When I arrived in D.C. last week for Occupy Congress and Occupy the Courts, I was full of hope for impacting the elected representatives gathered in our nation’s capital, and much more so after the first night’s mass protest, but was unaware of the entire Congressional schedule… that in fact only the House of Representatives was meeting that week and that they would only meet for two days before adjourning for out-of-town retreats… in Baltimore. Seeking interviews with any Congress members I could find, I had popped in and out of the administrative office buildings of Cannon, Rayburn, and lastly, Longworth. Shortly before Longworth closed, I found Speaker Boehner’s office, and was informed that he had already left for the Republican Retreat, a 3-day strategy session mapping out GOP initiatives for the year. I gathered some contact information, namely that of Boehner’s Chief of Staff, Mick Krieger, before heading back to a hotel where several members of the Occupy Los Angeles Media Team were meeting for dinner.
Once I arrived at the hotel, discussion quickly turned to the events taking place in Baltimore that night and for the following days. Not only was the Republican Retreat taking place there, but also the Democratic Progressive Caucus, which was being attended by some members of Occupy Wall Street, NYC. We all expressed the desire to go, and somehow all the pieces fell into place, chiefly that we were able to book rooms at the very same hotel that was hosting the Republican Retreat. We even had an old school, green Volkswagen van to complete the hippy road-trip adventure. Pulling up at the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel in the VW was certainly amusing—not only to me, but to the staff and police securing the hotel.
The following day, Thursday, was the first of the Republican Retreat, and I was determined to open a dialogue with the legislators in attendance. Much to my chagrin, the events were not open to the public, and the hotel was crawling with security. I looked endlessly online for an event agenda, to no avail. A colleague and I went to Happy Hour at a neighboring bar, hoping to glean some kind of information from anyone taking a respite from the activities. As the afternoon progressed to early evening, many attendees streamed in, evidently on break. Once people started heading back to the hotel, I took that as my cue to join them.
I rode the elevator with people heading to the reception before the dinner, and was able to blend in with the group. I headed to the bar, made a lap around the room, and sat down at a table to observe the crowd for any opportunities. I spotted a man with a name-tag that read ‘Mick Krieger,’ and recognized it immediately though not knowing why. I pulled his business card out of my purse, and realized he was Boehner’s Chief of Staff. I sat awhile, waiting for an opening, but it did not come. Instead, I got up to do another lap, and ran into Representative Allen West of Florida, a former Lieutenant Colonel of the Army and currently the Tea Party legislator notorious for brawling with Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
I engaged Rep. West in a discussion of the National Defense Authorization Act, and how certainly he must find it appalling considering the Tea Party’s stance on civil liberties. He shook his head in disagreement, saying that there was no provision for detaining American citizens indefinitely in the final bill, and that the law was “vital to our national security.” I asked him, “Why, then, did Obama issue a ‘signing statement’ upon signing the NDAA into law? And further, why did I see Debbie Wasserman Schultz on Bill Maher discussing the very topic apologetically?” Mr. West continued to deny the existence of the provision, saying that Wasserman Schultz “didn’t know what she was talking about.” He then asked me if I knew of their feud and for my opinion on the matter. I replied, “Honestly, I found it refreshing that you stated your feelings so openly. It’s so rare in politics these days.” I profusely thanked Rep. West for his military service, and he politely posed for a picture with me.
I continued my stroll around the reception, looking for Krieger and Boehner. The dinner bells rang, and people started piling into the dining room. I went in myself, took a look around, and realized I had very little time for action. I walked back out into the reception lobby, and found Frank Luntz, the GOP strategist familiar to many from his appearances on Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report. I told him I was a big fan, and asked him how it was seemingly so easy for him to handle Stephen Colbert, to which he replied, “It’s very hard—he’s very intelligent, and it’s hard to know when he’s joking and when he’s being serious.” I was laughing hysterically inside my head, but managed to keep it together enough to thank him and request a picture.
After Frank Luntz, the room was almost empty, most everyone having been seated for dinner. I honestly thought that my adventure was over… I was grabbing a water from the bar; turned to leave; and whom did I see? John Boehner! Walking toward me! The whole transaction went something like this:
“Why, hello there!”
