Political Protests Now Seem to Capitalize on 'Occupy' Brand

Are political groups capitalizing on the 'Occupy' brand?

November 7, 2011, 10:46 AM

WASHINGTON, Nov. 7, 2011 -- Illuminated by flashing blue police car lights, the wool-capped, fleece-clad, ragtag crowd of protesters sat in the middle of the intersection -- dark silhouettes against the brightly lit, gleaming-white Walter E. Washington Convention Center, blocks away from the White House.

At least a few hundred had gathered Friday night to protest in front of the convention center, where Americans for Prosperity, a political advocacy group founded by billionaire brothers Charles and David Koch, was hosting a gala.

On the surface, the "Occupy the Kochs: Guerilla Drive-In" event looked like any other "Occupy" movement protest against the proverbial 1 percent of the population who hold the nation's wealth.

But a confederation of long-established progressive political advocacy groups -- the Campaign for America's Future, Campaign for Community Change, Common Cause, Health Care for America Now and the aptly named Other 98% -- were behind Friday's protest.

"This was the first time that there was something like that, where a bunch of groups put together this guerilla drive-in and 'Occupy' people marched out, which we were super happy with," said Alex Lawson, an organizer for the Other 98%.

It was the group's second "drive-in," staged like an outdoor movie-theater, with videos projected onto building exteriors. The first was held in New York, at Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater.

Although he attended Friday night's event, 26-year-old Matt Patterson, who has been with the Occupy DC movement from the beginning and is part of the movement's media committee, rejected the notion that Occupy DC was part of, or driven by any more established progressive organization.

"[Occupy DC] is fiercely independent and is associated with no other leader, person or organization. Other groups may try to steal the branding, but that does not in any way imply that we endorse them," Patterson told ABC News.

He said there had been an intense debate within the Occupy DC movement about whether to accept sleeping bags from the biggger, more established MoveOn movement, fearing that it could compromise its independence.

"From my experience, almost no one at Occupy DC is strongly affiliated with either party and has a strong distrust of an organization that may be a Democratic-front group. The Democratic Party is largely corporate-controlled ... and neither the Democratic Party nor the associated progressive groups have succeed[ed] at delivering for the American people for the last 10 years," Patterson said.

Others who attended Friday's Drive-In protest seemed unaware that it was organized by some of the nation's most powerful progressive political advocacy groups. Common Cause, for example, according to its audited financial statement, had total assets for FY2011 of more than $3 million.

Protester Meghan Gabriel said she was at the D.C. intersection Friday night as part of the "Occupy K Street" movement.

"We want to make it clear we're occupying the center of power in D.C.," she told ABC News. In an inadvertent twist of irony, Health Care for America Now and Campaign for America's Future, two of the Drive-In organizers, are also located on K Street.

Except for a 30-foot Wall Street banker fat cat balloon, a movie projector and a professional PA system, the event certainly had the look and sound of the grassroots "Occupy" movement.

Taking turns telling their stories to the crowd amassed at one intersection, a 22-year-old African-American woman, who said she couldn't afford law school, shouted that although knowledge was power, it took money to obtain that knowledge, and therefore, power.

A young Asian woman shouted that she was a lesbian, and kicked out of her home at 19 years old, and that no one -- gay or straight -- should ever be discriminated against, or marginalized.

A young man who identified himself as Jewish shouted that it was not fair for some people to become wealthy by stealing from others.

Virginia high school teacher Maria Glass shouted that she was sick and tired of her students joining the armed services because they lacked opportunities and money for a college education.

"Today I had another student. I had him in ninth grade. He said, 'Mrs. Glass, I just joined the Marines,' and he's shipping out to Parris Island on Sunday," she told ABC News.

"I'm sick and tired of those people who are inside," she said, pointing to the convention center. "The Koch brothers who are putting their money into my politics, they need to get out and give us back our democracy."

D.C. metro police officers stood in front of the convention center doors blocking protesters, some of whom shouted at the police officers and jeered at those inside the center, whom the police were there to protect.

"You guys are all part of the 99 percent! We're here for you, too!" one protester shouted at the police, who remained impassive.

Upon exiting the convention center, one attendee at the Americans for Prosperity event seemed surprised by the protest. He said he was there mostly to hear guest speaker Andrew Napolitano, a Fox News judicial analyst and former judge.

"I'm a decorated disabled veteran of the Iraq War, and I will defend to the death these people's right to protest," he told ABC News, declining to be identified because he said he planned to work on a Republican campaign next year.

According to Patterson, there is room for the veteran in the Occupy DC movement too.

"We are really are not here to support Obama, etc. Many of us reject party labels altogether and feel that the two-party system hurts our country and artificially divides us," Patterson said.

"In theory the true Tea Party should support 'Occupy' ideals as well, and many of them have expressed support for 'Occupy.' There is a broad spectrum of ideas and political positions within the movement. But it is more than any ideology or policy agenda or demands. It is also reclaiming public space as a place for true, face-to-face public discussion, learning and dialogue."

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