Occupy Wall Street held back from rejecting participation in the current American political system Wednesday night when the General Assembly — the group’s main decision-making body — tabled an official resolution to refuse support for both the Democratic and Republican parties.
It’s a sign that the consensus-driven mass of protesters in downtown Manhattan are more concerned with keeping their strategic options open than completely severing ties with a political order they see as fundamentally compromised.
“The Democratic and Republican parties do not represent the people because they’ve been bought and corrupted by Wall Street, and the occupation does not support their candidates,” read the statement, which seemed driven by concern on the part of activists that official support from the national Democratic party — whose leaders have already tentatively embraced the cause — could destroy the movement’s independence.
“The mainstream corporate media is trying to dismiss this movement,” said a member of the “We Will Not Be Co-Opted” Working Group as the proposal was offered. “They are constructing a narrative that we are the puppets of the Democratic Party. The Tea Party was co-opted by the Republican Party; we will not be co-opted by the Democratic Party.”
Activists are plainly sick of a political culture where leaders of both parties take massive donations from financial companies. But the failure to pass the resolution seemed to indicate a recognition on the part of many that one party is more beholden than the other; indeed, reports that Barack Obama’s fundraising from Wall Street is down sharply compared to his 2007-08 campaign provide ammunition for those Democrats who argue that the Dodd-Frank financial reform legislation passed last year was a real win for consumers over big business.
“To be clear, we are in a very good position,” said an activist opposed to the resolution in its current form. “Never in my life has a political party been trying to co-opt my agenda! We’re doing very well. We’re reframing the discussion, like certain groups on the other side have been doing for 40 years. If we want 99% to be with us, that includes a lot of people who, for their own reasons, have determined it’s important to engage the political parties that exist. This includes a lot of effective communities. I don’t think now is the time to put up barriers to potential allies.”
In any case, the move continues a pragmatic streak by the protesters that began with their organizational acumen and continued with a brilliant response to the threat of eviction. Far from being naive idealists, the most involved participants want their cause to remain logistically viable — and politically potent.
“My concern is we only have one government, one system, so if we reject parties, we cannot participate,” said another dissenter to the statement.
The refusal to totally opt-out of electoral politics tell us a lot about the character of the movement, said Todd Gitlin, a professor at Columbia University and leader of Students for a Democratic Society in the early 1960s.
“The impression I’ve had is that the bulk of the people who march on the big occasions, they’re developing a politics improvisationally that’s not yet willing to paint itself into a corner. They’re keeping options option. The passion for inclusiveness is actually authentic. That’s an important moment.”
The full resolution, tabled for the time being, follows:
“The Democratic and Republican parties do not represent the people because they’ve been bought and corrupted by Wall Street, and the occupation does not support their candidates. In collusion with both parties, the top 1% has profited at the expense of everyone else. We have moved beyond false hopes and submission to eloquent speeches and populist manipulation. We rely on cooperation and solidarity to imagine and create the changes needed for a sustainable world. From diverse multicultural, racial, ethnic, gender, and sexual backgrounds, and from different walks of life, we have begun to unite on common ground to oust the global financial powers that have bought our government and who hold us hostage to their greed.”
Follow National Correspondent Matthew Taylor on Twitter for continuing coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests@matthewt_ny