'Occupy Congress' attempts to get lawmakers' attention

On Tuesday, activists from around the US plan activities dubbed “Occupy Congress." Organizers hope this will be the largest Occupy gathering yet, and individual lawmakers may expect visits.

Jose Luis Magana/AP
Demonstrators chant for jobs on Capitol Hill Dec. 8, 2011. On Tuesday, occupyers from around the US plan activities dubbed “Occupy Congress."

Tuesday marks the debut of Occupy 2.0. Gathering on the steps of the nation’s Capitol building in Washington Tuesday morning, Occupyers from around the United States plan to mark the day dubbed “Occupy Congress.” 

Says one of the event’s organizers, lawyer and author Kevin Zeese, “The world will see the beginning of a much more sophisticated, angry and targeted Occupy movement.”  

With some 30 activist groups, supporters from local movements around the country as well as some 10,000 Facebook supporters stating their intention to show up, organizers hope this will be the largest Occupy gathering yet.

“If the first three months of the movement awakened the country’s elites,” says Mr. Zeese, “our American spring will scare them.”

The significance of the date, according to the Occupy Congress website is to welcome the 2012 House of Representatives back to town: “We need to be there en masse as soon as they begin their legislative session to let them know that they’re not going to waste another year. What better way to welcome them back than to have a huge demonstration that will drive the conversation on the ground and in the media.”

While the day will include standard Occupy events such as a rally, an open-mike period, and a General Assembly, it will also include carefully-choreographed, one-one-one visits to individual lawmakers. Directions for setting up an appointment are on the website, complete with guidance for identifying your local representative and how to contact them.

Villanova University social movement researcher Catherine Wilson calls Tuesday’s action an important escalation of the movement’s potential power.  

“By moving its site of operation to the halls of Congress, Occupy hopes not only to frame the key political issues at hand but also to influence political decision-making by building relationships with public officials,” she notes via email. Support from public officials would benefit Occupy as a whole by lending the movement legitimacy, she says.

But lobbying members of Congress reduces the original spirit of Occupy Wall Street to politicking, says Drexel University professor George Ciccariello-Maher. 

“The occupy movement did not emerge from a desire to become a lobbying body,” he says. He does note that this strategy will parallel other civil disobedience kinds of activities, but adds, “Civil disobedience is more in line with the original Occupy Wall Street movement, much more so than any direct pressure on Congressional representatives.”

But, says Fordham university researcher, Heather Gautney, there may be a bit of both going on in the Capitol strategy.

“The spirit of Occupy is not to turn its back on politicians and the state, it's to take them over, and democratize them,” she notes via email. That is what Occupy means, she points out, adding, “confrontation, taking over, and repossession, including democratic processes.”

 Let many flowers bloom and the meadow will be that much richer, says New York activist and filmmaker David Intrator, who has been involved with the Occupy movement in his city from its beginnings.

“I have always called this a social movement,” he says, “which means it is a very large tent and can accommodate many points of view and strategies.”

“Really,” he adds, “the more the better.” 

As far as impacting national politics, Intrator says this is already happening.

“Just look at the debate among the Republican candidates,” he says, noting that the issue of income equality – one of the key mantras of the Occupy movement – has been bandied about by everyone from Mitt Romney to Newt Gingrich and Ron Paul, not to mention President Obama. “We’ve already had a very big impact,” he adds.

Not everyone is convinced, says antiabortion activist Tim O’Brien, who suggests that the media has over-covered the Occupy movement, lending it an aura of much greater importance than it actually has. 

“I would suggest perhaps a story on why some groups, some very small in size, get so much press, while others in unprecedented numbers are obviously, routinely, and intentionally ignored,” he says via email.

He points to the fact that “a group of a hundred or so Occupiers can get national attention from the media across several news cycles,” yet on January 23rd, in the March for Life rally which organizers anticipate could attract over one million people “very civil, and very obedient protesters will converge in the same place and you will be hard-pressed to find mention of it in any newspaper, Web site or TV news report.”

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