ACLU, Guardian sue FBI for Occupy records

The American Civil Liberties Union of Northern California and the San Francisco Bay Guardian sued the FBI in federal court today to find out whether and to what extent agents have investigated or watched members of the Occupy movement.

Filed under the auspices of the Freedom of Information Act, the lawsuit says the ACLU and the Guardian filed a public information request in March that the FBI promised to fast-track – and then never provided a response.

The lawsuit says the FBI has a long history of surveilling constitutionally protected political and religious activity, and says the FBI already acknowledged that “potentially responsive documents may exist” related to requests for records about Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Wall Street.

“There is great urgency in shedding light on the extent of the FBI’s role in surveilling Occupy activists, and in particular, on whether the FBI has complied with local and national norms in monitoring those engaged in First Amendment activity,” the lawsuit says.

In a web posting announcing the lawsuit, ACLU staff attorney Linda Lye said that although “the right of protest goes to the heart of our democracy, and the FBI exists to keep us safe, the FBI has a perverse history of interpreting its mission to mean that it can spy on political activists including Martin Luther King Jr.”


What I was trying to say about Occupy Oakland

I was on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California” last night to talk about Occupy Oakland:

As I expected, some within the Occupy movement weren’t happy with what I said. Here’s a few of the many tweets sent last night by @OccupyDavis:

To change the behavior of the young, we must 1st change the conditions which lead to their frustrations!

Some role models —> @Josh_Richman @dylan20 & @cmarinucci are! 😛 They would rather disparage the young than listen 2 young voices #ows #oo

Hey @Josh_Richman @dylan20 @cmarinucci & other #MSM talking heads! Our children & grandchildren are fighting 4 freedom on U.S. soil! #ows

@Josh_Richman We are not afraid to stand in solidarity with our young sisters & brothers. The movement is not dead. You are Wrong! #ows #oo

To this last one, I replied that I hadn’t said the movement is dead, but I’d tried to convey that it’s at a crossroads. @OccupyDavis agreed with that, and we resolved to continue the conversation today. I’d prefer not to do so in 140-character bursts, so here we are.

I was on Oakland’s streets covering Occupy soon after police rousted the camp for the first time; for about 21 hours on the day of the general strike; during the West Coast port shutdown; and at other times. I thought it was amazing – especially at the general strike – how much support there was, across age and socioeconomic lines, for Occupy’s complaint against economic injustice. I think the widespread support for that movement is still out there; I think actions like that which targeted banks in San Francisco’s financial district a few weeks ago are still building upon that momentum.

But I think that support disappears when the movement’s priorities become taking over vacant buildings and deliberately provoking police into a severe response – which were the only priorities on display in Oakland last weekend. And you can’t build a movement by alienating more and more people.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You can’t tear down fences, try to take over a building, throw things at police, and march toward police lines with reinforced corrugated metal shields without expecting police to respond with force. It’s asinine. It’s juvenile. It’s pointless.

Most people I’ve talked to don’t want Occupy to be pointless. Most of the blogs, many of the tweets and a lot of the other sources I read online say it. The polls say it. People – even self-identified liberals who are sympathetic to Occupy’s original focus – are not down with this. I’ve found precious few who thought breaking into a money-starved city’s City Hall to smash art exhibits and burn a flag was wise.

So Occupy must choose, which isn’t an easy task for a leaderless movement. It can let itself be coopted by those who are consumed by the need to break the law in order to communicate, by those whose only aim is to bait an undeniably troubled and occasionally brutal police department into further transgressions. That’s a path for which Oakland taxpayers – not the 1 percent – foot the bill, and which many believe will guarantee fewer and fewer people rally to the movement’s name over time.

Or, it can find ways to reach out to existing community entities – nonprofits, unions, student groups, whatever – to find new, creative ways to keep hammering home the message of economic inequality that gave the movement its momentum in the first place. This is the path that many believe will eventually benefit Oakland and all other cities in which the movement has manifested itself.

It’s a difference between some vandalism, provocation and cheap headlines now, and a lasting movement that will effect real change. It’s all up to those who call themselves Occupy.

UPDATE @ 6:26 P.M.: Well, I’ve really put my foot in it this time – the tweets have been coming hot and heavy today from those I’ve offended. Thanks to those of you who talked to me instead of yelling at me; I enjoy and learn from dialogue like this, and I hope it’ll continue. To the rest: I don’t have time or the inclination to respond to junior-high locker room taunts.

Here’s another way of expressing what I was trying to say earlier: Every social movement needs a mixture of idealism and pragmatism, and I think a lot of people have come to feel that Occupy Oakland has lost that balance. Put simply, if you’re interested in building a social movement that will effect real societal change and yet fewer people are supporting you as time goes by, you’re doing it wrong, no matter whether your heart is in the right place. Either you’re no longer communicating the message clearly enough, or the message you’re communicating isn’t resonating with people.

