“Occupy Wall Street” protesters turned out at a glitzy New York City fundraiser for President Obama on Wednesday. That spurred a number of news outlets to declare that protesters had “turned on” the president. But is it true?
Despite their ruckus, protesters’ outrage was directed in large measure not at President Obama, but simply at the people attending his fundraiser. There was a sense among the folks quoted by New York news outlets that Obama shouldn’t be meeting with and raising money from Wall Street bankers. In other words, the objection seems to have been that he was buying into a corrupt system, not that he is part and parcel of it.
In fact, the president’s economic policies inherently advantage politically powerful businesses at the expense of their smaller and less connected competitors. That trend has been exhaustively documented elsewhere.
The issue from Occupy Wall Street’s perspective, then, should be the policies the president advocates, not simply the people from whom he accepts money. But protesters seemed more concerned with the latter, complaining that Obama would mingle with the “1%,” but remaining silent on his actual policy prescriptions.
“You know, in this city that if you’re having a 35,000 a plate dinner, that a lot of those people are going to be the Wall Street executives that we’ve been opposing for months now,” protest organizer Ben Campbell told the WNYC radio station. “President Obama is coming to town solely to raise money from the richest of the rich,” he added in an interview with the New York Times.
The impetus for the protest, according to Campbell, was not Obama’s policies, but simply the people from whom he accepts money. In fact, Campbell also noted that he will probably vote for Obama in 2012. “But the movement has to call out Republicans and Democrats to be credible,” he said, according to WNYC’s paraphrase.
Another organizer said the president’s fundraising would create a “conflict of interest,” but the president’s primary interests have routinely aligned with those of the big, politically active businesses OWS so despises. In other words, there is no conflict; his fundraising efforts are perfectly consistent with his policy objectives. Activist government, by its nature, advantages the politically connected.
At an Obama event in New Hampshire last month, protesters disrupted the president’s speech. But again, their objection had nothing to do with the policies he pursues. Instead, protesters asked him to “stop the assault on our 1st amendment rights” by calling off police raids on Occupy tent cities.
That protesters continue to emphasize objections unrelated to the president’s policies suggests they still agree with those policies. Certainly Campbell does. Protesters have camped out across the street from the White House for two months, but have shown no interest in directing their ire towards 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. In fact, some of the furthest-left members of Occupy leadership continue to actively push the president’s legislative agenda.
Speaking to a gathering of communists at World Federation of Democratic Youth in Portugal, Young Communist League USA organizer Lisa Bergmann discussed communists’ strong presence in Occupy groups’ leadership circles. She went on to say that President Obama “continues to push policies that benefit working-class people in the United States. And Republicans continually block these policies to make Obama look ineffective.”
…the fight for jobs and for real solutions MUST include re-electing Obama in 2012. It is the role of the YCL to emphasize this wherever we go, and to try to push youth in the Occupy movement and elsewhere who do not want to work with any politicians to understand that being absent from the political process is only allowing the ultra-right wing to build power. This is also so that working people can continue to focus on building a viable movement for themselves in the United States, that will be in a position to stand in solidarity with working people throughout the world. Angela Davis, when visiting Occupy Wall Street on October 31st, said that “It is up to US to build a movement. And it is up to Obama to respond to that movement. But he cannot do it on his own.”
Whether it’s rooted in a “lesser of two evils” approach or a desire to use Occupy’s populist veneer to advance a generic left-wing agenda, protesters remain strongly committed to the president’s legislative efforts. Occupiers have not “turned on” Obama, as some have suggested. Protesting the president has more to do with the appearance of balance and general anti-banker sentiment than any dissatisfaction with the president.