OccuList: Protest organizers luke-warm at best on Obama

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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Emails disclosed Monday show that while organizers of the Occupy Wall Street protest are not openly hostile toward President Barack Obama, they are disappointed by what they see as his White House’s slow, incremental approach to social change.

“Most people in the square would think of it as a step in the right direction (if only a baby step), and there are certainly a lot more things to be done,” organizer Gabriel Johnson wrote Oct. 6 to other organizers about the president’s American Jobs Act.

The emails are from a trove of 3,257 messages swapped among the group’s organizers from Sept. 14 to Oct. 12. These messages show that the group is on the left-wing fringe of U.S. politics, but also willing to support Obama’s administration and maybe his re-election campaign. Very few emails are hostile to the administration, and hardly any rule out cooperation with Obama’s team. (RELATED: ‘Radical children’s literature’ at Wall Street protests)

That’s important for Obama and his 2012 hopes because his cadre of enthusiastic supporters has shrunk greatly since 2008. In the last week, he’s sent strong signals of support to the protesters and their backers in the national progressive movement.

The “Occupy” organizers’ lack of hostility toward Obama also reduces the risk that the media-magnified group might schedule protests against him, or stage demonstrations that alarm swing voters.

In general, progressives who backed the president in 2008 aren’t satisfied with his actions in office despite his semi-nationalization of the health care sector; his intensified regulation of the banking, energy and transportation sectors; his military withdrawal from Iraq; his planned draw-down in Afghanistan; and his support for increased taxes.

That’s not enough for the progressives running what has become a small national protest movement. They say they want a formal nationalization of health care, government-set wages, tighter government control of banks and much more.

Clinton-era Democratic pollster Doug Schoen reported Tuesday that a survey of 200 protest participants in New York City’s Zuccotti Park on Oct. 10 and 11 showed that 65 percent “say that government has a moral responsibility to guarantee all citizens access to affordable health care, a college education, and a secure retirement—no matter the cost.” Nearly all the protesters, Schoen said, support the use of civil disobedience, and 31 percent support the use of violence, to achieve their goals.

But some support for Obama clearly remains among the organizers.

A Sept. 25 email from Baruch College professor Jackie DiSalvo, for example, cheered Obama’s rousing Sept 24 speech to the Congressional Black Caucus. In the speech, Obama urged African-Americans to “take off your bedroom slippers, put on your marching shoes; stop complaining; stop grumbling, stop crying — we are going to press on.”

“WOW! Obama calls people, especially African Americans, into the streets … WOW!  This, as Obama reminded his audience, is how the 60s started and succeeded,” DiSalvo wrote the next day.

Other organizers, however, quickly muted her enthusiasm. Ultimately, DiSalvo conceded in followup emails that Obama “is Wall Street … I agree this is opportunism — and the ‘jobs program’ [that] it is meant to support offers little to the masses and quite a bit to employers.”

Most organizers had little patience for Obama’s American Jobs Act, a $447 billion, one-year stimulus plan.

On Oct. 6, for example, organizer “ACPollack” derided the bill as reactionary. “What we need to do IMO [in my opinion] is … demand jobs for all, at union wages and benefits, until everyone is employed, and until we have all the health and childcare workers, teachers, paternity/maternity/elderly leave, that we need to meet the needs of our families and communities!”

The bill is “a tenth of a step in the right direction and a whole step in the wrong direction,” former Brooklyn College art history professor Doug Singsen wrote the same day.

While commending the bill as a step in the right direction, the Newark, N.J.-based Johnson urged other organizers to withhold support. “I am somewhat wary of [the group] endorsing a specific piece of legislation so specifically, though, so as not to become too tied (at least in the public consciousness) to Obama or the Democrats,” he wrote, adding the the perception would be “utterly laughable if you’re familiar with the groups who helped spark OWS like the NYCGA, Adbusters, etc.”

NYCGA is the protestor’s rule-making group, the New York City General Assembly. Adbusters is the advocacy group that spurred the initial ‘occupation’ of the site in new York.

John McGloin, one of the earliest “Occupy” organizers, agreed with Johnson, writing “I am not against baby steps, but the fact that Obama’s big selling point on the jobs act started with the fact that Republicans have supported most of the provisions was a good clue of how effective it would be in creating jobs.”

Two days later, he offered a tepid endorsement, saying “I hope the jobs act gets passed, but don’t fool yourself that it is a massive stimulus …We should be demanding a multitrillion dollar jobs program, not begging for tax cuts for small business.”

Organizer Diane Sare, who manages perennial candidate Lyndon LaRouche’s New Jersey grassroots operation, had a more negative view of Obama and his stimulus.

“The American Jobs act is an insane piece of fascist slave-labor garbage — and that’s putting it nicely,” she wrote on Oct. 6. “Giving corporations the right to FREE labor by giving them skilled employees who are collecting unemployment compensation … We should NOT endorse this!”

“Supporting Obama’s pro-Wall Street policies, like his slave labor ‘jobs act’ is the best way to get a Rick Perry or Mitt Romney elected,” Sare warned one day later.

Her opinions aren’t unique. In an Oct. 11 email to the group, fellow organizer Jason Jones declared his opposition to any cooperation with MoveOn.org and other Democratic-affiliated groups.

“[The] only option now is brutal separation,” Jones wrote. “The democrats are the enemy. Smash capitalism!”

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