Op-Ed: Nathan Kleinman, Occupy Upstart?
April 13, 2012 9:35 am
A few weeks back, The New Republic posted this story by Jesse Zwick about Occupy activist Nathan Kleinman and his run for office against Democratic Representative Allyson Schwartz of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. Twenty-nine year old Kleinman, a former organizer for Obama who has also worked as a press aide and assistant to a senator, decided to run against “socially liberal, fiscally moderate” Schwartz as a write-in candidate after becoming fed up with her less than progressive stance on the PATRIOT Act, the war on Afghanistan and other issues.
The story presents Kleinman as “the first Occupy candidate,” using the Occupy movement (setting up tents outside Schwartz’s district office, using Occupy-style communication techniques) to further his campaign and drum up publicity. Though Kleinman comes across as earnest, his ideas aren’t really presented in the article and his campaign and tactics are made to sound absurd. (“During the course of the meeting, Kleinman ranged from peasant struggles in Honduras (“Adbusters said these folks were the first Occupiers”) to proper terminology for transgender people (“I said, ‘transgendered,’ but it’s ‘transgender’”) to the recent South Korean free trade agreement (“a backdoor NAFTA for China”) to the make of his cell phone (“Good question, I have a Samsung”) to starting a community garden focused on local flora (“I have a collection of seeds with a strong focus on the Lanape Indian heirlooms”). The tendency to allow conversations to drift is “pretty much true for everyone I’ve met at occupations,” admits Doyle. “You’ll start a discussion about one issue and an hour and a half later you’re like, ‘Why are we discussing workers’ rights in India?’”)
As a (young, naive and idealistic) person who voted for Nader in 2000 and then “learned my lesson,” it’s hard not to be biased against a liberal with the amount of energy that Kleinman seems to have running against a moderate Democrat. I can hear the middle-left’s opposition loud and clear, because it rang in my head too: “Dude needs to take all that obvious political ambition and run against a Republican.”
I also don’t like that he’s borrowing the language and symbols of Occupy to run his campaign, which seems antithetical to the inclusive but inconclusive 99% message — no specific, deliberate set of demands or parameters have been set by Occupy, and that is on purpose. However important it may be for Occupy to develop an agenda at some point, the consensus so far seems to be, well, consensus. I doubt if all of Occupy agrees with Kleinman’s decision to run, his specific platform (if there is one) and his co-opting of the movement’s symbols and power. Then again, Occupy is “open source” — we are the 99%, I guess, and if I felt strongly enough I’m sure I could go and participate in one of Kleinman’s “open strategy meetings” to discuss the matter.
Does Occupy have a place in mainstream politics beyond it’s well-established power to draw attention to things or to enact dissent? Is it time for Occupy to create a platform, elect leaders and send candidates into office? Is there anything workable over the longer term about the method that Occupy uses to establish consensus or poll it’s members? Is it possible that the movement could eventually gel into a viable third party, or just a powerful wing of the Democratic party — and is this even a desirable outcome? Do we need to challenge our Democratic leaders to fight for a more progressive agenda, even if it means pooling energy and resources against “our own” rather than trying to defeat conservative candidates? Is Occupy the left-wing Tea Party — and if not, what is it?
Kleinman is either a legitimate and earnest lefty whose ideas will cohere over time, or a conservative interloper sent in to make progressives look silly, but either way he seems to have been born to be a politician. From one perspective, it seems a shame that he’s going about things in a way that makes it unlikely that he’ll win (although the publicity is rolling in, which, come to think of it, nice work!). On the other hand, it worked for the Tea Party, so who knows. Either way, we are in for a colorful year.
What do you think of Kleinman — or anyone — using Occupy to run a serious “within the system” political campaign? Comments are welcome on our Facebook page.
Image by Pascal Maramis