Activism and accountability: a conversation with Cecily McMillan

Saturday, September 17, was the fifth anniversary of the first day of Occupy Wall Street – two months of protest against economic inequality, based in a small plaza in Lower Manhattan known as Zuccotti Park. The movement spawned other Occupy protests from Seattle to Miami and launched an unstoppable revolution to stand up for the ninety-nine percent for whom the economy doesn’t work.

For the organizers in New York, as for many of us, when you are committed to social justice, you cannot help but raise your voice in the face of racism, classism, and many other institutionalized behaviors that casts one segment of society as less worthy of the respect of humanity than another.

This is the story of one self-described “Occupy die hard,” Cecily McMillan. She is the young woman who, after being violently assaulted by the New York Police Department during a peaceful, Occupy Wall Street six month anniversary event in 2012, unintentionally became the face of the movement when she was arrested and went on trial for assaulting the cop who grabbed her breast and beat her until she bounced on the pavement, writhing in seizure.

It was supposed to be a quick visit, a show of support before heading out with friends to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, but it turned into something much worse.

“The only thing I am guilty of,” she would later say, “is not going in with a partner. I should have known better.”

VIDEO: Cecily McMillan’s friends stand across the street and watch her getting attacked – 3/17/2012

VIDEO: Cecily McMillan rolling on ground before put in ambulance – 3/17/2012

VIDEO: A bruised Cecily appears on Democracy Now days after her arrest – 3/23/2012

Cecily McMillan hours after her 2012 assault (L) (Justice for Cecily)
and a more recent portrait (Steve Eberhardt)

“In encountering struggle, you realize the stuff you are made of.”

– Cecily McMillan

After a short trial with a difficult judge, a jury convicted McMillan of the assault. But there was an outpouring of support, including from three-quarters of the jury itself, pleading for leniency, and instead of the two to seven years she could have gotten, the judge sentenced her to three months in jail and five years of probation. She is now a felon. Part of the terms of her probation is that she is not allowed to participate in any protest or civil action.

This, admits Cecily, is difficult for her, as she only found her own freedom in fighting for others. She describes her passion for equality as “the accountability of activism.”

“Accountability,” she told me during a recent conversation in an Atlanta park, “that’s what I tried to foster in the cadre [of Occupy activists].” That was important in a movement that famously had no leaders precisely because they expected committed activists to step up and do what’s right.

“It’s good to do your best in your capacity, and to inspire people to be as accountable to others as you are,” she explained. “If we think of Martin Luther King [Jr.] as somebody special, nobody steps up in his place once he goes. Who could fill his shoes? If people think I’m special [for being willing to fight for justice and go to jail], then they say, ‘Well, I don’t have to do what she did.'”

Let’s be clear. Cecily is not comparing herself to MLK. She is saying that the willingness, the capacity to fight for equality and justice, is in each of us. Activists have to believe that. Otherwise, why show up? We stand neither as hero worshipers nor heroes, but ordinary people inspired by those who came before to take a public stand for social consciousness.

McMillan has a story to tell about a life that began with her fighting for herself, and evolved into a fight for the welfare of others, because, as Dr. King said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

Sometimes we see injustice in the ugly way we treat each other as human beings, like in an outsider who is shunned by social divisions, and only requires what all people do – love and acceptance. Sometimes injustice is what one sees in a misguided community’s visceral reaction to a cultural event or tragedy.

bookcoverWhile Cecily’s undeniable empathy brings her to the side of the former (she almost went to jail for trying help a Hispanic couple avoid it themselves), it is for her communities that her voice is loudest and her defense is strongest. It is there where she had her awakening.

It happened in the small Southeast Texas town of Beaumont, after September 11, 2001. She was days away from her thirteenth birthday, and, as she writes in her recently published autobiography, The Emancipation of Cecily McMillan: An American Memoir:

“That was the first time I’d heard the word ‘terrorist.’ …The terrorists, I learned, had been Muslim, so they believed in Islam; which, I was told, was a religious cult of brown men with towelheads and long beards who worshiped war, enslaved women and hated Christians.”

