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Occupy The Vote
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August 28, 2012
The Occupy encampments have gone away for the most part, but the issues and the brand live on. The movement in Baltimore finds itself in a tussle with the political forces it wants to replace. WYPR’s Fraser Smith reports.
Fraser Smith: Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but veterans of the Occupy movement in Baltimore say that copying its now-famous name goes too far. Various attempts have been made to capitalize on the organization’s success. One of the copy cats is a veteran of many Democratic Party campaigns in Maryland.
Larry Gibson, who most famously helped elect former Baltimore mayor Kurt Schmoke, has been distributing lawn signs and bumper stickers which urge people to “Occupy the Vote” and re-elect President Obama.
It’s an outrage, says Beth Emmerling, an Occupy member. Speaking before one of the Occupy meetings in McKeldin Square, she said many in her group resent the unauthorized use of its name.
Beth Emmerling: “We absolutely have nothing to do with Occupy the Vote. It is a co-option of our name… We do not support a candidate. We do not support voting.”
Smith: Gibson says he meant no offense – quite the contrary.
Larry Gibson: “I think a lot of people understood that the Occupy movement performed a very important service of highlighting the income disparity, the resource disparity, the tax disparity, the one versus the 99-percent and now many people understand that the same kind of energy should now be going into consolidating this into political power and result which means ‘occupy the vote.’”
Smith: Emmerling’s unhappiness is unassuaged. She says voting is business as usual, not the thoroughgoing change Occupy wants.
Emmerling: “It is not one of our main agenda items the way seeking economic justice or seeking to keep the rec centers open or ending police oppression. Those are things we are putting a lot of energy into. If people vote, great. It’s just not our top issue.”
Smith: Gibson says he got the idea of borrowing the Occupy image at an Urban League meeting. He’s puzzled by the reaction.
Gibson: “The ‘Occupy the Vote’ is a logical conclusion of what you ultimately do to realize the policies that the original Occupy movement articulated.”
Smith: But Emmerling says Occupy has no faith in either party or either presidential candidate. To participate in a broken system allows it to continue and to delay real change, she says. She does not doubt that re-electing Barack Obama may be marginally better than electing Mitt Romney.
Emmerling: “I think there will be a difference but I believe it’s a question of degrees. I do not think Obama will stand up and do the right thing by the American people.”
Smith: Still, doesn’t Occupy believe the stakes are high? Why wouldn’t the group want to be involved in deciding who will try to revive the economy?
Emmerling: “I have masters in history so the parallels to the 1930s are incredibly frighteningly to me, the fact that we are repeating history, that we’re re-doing this. I’d love to see a New Deal. Do I think that any of that is possible? I don’t.”
Smith: She feels betrayed by Obama.
Emmerling: ‘I believe Obama is in bed with the same people who brought us here. He certainly filled his cabinet with some of the financial folks that brought us to our knees. I don’t trust that he would work to address the problems that Occupy is concerned with…”
Smith: Gibson insists voting is the only available way to make change in this country.
Gibson: “It’s just another phase of this continuum of trying to see that this country does right by all of its citizens.”
Smith: Just how to do right for all is a challenge for both sides in this dispute. I’m Fraser Smith reporting in Baltimore for 88-1, WYPR.
You can reach the WYPR Newsroom at email@example.com.
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