If you're one of the millions of people who get emails from MoveOn.org, then you've probably heard of the "99% Spring." Far from another clickable internet petition, it is possibly the largest attempt ever to train people in nonviolent protest techniques. Some Occupy types have criticized the effort as a scheme by Democratic operatives to co-opt their movement. But the reality is probably the opposite: It seems that America's best-known progressive fundraising organization is now taking its cues from Occupy Wall Street.
I didn't know what to think of the 99% Spring until I stopped by a three-hour training session—one of more than 900 being held nationwide this week—at a Unitarian church in San Francisco. My presumption was that the 60 or so gray-haired attendees would be interested in supporting Democratic candidates—after all, the event was cosponsored by the Progressive Democrats of San Francisco—but many seemed just as disillusioned with electoral politics as the folks who took over New York City's Zuccotti Park this past fall. "I believed Obama when he said he would change things and he didn't, so I quit the Democratic Party," said one middle-aged MoveOn member who asked that I not use her name. She went on to talk about about how "the deck is stacked" and "voting doesn't work anymore." She'd come to the training looking for a new way to get involved.
From left: Occupy.com cofounders Seth Adam Cohen and David Sauvage, manager Samantha Pastor, and social-media editor Justin Wedes. Photo by Alex Fradkin
Call him Occupy's Arianna Huffington.
New York filmmaker David Sauvage is cofounder of Occupy.com, a nonprofit multimedia and news-aggregation site that launches today with financial backing from Hollywood, lots of complicated internal politics, and a plan to become a must-read for a new generation of activists. "There is so little in the media that the vast majority of people engage with that is alive, or powerful, or truthful, or messy, or complicated, or real," says Sauvage, 31, whose last project before joining Occupy Wall Street was a TV commercial for WSJ, the glossy magazine of the Wall Street Journal. "I would like to see the makers of content emerge as the shakers of the world."
In her makeshift classroom in lower Manhattan, Lisa Fithian turns to a group of several dozen students, squares her shoulders, and issues a challenge: "Does someone want to be a cop and come get me?" A tall redhead abruptly breaks out and lunges at her, but Fithian, a petite, den-motherish 50-year-old, head fakes and bolts away. Cheers erupt from her pupils, Occupy Wall Street protesters intent on shutting down the New York Stock Exchange the following morning. Another pretend cop moves in, and this time she drops to the ground, flopping like a rag doll as the officer struggles to drag her away. Fithian stands to deliver her lesson. "Of the two choices, running away or going limp, what does running away communicate?" she asks.
"Guilt," several people say.
She smiles and nods. "Guilt."
When it comes to civil disobedience, there's often a right and wrong way to break the law, and one of Fithian's jobs is to teach the right way to hundreds of newly minted Occupy activists. Call her Professor Occupy. With somewhere between 80 and 100 arrests under her belt (she's lost count) over nearly four decades of rabble-rousing, Fithian may be the nation's best-known protest consultant. Unions and activist groups pay her $300 a day to run demonstrations and teach their members tactics for taking over the streets. But for much of the past six months Fithian has been dispensing free wisdom to the young radicals who took over parks from New York City to Los Angeles last fall, everything from proper tear gas attire to long-term protest strategies. "When there is some conflict, or things aren't going the way that we want them to go, or people don't have a good long-term plan," says 27-year-old Jason Ahmadi, an early arrival at Zuccotti Park, "I have heard others and myself say, 'Dammit, where is Lisa Fithian?'"
On Saturday, hundreds of protesters marked the six-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street by attempting to retake Zuccotti Park. By the end of the night, 73 had been arrested and the park forcefully cleared. In scenes that recalled the early days of the movement last fall, citizen journalists captured the New York City Police Department roughing up dozens of apparently peaceful activists. One of them, Craig Judelman, posted a bloody photo of himself on Facebook with the caption, "just got punched in the face like 5 times by NYPD." Journalists J.A. Myerson and Ryan Devereaux have good summaries of other alleged brutality, including officers throwing punches, "rubbing" a boot on someone's head, dragging a woman by the hair, and breaking a guy's thumb. Many other incidents were caught on tape. Here are some of the most disturbing:
In July federal agents quietly arrested Hector Xavier Monsegur at a New York City housing project. Less than 24 hours later, they'd converted the infamous hacker, known online as Sabu, into an informant. He reportedly had been caring for his imprisoned aunt's two young children and didn't want to abandon them for a jail cell.
Working from an FBI building, Sabu allowed agents to observe his online conversations with friends and confidants in the hactivist group Anonymous. But that's not all. He also went on the attack, positioning himself as a ringleader of a new Anonymous faction, Antisec, that would target private security firms, police departments, and the FBI itself. The FBI appears to have used Antisec as a way to attract hackers and collect evidence against them. But did Sabu cross the line between informing on his friends and entrapping them? Writers such as Forbes' Andy Greenberg have floated the idea. (Similar questions have come up in the case of another activist turned FBI asset, Brandon Darby.)
On Wednesday the Anonymous group CabinCr3w shed light on that question with an incredibly detailed dossier of Sabu's online activities while he was in the employ of the FBI. This timeline follows his secret transformation from hacktivist to informer and his eventual outing.