It was the prevailing perspective in a small, poor, segregated, southern town, that, to McMillan’s credit, she admitted “sounded crazy to” her. More to the point, she was aware enough to begin questioning the norms of her community:

“I was at a pep rally for an upcoming football game. The cheerleaders had just performed a routine to Lee Greenwood’s ‘God Bless the USA’ when an athlete grabbed the mic and said, ‘This one’s gonna be for the troops – tonight we’re going to go out there and kick ass like they was sandniggers!’ The gym went wild…”

It was the suffix, as it were, of the epithet that drew her attention. “I’d never heard that word used for anyone but blacks,” she wrote. “What did it mean that it was so easily transferable?”

“When I started asking questions, I realized it wasn’t enough to be white and Christian,” McMillan told me. “If you disagreed with them, then you might as well be with the n*****s and the people who weren’t Christian…

“I was white, and I was Christian, but just because I started to ask questions, then all of a sudden, I didn’t get to be part of their club anymore.”

It was shortly after that when she took her first action for social justice. As she writes in the book:

“One day, I stayed seated for the Pledge of Allegiance and stood up when everyone else sat down for the moment of prayer. When the teacher sent me to the office, the principal wanted to know why I’d done it. ‘Because,’ I explained, ‘some people aren’t Christian, but we have to say “under God” in the pledge and worship him in prayer.’ ‘Don’t you believe in God?’ he asked. ‘I do,’ I replied, ‘But that’s not the point.’ ‘Then what is?’ he asked. ‘That you make us do it…What if I wasn’t Christian?’ ‘But you are Christian.’ he replied. ‘But if I wasn’t,’ I argued, ‘it would be wrong to make me worship a different god.’ ‘Yeah, well, you’d also go to hell. Do it again,’ he challenged, ‘and you’ll get a taste of it.'”

The “taste” of hell, when she repeated her protest the next day, was a paddling. That evening, she says, she wrote in her journal:

“They think they can put me in my place, but they can’t. My place is wherever I say it is.”

Cecily posing for the New School Free Press, after St. Patrick’s Day, 2012 (NSFP)

“You know, Millennials, we were never really afforded a childhood, as a generation. Our generation did drugs to fit in, not to chill out, not to party. We did Adderall, to go to school more, to get there earlier, to stay later, to do all sorts of extracurricular activities – to be all perfect, a perfectly well rounded human being…

“We were made into neurotic little yippy dogs, all of us.”

– Cecily McMillan

It would be easy to dismiss Cecily McMillan as just another youthful radical, naive of the compromises other generations made in battles deemed too destructive to keep fighting. On the other hand, I found her to be the real deal – as authentic and caring an activist as I’ve ever met.

She describes herself as “really working class.” Sure, she cites revolutionary thinkers like Foucault, Badiou and Michelle Alexander the way Lit majors cite Shakespeare, Bronte and Huxley, but it’s not just an academic exercise for her. It’s her strong belief in the words one of her college professors told her, that “Teachers are society builders.” Her passion brought her to learn more, and her learning inflames her passion.

“The college and the prison chapters [of the memoir] are probably the two that are least defined,” she said, thoughtfully, “because I’m still working on what privilege is and how it was taken away from me.” She went on to explain that to be raised in poverty and be given an opportunity to attend college and be free to embrace activism, and to become “Activist Barbie,” as the media called her during the trial, and then to lose that and more – including the respect of her family – when she went to prison, has left her and her family more estranged than ever.

“There’s something truly painful,” she lamented, “about being in privilege, for people who were not raised with it, because in gaining privilege, you lose your family; you lose your identity; you lose your culture. It’s painful.”

Cecily’s family has names for her, she says, like “pretentious, highfalutin,” and what is perhaps most hurtful, “not a McMillan.”

The confusion, for her, was escaping the fate of many raised in poverty in America. “What,” she asked me, rhetorically, “so I gained the privilege to not become a heroine addict? I gained the privilege to not starve to death?

