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Lawrence Lessig: Occupy Movement Should Join Forces With Tea Party

Occupy Dc

First Posted: 10/19/11 09:26 AM ET Updated: 12/19/11 05:12 AM ET

WASHINGTON -- Harvard law professor Lawrence Lessig urged OccupyDC protesters to join forces with the Tea Party Tuesday evening during a teach-in with disaffected Obama supporters in McPherson Square.

Lessig, author of the newly-published book "Republic, Lost: How Money Corrupts Congress -- and a Plan to Stop It," argued in front of a crowd of more than 100 people that the two groups should work together to push for campaign finance system reform -- moving to a small-dollar funded system -- so that politicians aren't beholden to their biggest donors.

"We are the 99.95 percent of people who have never maxed out campaign contributions," Lessig told the crowd. The ".05 percent has given $2,500 in the last election. And Congress listens to them. .05 percent set the rules for the 99.95 percent. They have the power to block and control the political system."

When asked by someone in the crowd if he thinks it's really possible for the Occupiers and the Tea Partiers to work together, given all the differences -- cultural and political -- between them, Lessig said he thinks cooperation is possible so long as the Occupy protesters are willing to look toward their and the Tea Party's mutual goals: the divorce of undue corporate influence from the political system and giving ordinary Americans a voice in politics.

"Those people have the same recognition of corruption in the system," he said. "Think a few steps ahead and build the movement that could change America."

But would this group be receptive to working with a movement funded in part by the Koch brothers, who the OccupyDC protesters have gone out to rally against?

"It's an interesting idea," said protester Stuart Dodson after Lessig was gone, and another speaker talked to the crowd about a movement to help D.C.'s restaurant workers get higher wages and better working conditions. "Odd bedfellows. But if you think logically, it makes sense."

Matthew Patterson, a member of OccupyDC's media team, said that he too could see OccupyDC working with members of the Tea Party. "The people in this park don't agree on every issue, but we all have common ground that brings us together. And I think that common ground is trying to restore accountability to government, to our businesses, to our political parties. That resonates not just in this park. I think we all agree that the citizens' voices should be what matter, and not the money. I think that's the common ground."

There were dissenters. "I think what Lawrence Lessig said is very problematic to movement building," said protester Heather Kangas. "I think we need to be fighting all the issues at the same time. We cannot bench that in order to reach out to the Tea Party first. I don't want to organize alongside people who are bigoted towards certain groups of people who are oppressed under the current system of capitalism. I would never want to work side by side with those people because we agree on one issue."

Then there's the question of whether anyone from the Tea Party would even want to be collaborate with the Occupy Movement. One consortium of Tea Party members already made a video of their OccupyDC invasion -- the video, during which the Tea Partiers antagonize the protesters, and the protesters chant "you're the problem" back at the Tea Partiers, would not seem to bode well. A conservative counter-protest is scheduled for this Thursday at noon -- organizers say on their Facebook page that they are going to bring job and military recruitment applications to McPherson Square, and that their aim is to "make the 1% a little bit bigger."

Perhaps 50 people sat at that evening's hour-long General Assembly meeting, after the Lessig and restaurant workers' talks, while another 50 or more milled about other parts of the camp, eating and talking. Now, 19 days after the OccupyDC protest started, nearly half of McPherson Square is covered with tents or other parts of the encampment. Patterson said he'd never seen that many people in the park before on a weeknight.

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