Part of Occupy Wall Street's comeback plan involves something called the 99% Spring, an activist training initiative to prep protesters for the May 1st "general strike," backed mostly by MoveOn.org. The 99% Spring's links to established progressive organizations has led occupiers to worry about being enfolded in the effort to re-elect President Obama, and has prompted Adbusters, the magazine whose call for a Wall Street occupation ignited the movement last fall, to announce that the very soul of Occupy is in danger.
A post on Adbusters' blog yesterday asks, "Can we co-opt the co-opters? Should we simply ignore the 99% Spring? Or do we need a more visceral response?" A post from last week has even stronger language:
We are now in a battle for the soul of Occupy… a fight to the finish between the impotent old left and the new vibrant, horizontal left who launched Occupy Wall Street from the bottom-up and who dreams of real democracy and another world.
Whatever you do, don’t allow our revolutionary struggle to fizzle out into another lefty whine and clicktivist campaign like has happened so many times in the past. Let’s Occupy the clicktivists and crash the MoveOn party. Let’s #DEFENDOCCUPY and stop the derailment of our movement that looms ahead.
Throughout the seven months since Occupy began, Adbusters has acted as a kind of Greek chorus commenting on Occupy's actions. In blog posts and interviews, Adbusters has wrung its hands over the state of the movement that it started, alternately declaring victories and worrying about co-option.
But co-option has been a part of Occupy Wall Street since the beginning, starting with Adbusters' involvement in the first place.
The magazine has made much of the fact that it doesn't give money or official direction to the "leaderless" movement, though the protests germinated in email conversations between Adbusters head Kalle Lasn and his right-hand man, Micah White. (White didn't respond to a request for comment.) Adbusters even owns OccupyWallStreet.org, the website soon to be replaced by Occupy-owned OccupyWallStreet.net (the original website now redirects to Adbusters' site).
But if any organization counts as "professional left," it's Adbusters, an organization that has been running anti-corporatist campaigns for years. It touts its endorsements from groups like Greenpeace, another supporter of the 99% Spring, and pays staff members to produce its content and campaigns. Adbusters produced the iconic ballerina on the Wall Street bull poster, and Adbusters put out the original call to occupy Wall Street, which gave specific directions:
"On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices."
That one simple demand was never made, and Adbusters' directives were rarely listened to. A day before New York authorities cleared protesters out of Zuccotti Park, the magazine suggested that protesters "declare victory" and leave on their own.
The protesters themselves are wary of outside groups — "there's a wariness and it's on both sides and it's part of the bargain," said OWS organizer Max Berger — but that hasn't stopped them from teaming up with union members and other groups for the May 1st actions themselves, which will involve a concert and rally at Union Square and demonstrations in the Financial District.