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Occupy Activists Return to Zuccotti to Phone Bank for Sanders, Sparking Debate over Political Role

Web ExclusiveMarch 14, 2016
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Ahead of Tuesday’s key primaries, supporters of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders gathered in Zuccotti Park in New York City to call voters in Illinois, Florida and Ohio. Many of the phone bankers were former Occupy Wall Street activists who returned to the site of the 2011 encampment because they saw parallels between Occupy and Sanders’ message. “We were really inspired by the incredible amount of grassroots momentum and energy that’s been inspired by the Sanders campaign and its critique of Wall Street, of money in politics and a rigged economy,” said Beka Economopoulos, a former Occupy activist who helped organize the phone bank. But other Occupy activists disagreed with what they saw as the co-opting of the movement; they staged a “mic check,” using Occupy’s signature call-and-response to say the movement should remain independent of political candidates. Democracy Now!’s Amy Littlefield and Charina Nadura filed a report from Zuccotti Park.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS: We were really inspired by the incredible amount of grassroots momentum and energy that’s been inspired by the Sanders campaign and its critique of Wall Street, of money in politics and a rigged economy. We wanted to extend that conversation as long as possible and engage many more people in this political revolution. So that’s what we’re doing here in Zuccotti Park.

YURIY SLASHCHEV: Hi, Joshua. My name’s Yuriy Slashchev, and I’m a volunteer calling for the Bernie Sanders presidential campaign. Illinois is voting on Tuesday, March 15th, and we’re just going around to ask people, when you vote on March 15th, can Bernie count on your support? Yeah? OK! That’s awesome! That’s great!

ADA VARGAS: My name’s Ada Vargas. I’m sitting in Zuccotti Park with some friends phone banking, because I was going to do this by myself anyway at home, but might as well do it outside with good energy around and just getting—getting everybody that I know in Illinois and through the dialer, as well, to get out there and vote on Tuesday, because we’ve got another Super Tuesday. And it’s looking good.

CHARLES LENCHNER: I’m Charles Lenchner. And it’s great to see all these people who I—many of whom I met back when Occupy was in its early days. When we part of Occupy, we were protesting against something, and it wasn’t clear how we were going to win. But now that Bernie Sanders is, you know, possibly the nominee, it feels like we’re getting closer to actually holding Wall Street and the big banks accountable and breaking them up and, you know, getting rid of the carried-interest loophole and finding a way to maybe put some of those bankers in prison. The day is coming closer.

KYLE DEPEW: Hello? OK, thank you. Do not call.

It’s Kyle Depew. A lot of the things that Occupy made space for, a lot of the rhetoric that we’re seeing Bernie Sanders say and a lot of the opinions that are now becoming more mainstreamed are being reflected through the Bernie Sanders campaign. And I think it’s important to work for him right now and to see that through.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: But a group of activists, including Marisa Holmes from Occupy Wall Street are doing a “mic check” of the Bernie Sanders phone bank. They’re reading aloud the statement of autonomy adopted by Occupy Wall Street in 2011.

MARISA HOLMES: [echoed by the Peoples’ Mic] We wish to clarify that Occupy Wall Street is not and never has been affiliated with any established political party, candidate or organization.

VLAD TEICHBERG: I’m Vlad Teichberg. This is why the statement exists, is that the social movement, such as Occupy, needs to exist outside of this political process, this two-party political process, to be independent, to be able to develop those things. If the Bernie campaign sort of absorbs Occupy, it will be—it will be a loss.

AMY LITTLEFIELD: Beka, what’s your response to the mic check, the counterprotesters who are here today who are upset about the use of Zuccotti Park and some of the language of Occupy in support of a political candidate?

BEKA ECONOMOPOULOS: I’m thrilled that they’re here. I believe that social movements, Occupy, are about disagreement—right?—yet a fidelity to what binds us together in struggle.

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