Lots more, after the jump…
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Poll: Romney leads GOP pack in California

Mitt Romney has a small but solid lead in California among Republican presidential candidates, according to a new poll from the University of Southern California and the Los Angeles Times.

The former Massachusetts governor has support from 27 percent of registered Republicans in the state, followed by Herman Cain with 20 percent, Newt Gingrich with 14 percent and Ron Paul with 6 percent.

“What has remained unchanged for the better part of the year is that Romney maintains support from roughly a quarter of Republican primary voters in California,” Dan Schnur, director of the USC Dornsife/Los Angeles Times Poll and director of USC’s Unruh Institute of Politics, said in a news release. “The only thing that has changed is the identity of his chief opponent.”

But Romney is still trying to consolidate his support among conservatives; 22 percent of GOP voters are still undecided. Texas Gov. Rick Perry, once near the top of the polls, now has only 3 percent support in the Golden State. But among self-identified Tea Party supporters in California, Cain holds three-percentage-point lead over Romney, 29 percent to 26 percent.

Meanwhile, the poll also found 50 percent of California voters approve of President Barack Obama’s job performance, the same as in September; 42 percent disapprove. The president’s numbers are buoyed by 81 percent approval from black voters and 64 percent approval from Latino voters.

“Make no mistake about it, African American and Hispanic voters are President Obama’s political lifeline in California. More likely than not, their overwhelming support for his re-election is probably going to make this state less than competitive in November 2012,” Schnur said.

Asked whether they would vote for Obama or Romney in a hypothetical match-up, 52 percent of California voters picked Obama while 35 percent picked Romney. In other match-ups, Obama led Cain 54 percent to 31 percent and led Perry 55 percent to 31 percent. “Californians are not particularly enthused about the president’s job performance or his re-election campaign, but what makes him a solid bet for winning California in next year’s general election is that most voters don’t see the Republican party as a viable alternative,” Schnur said.

And the poll shows 47 percent of California voters favor the Occupy Wall Street movement while 33 percent oppose it. Asked if they agree or disagree with what the movement is saying about the country, 48 percent said that they agree and 29 percent said that they disagree. Along party lines, 62 percent of registered Democrats agree with the statement and 15 percent disagree, while 21 percent of registered Republicans agreed and 55 percent disagreed.

The poll found 35 percent of Californians consider themselves supporters of the Occupy Wall Street movement and 27 percent consider themselves supporters of the Tea Party movement.

“Both represent roughly one-third of their respective parties: the Occupy Wall Street movement for the Democrats and the Tea Party movement for Republicans. So both movements have some ability to have an impact on the direction their party’s nominee takes next fall not only in a presidential campaign, but in a congressional race as well,” Schnur said. “However, neither will determine the party nominee or policy agenda a nominee takes into a general election.”

The poll was conducted Oct. 30 through Nov. 9, surveying 1,500 California registered voters. The poll’s margin of error is 2.52 percentage points.


On Occupy Oakland, the media & what’s next

After spending 21 hours on the street covering the Occupy Oakland general strike Wednesday and early Thursday, I’ve talked to a few other media outlets about what happened.

On Thursday, it was BBC Radio 4’s “The World Tonight;” the pertinent segment starts at about 36:25. On Friday, I talked with Scott Shafer of KQED’s “The California Report.” And on Friday night, I was on KQED’s “This Week in Northern California.”

Even as “This Week” was ending, a viewer e-mailed me with a critique.

On KQED this evening, you said how unfortunate it was that the powerful message was being lost with the Occupy movement because of the actions of a vast minority (the midnight vandalism). But then, with valuable television time, having a real opportunity to discuss this fundamental unbalance in our society you, what do you do?

You lay an egg.

An opportunity to relay the message of the majority (aka the 99%) and to provoke a real debate, you continued to focus on the fringe.

You’re right Josh, it is unfortunate. Next time I guess.

I understand Gary’s disappointment, but I disagree. We made it abundantly clear – as our Bay Area News Group coverage this week consistently has – that most of Wednesday’s strike was peaceful and powerful, with a cross-section of the community united in voicing its frustration over income inequality, lack of economic opportunity and a dearth of resources for education and other public services.

But it only takes a few dozen morons to muddy the water. Anyone who thinks the media (or the world) can ignore their deliberate provocation of police action – by invading and defacing private property, by building and burning barricades on public streets – and the resultant damage to property and civic reputation is being disingenuous at best.

Civil disobedience entails accepting consequences. Breaking the law to make a statement with a peaceful but defiant sit-in or camp-out may still lead to arrest; if protesters are truly nonviolent and police are brutal anyway, it only lends more credence to the protesters’ cause. But you’d have to be a fool to think that burning things in the streets and hurling things at police won’t get you tear-gassed, as well as alienate the majority whose hearts and minds you were trying to win. Nonviolence worked for Gandhi. It worked for Martin Luther King Jr. Oughta be good enough for this, too.

