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Occupy Leaders Look to Grassroots for Revival Occupy Leaders Look to Grassroots for Revival Occupy Leaders Look to Grassroots for Revival Occupy Leaders Look to Gr...

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Occupy Leaders Look to Grassroots for Revival

New Organizing Institute co-founder and executive director Judith Freeman runs an informal luncheon for organizers and media at the NOI's Washington, D.C., office on Friday, Feb. 17, 2012. The event was a precursor to NOI's weekend-long 6th annual RootsCamp for progressive activists.(Chet Susslin)

photo of Julia Edwards
February 17, 2012

The people who brought us the Occupy movement, the Keystone pipeline protests, workers'-rights demonstrations, and other social movements of 2011 are convening in Washington this weekend to share strategies and plan next steps. For the Occupy movement, the weekend will be a chance to gear up for a comeback in April.

Just two weeks after being forced to scale down their protest in Washington's McPherson Square, Occupy is joining forces with several other activist groups at "RootsCamp," the seventh annual meeting of progressive, grassroots organizations sponsored by the New Organizing Institute, a spinoff of MoveOn.org. The institute's director, Judith Freeman, expects to see between 700 and 800 organizers at RootsCamp, held in the National Education Association building on M Street NW, complete with handicapped access on every floor and gender-neutral bathrooms. Among them, she expects, will be Occupy supporters who are gearing up for a revival this spring.

"This spring we rise! We will reshape our country with our own hands and feet, bodies and hearts," said a blog post this week by leaders of more than 40 labor and activist groups calling for "The 99% Spring."  "We will take non-violent action to forge a new destiny one block, one neighborhood, one city, one state at a time."

 

The groups are calling on supporters to gather not in public parks but in homes, churches, and schools from April 9-15. They expect involvement by hundreds of thousands of people across the country. The movement's agenda will broaden from last year's message, which focused on economic justice and the kind of direct, nonviolent action individuals can take to promote it.

Organizations convening at this year's RootsCamp include gay rights activists, opponents of Voter ID laws, Keystone XL pipeline protesters, proponents of collective bargaining rights for workers, and change.org, which led protests against Bank of America debit card fees last year.

When RootsCamp began in 2006, it focused on teaching progressive activists to bring e-mails and social media to Democratic campaigns. One devotee remembers struggling to convince an Ohio gubernatorial campaign to create a MySpace page after his lessons at 2006 RootsCamp. But over the past six, and especially two, years, the game has changed. Activists now know social media outreach is a necessity but find politicians are less crucial to their causes.

"After the 2010 election, we just said, 'Whatever, we're taking it into our own hands," Freeman said, referring to the Republican sweep in the congressional races that year.

Becky Bond, political director for CREDO Action, a leader in Keystone opposition, said the shift from political activism to grassroots organizing was long overdue. Bond said movements like Occupy give a voice back to the masses and share philosophy with the peace protests of the 1960s and 1970s.

But advocates connected to RootsCamp say their movements can't survive without connections to politicians in an election year. Communications director Evan Sutton said the New Organizing Institute is working on a "Candidate Project" to promote local officials with progressive platforms. "The opposition has it," Sutton said, referring to the tea party's influence in local elections.

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