“I gained privilege, but I worked myself out of [the] family, out of roots, out of soul.” For her, not being able to return to the culture in which she was raised has left her with what she now sees as two unpleasant choices: privilege or prison. In her mind, she either violates her principles of equality and pursues money, or goes back to a life of protest and civil action, and loses her freedom. Either way, her family resents her.

Still, she believes, prison is the key to “breaking” our society – not in the anarchistic sense, but in the sense of breaking a dysfunctional addiction to institutionalized thinking. “Anybody who’s in college or a PhD program right now ought to be in jail,” she argued, “and I think everybody that’s in jail ought to be in college.” Later, she clarified, “Let’s leave college alone. Let’s say anybody who’s in a masters or PhD program, their time would be better spent in jail.”

This will, McMillan claims, allow those in higher education to have practical experience, to learn and to write about what they’ve only studied in their “ivory tower” of theory. “They [already] know how to study that. They don’t need a guide.” They need the experience.

On the outside, she says, even if you’re involved in an action as bold as Occupy Wall Street, “You are the privileged allied with the oppressed.” But in jail, she went on, “You are the oppressed allied with the oppressed. You are the oppressed and the activist.”

If you’re young, living with you parents and not making any money, “What have you got to lose?” she asked. “Go to jail [for what you believe]. How much can you do on the inside? Guys, you’ll be fine.”

Cecily says flipping the script is something Millennials are poised to do. The economy and our social structure demand it, because the class entitlement they grew up with – money, segregation and/or education – is no longer relegated to provincial America.

“I love my generation,” she told me, hopefully. “We’re really entitled, but that entitlement is going to be this world’s saving grace. When we’re the poorest people [living in neighborhoods] alongside those that are currently ‘othered,’ right now, with the education that we have and the entitlement we have, we are going to put upon the world entitlement for all, and that’s going to be huge.”

For McMillan, the opportunity for the entitled to learn about what it’s like to be without food, housing or a job, “or a good life,” will necessarily bring those universal requirements to all. “‘Entitlement for all,’” she reflected, adding, “I love that.”

Cecily on trial, flanked by her attorneys, Rebecca Heinegg (L) and Martin Stolar (R)
(Kevin Zeese)

“I came up with this idea in prison that I still believe in. I don’t believe any of us are any freer on the outside than those on the inside. We just have more distractions.”

-Cecily McMillan

That brings us to the question just about anybody might ask her. (I did.)  Why does someone in their mid-twenties need to write a memoir? After all, it wasn’t as if she were some kind of radical wunderkind.

“Oh my God, I would have slapped the shit out of myself in the sixth grade,” she told me she realized after consulting some of her old journals for her story.

But the message of the book, she says, isn’t the narrative of her perseverance throughout her challenged childhood, or her ordeal at Occupy Wall Street, or at the hospital, or in court, or even in jail.

Cecily told me many times how uncomfortable she was that the redemption in the story was about her. “People are still just really into me, in the most delegitimizing way,” she lamented. “People want to talk about me. People want to spectacle-ize me. They think, ‘Oh well, you wrote a book. How bad could your life be?’ Really bad,” she concluded, emphatically.

The message she wants to get out is that it is precisely because of her challenges growing up poor, in a broken home with parents always screaming at each other and crying, a suicidal, depressed mother and a severely ADHD brother who was later diagnosed as bipolar, that she was able to put up with her ordeal both before and after the events of March 17, 2012, in New York.

“This book was the first time I realized how much of my life was not accessible to the people [at Occupy] that I had wanted to be – previously – a part of,” she admitted.

Given that version of privilege, the privilege of conditioning, we could call it, Cecily claims it was easier for her to understand the plight of the women with whom she was incarcerated in the jail complex at Rikers. She called it a shared “generational history” of those most challenged by the classism in our society.

“I wrote this book for the women at Rikers,” she said. “I promised them that I would do everything in my power to make sure their demands were heard and their lives were, to the best of my ability, protected. Not just the women I served time with – the women of Rikers generally.

“The only goal I have with this book was to get people to see prisoners as people.”