“Hello, Speaker Boehner! How are you? You are looking great this evening!”
“Why thank you.”
“I’m really a huge fan. Would you mind taking a picture with me?”
As I am pulling up the camera function on my phone, he asks with knowing eyes, “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, well, I’m in town to visit my cousin’s art gallery…” He looks at me directly in the eyes, as if to say, “Cut the bullshit.”
“…and I’m a political blogger covering the events” …upon which he turns and walks away, in the direction of the dining room.
I immediately headed back to my hotel room; found that the key no longer worked; and went downstairs to address the issue with the front desk. Walking back to the elevators, I was stopped by an undercover Capitol Police officer. He asked me what I was doing on the 3rd floor for over an hour, how I had gotten there, etc. I showed him my I.D.; requested his; and returned to my room, where several members of Occupy LA Media were waiting. After going over the details of my story, they told me that they had been very productive talking with Progressive Caucus members that day, and that they were headed back to the other hotel for further discussions. I decided to pen the following e-mail to Krieger, in a last-ditch effort to open dialogue between Occupy and the Republican Party. To this date I have received no reply.
I saw you speaking with Rep. Patrick Meehan, and was wanting to speak with you myself. However, I thought it inappropriate to interrupt you, being that I do not know you personally. I am a producer of written content, graphics, and video for Occupy LA Media and for my own website, www.LadyLibertine.net. I am seeking to open a dialogue with you and Speaker Boehner vis a vis common ground between Occupy and the Republican party. Just so you know, I am making this effort because I have counterparts that are now speaking with the Progressive Caucus. Occupy does not seek to align itself with any party, but to open dialogue with all. Again, we do not affiliate with any party. I do not speak on behalf of the movement generally, but as an autonomous individual. I think that our mutual love of civil liberties and the Constitution can be this common ground. I look forward to meeting you formally and engaging you further.
For love of country,
aka Lady Libertine
My and my colleagues’ experiences in Baltimore reflect a critical issue for Occupy nationally. How does the movement go forward in engaging the political parties to affect change, when we have scant resources in a battle with forces who seemingly have an unlimited supply? The Democrats welcomed Occupy members with open arms… though I am not naive enough to believe they truly seek structural change. The Republicans, did not, and apparently, do not want dialogue, as evidenced by a recent report from Up with Chris Hayes, detailing the efforts of former Boehner staffers to destroy Occupy.
In a memo from D.C. lobbying firm Clark, Lytle, Geduldig & Cranford (CLGC), of which two partners are former Boehner aides, CLGC outlines the threat that Occupy poses to the financial industry and proposes strategies for marginalizing the movement and its supporters to their client, the American Bankers Association (ABA). According to Hayes, “It lays out a plan for a nearly $1 million campaign against Occupy Wall Street and any politicians who might express sympathy for Occupy Wall Street, including specific Democratic politicians in contested races.” While Occupiers quibble over the political correctness of mission statements for committees, and over not taking help from progressive organizations for fear of being co-opted, and amongst themselves generally, lobbyists and legislators strategize the movement’s demise. I implore everyone who is active in this movement to stop in-fighting and obstructionism, and to start seeing the big picture…
A friend of mine recently told me a story about the Indian tribes fighting for their survival. At first, all the tribes fought each other and could not join together against their common foe. But one day, one of the elder chiefs had a vision during a sweat (a tribal ritual sauna). In the vision, he saw all of the tribes fighting in a valley, decimating each other, and on the hill overlooking it, he saw the white man in victory without any effort. That chief was able to see the bigger picture, and unite the tribes. Occupy and the organizations of the progressive left and libertarian right are the Indians, and we are in dire need of uniting our tribes against Wall Street and its defenders, namely, but not solely Republicans, if we ever want to stand a chance. I know that many will say that the 99% movement is inclusive, not exclusive, that Occupy neither affiliates nor excludes. However, Occupy has extended the invitation to dialogue to BOTH parties. That invitation remains open, but until Wall Street and Republicans come to the table, know thine enemy.