%'s tyrannical control. What better figure than a courageous, principled national Senator to spearhead a movement seeking to restore popular sovereignty? After which, more radical proposals can be submitted to the honest judgment of "We the People." They'll only be squelched by our press--and crushed by our police state--right now. Reclaiming our government is mission critical.

And speaking of "mission," the mission of electing Bernie Sanders president could do wonders to restore Occupy's undeservedly lost credibility. For after all, one of the foremost stock criticisms of Occupy was that the movement had no focus, that it didn't engage the political process and make demands. While I feel that criticism was unjustified griping about a movement--often of young political newcomers--that wanted to raise consciousness, to seek new ways, and mark its distinctness from "business-as-usual" U.S. politics, the time has arrived to take that movement to a new stage. Let's season its youthful idealism with the maturity of a savvy, successful politician who, for all his savvy, has never lost an ounce of his youthful idealism: Bernie Sanders. By supporting his highly practical run for president--he's actually pondering sacrificing his personally cherished Independent status to run as a Democrat, to get his Occupy-friendly message its widest possible hearing--Occupy would prove to skeptics that it was not merely about raising consciousness, but actually worked to reshape policy and law. It would be pretty hard to condemn the movement as a bunch of unfocused, unemployed idlers who just like to hang out on the streets and whine, when they're supporting the major-party presidential campaign of a nationally known incumbent politician. Serious mainstream creds for a street movement, I'd say.

But the point is not to co-opt Occupy and make it mainstream; the point is to convince the mainstream that, except in its early moments of sympathy, it was utterly wrong about Occupy. Occupy was doing exactly what our nation's best citizens should have been doing--protesting, by the only means possible, a government sold to the highest bidder that no longer represents us. But now, through Bernie Sanders' generous, courageous offer to run for president--an ambition he never personally harbored--a far more effective means of protest is available. But at the same time, that better means of protest is our ideal chance to set the historical record straight on Occupy. For just as America will never be cured of its militarism and imperial aims until we confess the Iraq war was an act of collective wrongdoing, we'll never escape our nation's frightening veer toward oligarchic tyranny until we acknowledge the Occupy movement as collective right doing--America at its best. Just as our Iraq invasion was a national disgrace, whose participants' only excuse is as tragic victims of lies, participants in Occupy should feel a "line surge" of personal pride. A pride they can only deepen by making Bernie Sanders the new outlet for Occupy's moral "charge."

To keep this grassroots appeal honest, I need to be upfront about one fact potentially off-putting to Occupiers: that Sanders might run as a Democrat. Some Occupiers may be upset simply because this fact is out of tune with the nonpartisan nature of the movement. Others, seeing still deeper, will object that it was Democrat Obama whose bank bailouts Occupy was reacting in the first place, and that our U.S. police state, which Democrat Obama supports and has done everything to strengthen, was instrumental in crushing Occupy. I deny none of this, and I think blaming Obama and his police state for unjustly crushing Occupy needs to be part of the national conversation Occupy for Bernie would help launch. Perhaps even more than Sanders himself, for the sake of his candidacy, would desire. But I believe he--and he alone among our national politicians--has the integrity to weather the needed controversy, the overthrow of false conventional wisdom, automatically entailed in having--and acknowledging--Occupy's support.

See, if Sanders chooses to run as a Democrat, this would not reflect any endorsement on his part for today's Democratic Party, nor any abandonment of his long-cherished political independence. Quite simply, it would reflect a practical necessity stemming from something he's never tried before: to run for U.S. president. Clearly, he's been able to win elections in his small, largely progressive state of Vermont as an independent--and an independent who's even labeled himself a "democratic socialist." But our nation is decidedly not Vermont, and Bernie's running as an independent (or third-party candidate) is virtually certain to get his candidacy and message ignored by mainstream media. And mainstream-media coverage--whatever the deep defects of mainstream media--is essential for being taken seriously as a candidate by most Americans. Bernie Sanders knows that, and therefore seems to be leaning toward running as a Democrat, the less objectionable of our two very inadequate major parties. But no one should see that as his ringing endorsement for Democrats. Indeed, it's precisely because of the perversely inadequate populist credentials--and lapdog Wall Street loyalty--of Democrat frontrunner Hillary Clinton that he's choosing to run at all.

So, in Bernie Sanders, Occupiers--and not just Occupiers but progressives, environmentalists, and opponents of the endless "war on terror" and our surveillance state--have (at long last!) a potential presidential candidate who fully represents our views. And will give them a national bully pulpit. I find it a no-brainer that we should support him. But what about the complications that creates? If he runs as a Democrat in the national primary, and loses to Hillary Clinton, should Occupy for Bernie then follow him if he throws his support--from fear of insane Republicans--to Hillary Clinton?

As Occupy for Bernie is a proposed grassroots movement, I seek no control over it, but only to make recommendations. And my fervent recommendation is that Occupy for Bernie extend its support only to Bernie Sanders (and possibly, case by case, to candidates he recommends), but should categorically deny its support to Hillary Clinton. It's inconceivable that a movement considering itself a legitimate successor to Occupy Wall Street should support Wall Street's darling, or more bluntly, its prostitute. Hillary represents everything Occupiers and progressives find objectionable in Barack Obama: not only excessive coziness with Wall Street and fossil-fuel plutocrats, but strong support for the military-industrial-surveillance state that invaded Iraq and crushed Occupy. A commenter on my most recent OpEdNews article cited Occupy's potential support for Democrats as "Stockholm syndrome"--the pathological mental state where abused hostages sympathize and even identify with their torturing captors. While this may not be true of Occupy supporting the most progressive Democrats, it's certainly true of Occupy supporting Hillary Clinton. I'd hope Occupy for Bernie would not only reject her candidacy, but would turn out en masse to protest--may God forbid!--her inauguration.

See, by supporting Hillary Clinton, Occupy for Bernie would destroy its own chosen mission as a conversation changer, supporting Bernie Sanders precisely because he's not Hillary Clinton. Now, Bernie himself, because he's a functioning politician operating in a deeply corrupt system (which he's fighting to change), may have to accept political alliances with some very strange bedfellows--especially given his deep fear of genuinely dangerous Republicans. But Occupy for Bernie, as a grassroots movement, is under no obligation whatsoever to kip down with Bernie's reluctantly accepted bedmates. Our mission, as I see it, is to fight for Bernie's values-- even by opposing majorities in the Democratic Party he may run in. A Sanders candidacy (since he was never personally ambitious to be president) means that today's Democrats are woefully inadequate in terms of the values Bernie--like Occupiers and progressives--represents. It's also the perfect organizing tool for those who seek to join forces in fighting for the triumph of those values. If we don't stand up for Bernie's values--in the face of Democrats, if necessary--his potentially historic presidential run will have been in vain.

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Patrick Walker is co-founder of Revolt Against Plutocracy (RAP) and the Bernie or Bust movement it spawned. Before that, he cut his activist teeth with the anti-fracking and Occupy Scranton PA movements. No longer with RAP, he wields his pen (more...)

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