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The One Group NOT Talking About #OWS Is ... The Obama Campaign?!

BY Micah L. Sifry | Wednesday, November 16 2011

Today, I got an email from Jeremy Bird, national field director for the Obama 2012 campaign. I like Jeremy at a personal level, and think he's a really talented organizer. So I always open his emails (in truth, I open all presidential campaign emails I get, but pay less attention to most), and this one, which was titled "Something special happened in Colorado," initially caught my eye because I thought, perhaps mistakenly, that there might be a mention of the Denver "Occupy Wall Street" group, which has been one of several local groups caught up in pitched battles with police and elected officials over how to continue their protest legally. Briefly, I mused, maybe the Obama campaign has figured out how to help navigate this conflict, which is roiling the country right now?

Well, not in this email--Jeremy was writing to announce that a few days ago, "One of our volunteers called up an '08 supporter in Denver, and they had the millionth conversation of this campaign." Furthermore, that person had never volunteered before and now was planning to attend a local event to connect with other Obama volunteers in his community. "Over the next 12 months, he could start dozens, maybe hundreds, more one-on-one conversations with voters," Jeremy wrote. This, he pointed out, is "how we build this campaign."

Indeed. But then I got to thinking. In the last two months, the Occupy Wall Street movement has ignited a gigantic national conversation about inequality in America. "We are the 99%" has taken off as a unifying meme. Millions have joined a local Occupy group and tens of thousands have demonstrated in hundreds of cities. Just about every group on the political map has taken a position on OWS, and certainly--judging from my in-box--every center-to-left group that does any work related to economic issues has sought to position itself as either helping the movement or being in tune with it (in part to tap its energy and perhaps gain members or money). Even the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee has jumped in with a petition calling for "100,000 strong standing with Occupy Wall Street."

And yet, it struck me, the one major political organization that I hadn't heard say a word about OWS was the Obama campaign. To be sure, the President himself has mentioned the movement in speeches and even expressed solidarity in spirit with the protests, or at least the "frustration" that they're reflecting. But these comments have had no explicit echo from the campaign itself. There's no guidance coming from the campaign, in public at least, as to how its supporters should engage the movement.

I searched the Obama campaign website for any mention of Occupy Wall Street and discovered that there are none on the campaign's official blog. The closest to a reference is an October 6 post by deputy campaign manager Jen O'Malley Dillon called "They're Trying to Protect Wall Street," that goes after Republican senators for holding up the confirmation of the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. "It's long overdue that we have cops on the beat protecting consumers from Wall Street abuses," she writes.

None of the emails I've received from the Obama campaign mention Occupy Wall Street. (Several do mention the Tea Party, by contrast.) Nor have I seen any mention of the Occupy movement in my Twitter list of local OFA accounts. It's possible I've missed something, and it's pretty hard to prove an absence of something, so correct me if I'm wrong, but it really looks like the Obama campaign is trying as hard as it can to act like Occupy doesn't exist.

This isn't to say that the Obama base doesn't overlap with the OWS movement. There are a number of events listed by members of myBO, the Obama social network, that indicate support for local Occupy groups, like this for Occupy Dayton, or this in Walnut Creek, CA. But the field organizing by the campaign seems to studiously avoid any links to the "occupy" meme; for example, the campaign appears to be doing tons of local voter registration events, but instead of saying "Occupy Your Vote" or "Occupy Your Library or Post Office to Register Voters," it asks people to "Adopt a Post Office or Library."

Perhaps this isn't that surprising. The Occupy movement, after all, is much more radical than the Obama campaign. But at the moment it is at the center of a wave of public anger at the economy and raising very deep questions about how power works in America. The Obama campaign, which is priding itself on its ability to engage people at the one-to-one grassroots level, can't avoid talking about it without seeming to be completely out of touch with the feelings of voters. It will be interesting to see how they solve this puzzle.