In the book, McMillan describes the facility and its location starkly:

“The East River is a salt-water tidal strait that flows northward along the eastern shore of Manhattan Island, then bends due east between the Bronx and Queens before returning to the Atlantic. Just past that eastward bend, with Queens to the south and the Bronx to the north, lies Rikers Island, a hard to get to (and harder to get out of) outpost of cruelty and misery, just across the water from LaGuardia Airport. The island is flat and treeless and surrounded by razor-sharp barbed wire fences; its only link to the mainland, the Elmhurst neighborhood of Queens, is a narrow causeway.”

At intake, she describes the beginning of the metamorphosis from celebrity defendant to convict:

“When I went in, Activist Barbie [in the form of the fashionable dress worn at sentencing] (still entombed in the plastic Nordstrom bag) was taken from me and disposed of ‘in the back,’ where she was then exhumed and dismembered, according to the property receipt I received in exchange…the only remaining records that she’d ever existed – that I’d ever been a person worth defending. Now, I was just a prisoner.”

The other prisoners, McMillan said, wondered why she was in there. They never expected a white girl to be sentenced to Rikers, but they didn’t know her mother was Mexican until she spoke to them in broken Spanish, when they asked if she was loca, a familiar term from her abuela. “No siempre (not always),” she told them.

“I was one of five white women in Rikers,” she said, “and all of us were half-Latina. There are not white people in Rikers. There’s not even white corrections officers.” One of the other Latina prisoners took Cecily under her wing, and became her “jailhouse godmother.”

“I was totally happy there amongst those women,” she told me. “They are the best human beings I have ever met in my life.”

Then she added, “Prison, in a way, is the great equalizer. Being in there, you’re all just fucking prisoners, man. You have a single enemy. You have a single structure that you’re all against. And it’s not the COs [corrections officers]. It’s the captains. It’s the doctors.”

In the book, she describes how prison psychiatrists refused to give her a new prescription for Adderall to treat her ADHD. Then, in terribly disturbing detail, she tells us about trying to get her Depo-Provera shot for birth control, and that the gynecologist insisted on a needless vaginal exam – twice – for a pap smear and a scrape. She left in tears, and without the shot.

Her prison sisters told her to leave it alone, that in Rikers, “you don’t ask, ‘Why?'” But being the accountable activist, she wrote her lawyers about the incidents with the doctor, and finally got her birth control and her Adderall.

“See,” she told her friends, “this is what happens when you ask, ‘Why?'”

They looked at her and said, “No. This is what happens when you ask, ‘Why?'” Their experience of questioning the system never turned out as well.

To be sure, McMillan experienced hardships in prison, but there was something about being in Rikers that, she admits, made her wonder whether she would be better there than on the outside.

“Things are just a lot more real in there,” Cecily explained. “I’m not somebody who likes grays. I like black & whites. I like to know who the enemy is. I like to know what the obstacle is. At least in there, you know. You can see it. Here it’s just a series of delusions. I can drink [a beer] and feel a little bit better, but I think we see freedom when more people like me go to jail. It’s clarity. It’s really realizing that the only freedom you have is the dignity to choose your outcome, the dignity to go about life that you can look in the mirror every day and say, ‘I’m doing my best.’ That’s the only freedom. When the only thing staring back at you is hate and you choose to love, that’s freedom.”

READ: Cecily McMillan gives a disturbing narrative of the “horrific conditions” for the women at Rikers to journalist Callie Beusman, in 2014, for Jezebel.

“I am literally the least likely at Occupy Wall Street to write a book.”
-Cecily McMillan

Since her beating at the hands of police, Cecily suffers from PTSD, including symptoms like blackouts, breaks in memory and night terrors that leave her “petrified, like breathing is hard,” and “scared – really, really scared.”

Despite that – or, she might argue, because of it – she remains an inspiring example of what it means to be an activist.

“When you think you are better than people, morally or whatever, it’s no better than the Trump people who think they’re better than the Mexicans,” Cecily reflected. “You can’t inspire anybody when you think you’re better than them, and I did not inspire my comrades at the New School [graduate school in New York, during Occupy] to get involved with Occupy Wall Street because I thought I was better than them. And you know what? That’s shirking my fucking duties. That shut down conversation, when your only job as an activist is to foster conversation.