Yet Gandhi and MLK were leaders, of which Occupy – by design – has none. A leaderless movement that can’t define specific means to its general ends is ripe for co-option by interlopers, be they “anarchists” eager to strike a blow at tyranny by smashing Tully’s Coffee’s windows, or be they juvenile morons who get off on tagging up on any available surface.

We – on the show last night, and in our ongoing coverage – have tried to communicate that the Occupy movement knows what it wants, but can’t seem to decide how to get there. To truly tap into the widespread frustration out there, they should be thinking of Lennon (and McCartney) instead of Lenin. “You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world.”

The big “Death to Capitalism” banner stretched across 14th Street at Broadway won’t help keep a cross-section of the nation engaged in this movement. 99 percent of America doesn’t want a Marxist revolution; those who do constitute a 1 percent that’s scarier to the rest than the 1 percent that everyone has been smack-talking recently. “If you go carrying pictures of Chairman Mao, you ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”

“F— the police” rhetoric, barricade burning, window-smashing and graffiti won’t build a movement, either; making downtown Oakland look like an old-school New York City subway car wasn’t a deft rhetorical statement. “When you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”

You know what brings about change? Hard work, painstaking organization and incremental progress. Years of it.

The Occupy movement’s ideological opposites learned this long ago. Read Thomas Frank’s 2004 bestseller What’s the Matter With Kansas?, a study of how arch-conservatives took over that formerly moderate state’s politics from the ground up, conquering the GOP one county at a time until the entire political landscape had been dragged to the far right.

Or consider the Tea Partiers. They got some people elected, not by smashing windows and spray-painting graffiti, but by walking precincts and getting out their votes. Now the Speaker of the House – hardly a moderate himself – has trouble wrangling them.

The lesson is: If the party you’d counted upon to represent you has betrayed you, let you down, hung you out to dry, then go take it over and make it your own. Camping outside city hall sends a message; running city hall – and then the state legislature, and then Congress – lets you make the message a reality. Calling attention to problems is good – finding practical ways to fix them is better. “You say you’ve got a real solution, well, you know, we’d all love to see the plan.”


Local House members support ‘Occupy Wall St.’

As the “Occupy Wall Street” movement spreads to the Bay Area, several local House members are voicing their support.

Demonstrations are under way in Oakland, San Ramon, San Jose and San Francisco, and are planned for Wednesday in Walnut Creek and Palo Alto. Rep. John Garamendi, D-Walnut Grove, said Tuesday that’s “as it should be.”

“This is a very important albeit somewhat disorganized expression of frustration and indeed anger at Wall Street, and a demand for jobs. Those two things seem to me to be the principal motivators behind this,” he said, adding the anger at the banking and investment industry is well-justified. “Their greed and recklessness brought this nation to its knees in 2008 and now their continuing greed will soon see the bonuses available to those who work on Wall Street.”

And Garamendi said “the frustration will grow” as House Republicans refuse to allow a vote on the president’s American Jobs Act, remaining more concerned with manufacturing “quarterly crises” to weaken the president politically. But Garamendi said House Democrats have no plans to co-opt the movement’s energy for their own political purposes.

“I would not even attempt to organize them. The American public is organizing itself,” he said. “The American public has had it … and understands there’s an attack on working Americans, there’s an attack on the middle class.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said in an email Tuesday that she strongly supports “the courageous people who have started Occupy Wall Street and I think they deserve more than our attention.

“In fact, we should all support putting a stop to endless wars, unrestricted corporate greed, and massive inequity facing all but the wealthiest few,” Lee said. “What is happening in our country is that the Tea Party controlled Republicans are playing politics with our economy and our democracy by trying to dismantle government, protect corporate donors and promote the super rich – and it is unconscionable. I am inspired by and will work with those on the front lines of this growing movement.”

Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont, said in an e-mail that “(e)verybody’s got a right to express their opinion and I applaud these folks for organizing to express theirs.”

“I understand their frustrations,” Stark said. “People want to work, they want to make a fair wage, and they don’t want to see the out-of-control transfer of wealth that has gone from the middle class to the wealthiest of Americans. It’s not right. Hopefully this movement will focus Congress on what should be our top priority — creating jobs and opportunity for all Americans.”

More after the jump…
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‘Occupy Wall Street’ comes to Walnut Creek

Are you in the mood to protest today?

The “Occupy Wall Street” movement comes to Walnut Creek on Wednesday in a “Main Street Meets Wall Street” demonstration at the corner of Main Street and Mt. Diablo Boulevard from 4-6 p.m.   If you can’t make it, they’ll do it again on Oct. 19, same time, same place.

The organizers will have signs but you can bring your own.

“Occupy Wall Street” has occupied the front pages and television newscasts in New York and Boston, where demonstrators have set up tents and gotten themselves arrested. The Walnut Creek edition is likely to be quite tame in comparison but no one wants to be left out of the action.

Questions? Email Kathy Klein at kathyrklein@hotmail.com or Ken Richard at ken@tkmediadirect.com

Read the full release below: Continue Reading