UPDATE: Due to circumstances beyond our control, The Young Turks and I have pulled out of negotiations with Christine O’Donnell’s Troublemaker Media. We wish that the debate could have moved forward, and thank everyone involved for their efforts.
On Monday, August 27, activists and political advocates from the Occupy movement and Tea Party will come together for an honest, open debate on the social, political, and economic problems that ail America. This event is a joint venture between Christine O’Donnell’s Troublemaker Media Film Festival and Cenk Uygur’s The Young Turks media network. Some attempts have been made to open such a dialogue in the past, but none with the same scale and scope. The genesis of this particular project can be traced back to Occupy Congress in January, but the idea of dialogue and coalition building is inherent in the concept of “the 99%.”
Former Delaware Senatorial candidate and Tea Party activist, Christine O’Donnell, and Young Turks correspondent, Michael Shure, will co-moderate the debate to ensure fairness and balance in the lines of questioning. Each panel will consist of a political advocate in support of the respective movement and three activists. I am a producer for this show, and will be a panelist for the Occupy side. We will be crowd-sourcing some questions from activists on both sides in an effort to be as inclusive as possible. Disclaimer: I am not speaking on behalf of Occupy, nor are the other panelists—we all speak to our own experiences within our respective movements. This event has not been endorsed by any particular general assembly, though there has been discussion about holding such a debate since at least January… which brings me to the topic of the debate’s genesis.
I have worked on the Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) media team since last fall, by producing articles, graphics, and videos for the movement. Many of us in media discussed the possibilities of opening dialogue with the Tea Party vis á vis our common ground on financial reform, campaign finance, and the patently unconstitutional National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which allows the U.S. military to indefinitely detain American citizens on American soil without trial. To that end, I went to Occupy Congress in D.C. in January, and discussed the NDAA with Tea Party favorite and Congressman, Allen West. Two weeks later, I attended the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) for a blogger briefing of the Citizens United film, Occupy Unmasked.
CPAC also featured a panel entitled “Taking Back Wall Street: The Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street,” wherein there were five Tea Partiers and no Occupiers. The lack of Occupy presentation on this panel maddened me, and so spawned our upcoming debate. Afterward, I approached one of the panelists, Dana Loesch, about opening a true dialogue between the movements, and met Ryan Rhodes, a Tea Party activist and political consultant, in the process. Ryan and I shared the vision of bringing together the movements in debate, and maintained contact after CPAC with the goal of making that vision a reality.
A couple of months ago, Ryan found our opportunity, while he was working to help Christine open her film festival with some truly unique and inspiring content. Ryan approached me for help with coordinating the Occupy side of the debate. As I had just been a panelist on the The Young Turks’ web show, The Point, I thought that the Turks would be ideal partners for co-production. Ryan and I put together a pitch to have The Young Turks produce the debate, and Steven Oh, the Chief Operating Officer of The Young Turks, showed immediate interest.
Somewhere along the way, Ryan had spoken with Gordon Gebert, a representative of Chuck Woolery, about having Woolery host the debate. (Gebert has produced a Survivor-like reality television series called Occupy vs. The Tea Party, with Woolery as the host. His show has not, as of yet, been picked up by a network.) Unbeknownst to Steven and me, Gordon was invited onto what was supposed to be our last teleconference to finalize negotiations between Troublemaker Media and The Young Turks. When we got on the call, Christine outlined the agenda, with Gordon to speak briefly at the beginning regarding Woolery’s requirements to host. Gordon was told that he would leave the call immediately thereafter.
Cue the controversy… Gordon refused to leave the call despite requests from everyone present that he do so, citing his need to be aware of all financial negotiations. He apparently thought that he would be taking on a producer role. I informed Gordon that we could not proceed with discussion of his role between the parties without ironing out an agreement between the principals, i.e. Troublemaker and The Young Turks. Gordon then began his threats… that he owned the trademark to Occupy vs. The Tea Party, that we could not proceed without him, that he would enforce his ownership of said trademark… as if one person could claim ownership to the idea of discussion between two political movements.
Gordon has proceeded to air his grievances via Twitter and the conservative blogosphere, with a comical piece of hackery entitled “Christine O’Donnell Climbs into Bed with Al Gore.” It should be noted that although The Young Turks has a show on Current TV, Al Gore and Current TV have not participated in our negotiations whatsoever and are not connected to this debate in any way. This is an independent project of The Young Turks. Gordon’s injection of Mr. Gore’s name is just a desperate and tawdry attempt to engineer a fake controversy and agitate the conservative base. I cannot speak to what conversations were held between Gordon and Troublemaker, but I can tell you that there is no contractual obligation between them.
Despite these speed bumps, we are proceeding full-steam with what we all think is an amazing opportunity for dialogue. After several lengthy discussions amongst the parties, I can honestly say that everyone involved is committed to making this a great debate! I hope that you all will tune in, and that it will in turn spur you to engage your neighbor, regardless of political affiliation. We cannot solve our biggest problems in this country without opening conversation, finding common ground, and building coalitions. My greatest hope is that this debate will move us forward in that journey.