“You are an activist. You are actively affecting the world. And when you call yourself that, you are taking a-count-a-bi-li-ty,” she enunciated, “for how you actively impact the world. That’s what [being] an activist means. And then, people can call you out on your shit, people can judge you and people can critique you and you can judge and critique yourself.

“You have to be responsible for that. You are no longer reactive. You are no longer unconscious. You are responsive, you are engaging and you are accountable. And if you are not doing that, then you are a bad activist. Period.”

That’s a high bar, for most, but the example of Cecily McMillan’s commitment is as much aspirational as it is inspirational. If you’re going to put yourself out there, then do it. Notice when you’re not doing it and “judge and critique yourself.” Acknowledge your humanity, give yourself permission to fail, and find a different way. But don’t lose your inspiration and don’t lose your determination because fixing the world is everybody’s obligation.


PS. Cecily also had something to say about Atlanta and its Occupy event, as well as the city’s role in the revolution. Check it out on my Daily Kos diary.

Why a Walker victory will not stop a movement

Protesters outside the Wisconsin Statehouse, Madison, WI, Feb. 26, 2011. (Photo by Richard Hurd, via Creative Commons)

A new poll conducted last week shows Gov. Scott Walker (R-WI) with a seven point lead over Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in next Tuesday’s recall election, in Wisconsin. Contemplating a negative outcome after all the protests, all the statehouse sleepovers, all the nights the Democrats of the Wisconsin Senate hid out in an Illinois motel, all the visits from Ed Schultz and the rest of the national media, all the signatures on recall petitions, it all sucks, of course. Big time. But the herculean effort it took to try and oust the union busting governor of the first state where public employee unions were recognized is worth more than just an “Oh well, we tried,” and an “atta boy” for the recall movement’s strident activists. It deserves to be recognized for initiating a conversation on fairness, and bringing ownership and unity to a movement.

First, if one were to follow the fuse that exploded in Zuccotti Park, last fall, to its source, they would find an unwound reel and depressed plunger in the rotunda of the statehouse in Madison. Occupy Wall Street could not have happened without it. No matter what happens Tuesday, the conversation about fairness – fairness for the middle class and for union workers – is not over. What began in Madison was amplified by mic checks in Lower Manhattan that continue to echo across the country. The chorus is just beginning, even appearing as a central theme of Obama’s reelection campaign.

“The job of a President is to lay the foundation for strong and sustainable broad-based growth,” Obama said at a campaign stop in Iowa last week, “It’s to make sure that everybody in this country gets a fair shake, everybody gets a fair shot, everybody is playing by the same set of rules.

“When you’re the President,” he added, with rhetoric intended to distinguish himself from the GOP nominee, corporate raider Mitt Romney, “your job is to look out for the investor and the worker; for the big companies and the small companies; for the health of farmers and small businesspeople and the nurse and the teacher.  You’re supposed to be thinking about everybody — and the health of the middle class, and what the future is going to hold for our kids.”

Obama took on economic fairness directly because he saw there was support out there. Politicians don’t adopt an agenda just to be “radical.” Sure it helps if it’s in their philosophical wheelhouse, but they do it because they have political cover. They see there is a thriving movement that will support it. And if voices support it, and they get lots of media time, the money will follow. Just ask the Tea Party.

Second, what Wisconsin re-affirms is that this is our country. No matter how much money the Koch Brothers and Karl Rove and Sheldon Adelson throw at a politician’s feet, our voices and our actions are the weapons they fear most. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be working so hard to disenfranchise us at the voting booth.

Lastly, what happened in Madison united us. It brought liberal and progressive activists together with establishment organizations like major unions, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood, in a fight that Rebuild the Dream founder Van Jones might call “class warfare… against people who have no class.” Indeed, it’s likely that the Susan G. Komen, anti-Planned Parenthood blow-back, this past March, would not have happened without the unity with which we have empowered ourselves since February, 2011.

