Tuesday, June 19, 2012

99% For Obama? MoveOn Plays the Election Game Again

By Edmund Berger

On May 9th, Joshua Kahn Russell of 350.org and the National Domestic Workers Alliance’s Harmony Goldberg published a piece on ZNet defending the now controversial 99% Spring coalition. Russell and Goldberg have reason to justify this movement, one that has been attacked by many as an attempt by the moderates as a well-planned co-option of Occupy: both 350.org and the National Domestic Workers Alliance are key participants in the 99% Spring, and both are far more moderate organizations than perhaps Russell and Goldberg themselves. The presence of moderate voices alongside the far more radical participants, they argue, is not a reason to scream ‘co-option;’ instead, they define it as “alliance building,” a practical application of Antonio Gramsci’s idea of building a power bloc beyond the working class to challenge capital. But many, including myself, have argued that the 99% Spring is distinctively reminiscent of MoveOn’s Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, which tapped grassroots political energy and diluted its adversarial potentials by channeling it into a voting base for a president who has shown himself to just as willing – if not more so – than Bush when it comes to militarized hijinks overseas. Russell and Goldberg, on the other hand, disavow this line of thinking. “…lets put aside the important discussion of whether or not engaging in electoral work to some extent will be a necessary part of a radical process in this country,” they write, before later adding “Our enemy is existing power structures promoted by the 1% and elites in both political parties who prop them up.”[1]

Sometimes the “elites” who prop up each respective party are deceptive. MoveOn, regardless of the protestations of many of its ground-level members, has an undisputed history of operating in close proximity with the Democratic Party. The upper management are certainly not 1%ers, but many of them drift in and out of the nebulous circuits surrounding the party, like the Democratic National Convention, and the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee. These aren’t the people who control the purse strings per se, but they are the people that transform corporate money into action. And it doesn’t have to mean political ads, speech tours, and publicity stunts. If the Koch Brothers have taught us one thing, corporate money can create an interactive campaign machine at the grassroots level. With this end mind, it would appear that MoveOn is continuing the 99% Spring’s appropriation of Occupy jargon, but unlike the coalition itself, this tactic makes no qualms that Obama’s reelection is the agenda on the table.
          The latest trick in MoveOn’s bag is “99airlines,” a creative strategy built to counter the slew of campaign ads that saturated the media during election season. 99airlines will consist of planes flying over political rallies, towing banners attacking the prevalence of corporate money in politics. Neat idea, but the kicker? An email blast sent out by Justin Ruben, MoveOn’s current executive director and architect of the organization’s 2004 election activism, reveals that 99airline’s target will be rallies held for Mitt Romney. That is well and good, but nowhere in the email are there any plans to navigate the skies above Obama fundraisers. Instead, we’re treated with electoral soapboxing about how 99airlines “will transform Romney fundraisers into an opportunity to remind voters what he really stands for—corporations and the 1%.” Apparently top Obama donors – which have included Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan & Chase, CitiGroup, Google, Microsoft, General Electric, Morgan Stanley – don’t make the cut as 1% corporations in MoveOn’s campaign. The funny thing is that Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, and CitiGroup are, in actuality, Romney’s top donors in the present election cycle.

This case of one-sided grandstanding becomes even more opaque when one looks at some of the proposed banners for the campaign, many of which focus on Romney’s former employer Bain Capital. It is true that Bain, worth some $66 billion from its twenty-eight year run in the financial services sector (where it frequently partners with Goldman Sachs in corporate acquisitions buyouts), is indicative of the high levels of income inequality in America; Obama himself has used Romney’s affiliation with Bain as a populist-style rhetorical point. However, regardless of Obama’s public stance, Bain has chipped in to the president’s reelection campaign fund.[2] While the amount of money is significantly lower than Bain’s contributions to Romney, it’s clear that corporations do not see too much of an adversary in Obama, and why should they? Corporate welfare – namely bailouts - means that CEOs still get their giant bonuses regardless of the turbulent economic climate. Of course, this only matters when a Republican in office, not a Democrat.

A second email from MoveOn about the 99airlines drives the point home even further. “Imagine if Mitt Romney and his Super PAC friends had to deal with the sights and sounds of airplanes following them everywhere, reminding Americans how Romney stands for corporations and the 1%.” This email, one that completely sidesteps the fact that Obama’s own super PAC is a frequent recipient of money from corporations and powerful lobbying firms, was sent out by MoveOn’s National Campaign Director, Garlin Gilchrist II. Interestingly enough, in 2008 Gilchrist served as a social media director for the Obama campaign, while a firm that he had founded two years earlier, Opportunity Technology, LLC, is credited on his LinkedIn page as the “Creator [and] implementer of advanced social media and Internet strategy plans for non-profit organizations, political campaigns, including the Washington for Obama campaign…”

Furthermore, Gilchrist is a trainer at the New Organizing Institute (NOI), a close partner of MoveOn and member of the 99% Spring coalition. The NOI itself is staffed with participants in Obama’s 2008 campaign. For example, another trainer is Tom Matzzie, who engineered MoveOn’s Americans Against Escalation in Iraq, while their technology, communications, and campaign teams includes individuals who organized for the Obama campaign in Wisconsin, Texas, Indiana, Mississippi, Iowa, and Pennsylvania. Judith Freeman, NOI’s founder, executive director, and official representative in the 99% Spring, served on Obama’s media team, and has recently lauded the president’s reelection campaign for its ability to tap into social networking with greater efficiency than the 2008 cycle. “They’ve taken everything we’ve learned since 2008 in offline and online campaigning, and built it in there,” she says.[3] One can’t help but wonder if, in some way, this is referring to the useful appropriation of anti-corporate and anti-establishment sentiments that are swirling around in the grassroots arena.

It’s great to point out that Mitt Romney is, to use MoveOn-speak, “Mr. 1%,” but their methodology of touting this fact while ignoring that his opposition is, for all intents and purposes, both deceptive and manipulative. It is political maneuvering at its finest: excluding crucial information paints a lopsided and unbalanced picture of reality, a form of reality that fully propagandized and instilled with intent. Such bastardizations are no different than MoveOn’s alleged qualms with corporate money in politics, since both hijack the political system to its own ends and not that of the mass constituency of the nation. What is even worse about this case is that the imagery and sensations being drawn upon are an extremely radical ethos that, in practice, have bypassed the electoral process and sought to generate a truly participatory society, autonomous from the massive centralizations of wealth and power that occur in the head-on collision of national government with capitalist economics. In fact, to prop up Obama – a man whose time as president has seen the expansion of America’s interventionist mentality, the NDAA, cronyism and repeated failures to push for legitimate change – as someone who is far more representative of the everyperson than his GOP counterparts is an insult.

MoveOn’s slogan is ‘democracy in action.’ Maybe it’s time they put their money where their mouth is.

[1] Joshua Kahn Russell and Harmony Goldberg “New Radical Alliances for a New Era” ZNet May 9th, 2012 http://www.zcommunications.org/new-radical-alliances-for-a-new-era-by-joshua-kahn-russell
[2] Russ Choma “Obama’s Bain Backers” Open Secrets, May 22nd, 2012 http://www.opensecrets.org/news/2012/05/obamas-bain-backers.html
[i3] Sarah Lai Stirland “The New and Not-So-New in Obama’s ‘Dashboard’” TechPresident, Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012 http://techpresident.com/news/22232/obama-campaign-unveils-its-organizing-dashboard-focus-metrics

1 comment:

  1. great piece, Edmund and welcome to Cindy Sheehan's Soapbox!
    It's our Soapbox!


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