Remember that no matter what happens in the Battle for Wisconsin, on June 5, there will be no flag of surrender, from either side. For those of us committed to fairness, equality and the right of everyone to be healthy and prosperous, the fight never ends. There’s always someone who wants to turn back the clock on women, sacrifice the welfare of workers and suppress the rights of voters. We have to be there every time. They only win when we allow ourselves to lose, and that will never happen.


Linking arms with Occupy – the last, best Baby Boomer chance

I am of the undertow of the Baby Boomers, the last third of a generation, unwilling to let go of our ability to subvert the tide and change the world, defined for us by our older brothers and sisters. Born between 1957 and 1964, we are the President of the United States, the governors of ten states (only three states have chief executives younger than we are), 16 US Senators and almost 100 members in the US House of Representatives. We are Democrats and Republicans, atheists and adherents, activists and apathetics.

The older Boomers who came before us were born in a time of a great, nationalist, moral validation brought on by the victories in World War Two, born when the world was trying to right itself after the end of European colonialism and the beginning of the Arms Race with the Soviet Union. By the time we, the remnants of a generation, came along, it seemed all the hard work had already been done.

Occupy and the 60s legacy
From Occupy Dallas, Dept. of Defense, UW Digital Archives & other public domain sources

Our younger brothers and sisters in the Occupy Movement have made that hard work worth doing again. Many more choose, once again, to link arms in unity against the enemies of social progress, like wealth disparity and growing national poverty, like a government controlled more by a complex of corporate corruption than by the needs of the people who elected them. The money promises to get our overpaid representatives reelected, and the new Super PACs, like the Koch Brothers’ Americans for Prosperity, and legislative ghost writers from ALEC, promise to keep their political opponents at bay by working to inhibit voter access through laws passed in more than a dozen states.

Just today, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) formally requested that US Attorney General Eric Holder investigate “whether new state voting laws resulted from collusion or an orchestrated effort to limit voter turnout,” the Miami Herald reported.

In one instance, a teacher in New Smyrna Beach, Florida, unknowingly violated that state’s new voter registration laws while trying to teach her students about the importance of becoming a voter. According to a story in the Daytona Beach News-Journal:

“What happened is that [high school teacher Jill] Cicciarelli helped her 17-year-old seniors with the paperwork to preregister for the voting rolls, as she does every year. She’d been on maternity leave in the spring when the Legislature passed a voting law that, among other things, requires third parties to register with the state before they help sign up new voters.

“The law has proved so daunting that the League of Women Voters suspended voter registration efforts in Florida for fear of exposing volunteers to up to $1,000 in fines.”

Nelson told the students, “It is voter suppression,” the Daytona Beach paper reported.

But it’s not just voting rights. The entire debt ceiling debate last summer, and the current travails of the resulting Super Committee, now in session, are about the tax breaks for the wealthiest versus the needs of those who depend on government help to feed themselves and their families.

And that demographic is growing alarmingly fast. According to a September report from the US Census Bureau, between 2009 and 2010, “[r]eal median household income declined,”  and “[t]he poverty rate increased.”

More to the point of the younger protesters participating in the Occupy Movement, the Census Bureau report continues:

“An estimated 5.9 million young adults aged 25 to 34 resided in their parents’ households in 2011, compared to 4.7 million before the recession. By spring 2011, 14.2 percent of young adults lived in their parents’ households, representing an increase of 2.4 percentage points since spring 2007.”

Why do so many more live at home at an age when the rest of us couldn’t wait to get out of the house? The report points out, “45.3 percent had income below the poverty threshold for a single person under age 65 ($11,344).”

Some people have folded their arms, unwilling to embrace Occupy because they do not understand what the movement stands for. That might be because there is so much not going right for the future of our country, that one can throw a dart and hit an issue of concern to Occupy’s participants and adherents.

That’s why it is important not to greet them with folded arms, but with linked arms, the position they are proud to take before they are arrested for calling attention to the vanishing American Dream.


Occupy – Grassroots, at the root level

“Yesterday, I brought to your attention how offended we are at the Tea Party Express that the media would dare to continually insist that the Occupy Wall Street protests are motivated by the same issues that the Tea Party coalesced around and that they are the Tea Party of the left!”
E-mail from Tea Party Express to supporters, sent Monday September 11, 2011

“[W]hen you compare these people with tea partiers—now you’ve got a problem with We the People.”
–  Web posting from Tea Party Patriots to its local groups, Tuesday, October 11, 2011

They’re offended. They’ve got a problem. They’re using exclamation points. The longer Occupy Wall Street, and its nationwide inspired clones, continue their protests, the more vociferous the right’s opposition is getting. The Tea Party just does not get the Occupy movement. They don’t get that it is an actual grassroots movement, in the dirt, at the root level, and not the grass of a manicured, suburban lawn, cared for by gardeners who have been hired by big banks and John Birchers like the Koch brothers.

It only makes sense that in trying to voice opposition to Occupy, the radical right has resorted to categorizing the participants in anarchistic memes. “[W]atch us keep owning Teamsters and Hippies,” invites one right wing video website.

“Whenever I hear somebody call me a hippy, I just write it off as ignorance, because that’s a term that’s no longer Occupy Atlantarelevant,” said Kate, an Atlanta teacher and community organizer, who spent Thursday evening helping feed those camping at Occupy Atlanta, in Woodruff Park, in the heart of the city’s downtown business district.

“I have very little respect for people who try to take down someone else whose trying to do some good work,” she insists. Still, she says there is commonality among the Occupy and Tea Party movements. “The people I’ve spoken to from the Tea Party are interested in community work, and we may not agree on all of our political points, but I have respect for people who are trying to go out into the community and engage with their neighbors.”

A young web designer at the Occupy Atlanta site, named Ginsen, seemed to agree. “Overall, I support any sort of passion for people to change something they don’t believe is right,” she said, after setting aside the Hula Hoop she had been swaying around in.

Tea Party groups, however, see it much differently, feeling their organized, political message trumps any semblance of credibility Occupy participants think they have. “Tea partiers usually have informed opinions and clear articulation of their principles and goals,” claims the Tea Party Express. “The socialist mobs sitting around in NYC rely on mind-numbing chants, bongo drums and bullhorns, because there is no substance to their message.”

But Kate, the teacher, sees that as a plus. “Politics is not relevant on the grassroots,” she said. “What’s relevant here, is that people are coming together, on a very personal level. You can ask people here. You don’t see big non-profits, with a big presence; you don’t see labor organizations; you don’t see the Tea Party. You see people, and that, to me, is what grassroots organizing is. When you get politics involved, that is when it loses that people power.”

Harrison Schultz, an activist participating in Occupy Wall Street, told Politico much the same thing. “This is not a political movement, this is a social movement,” he said.

But the Tea Party groups see the politics as proof of their power, particularly after the 2010 Congressional elections. “Occupy Wall Street may someday become a significant force in American politics, but they’re certainly not today,” said Mark Meckler, co-founder of the Tea Party Patriots, according to the Politico article.

Ned Ryun, president of American Majority, a group that trains tea party activists, told Politico that he’s not too worried about Occupy protesters becoming a force. “The more you read about [them] and their behavior,” he insisted, “the more it looks like they’ll implode on their own.”

"C'mon. Do we look like union organizers?"

In Atlanta, Ginsen seemed unfazed by the actions and threats of Tea Party and other right wing activists. “We can handle a little bit of push back. It’s okay,” she said, matter of factly. “In the end, if they push back, we’ll push harder.”

And while Ryun doesn’t seem to take the Occupy protesters seriously, the more strident Tea Party Express had a different characterization of the Americans participating in the Occupy movement. “They are a disorganized unruly mob of shiftless protestors that has been reinforced by union and organized labor thugs,” said Amy Kremer, in her letter to supporters, asking for donations.

Ginsen indicated that she believed that was nothing but partisan hype. “When you see girls with Hula Hoops, it’s kind of hard to think we’re a bunch of union organizers here,” she said. “I mean, c’mon. Do we look like we’re part of a union?”