It’s never easy to take the dramatic step of confronting an unfortunate soul about their dependence on a dangerous substance and the harm it is doing to those around them. On Sunday, July 8, OWS, Occupy Storefront, The Long Island Progressive Society, United New York, and other groups, joined together at an intervention in Southampton to talk to Mitt Romney about his Koch addiction. While Romney may not be concerned about his debilitating craving for Koch cash, the effect of his (and Obama and other politicians) obsessive need for hundreds of millions of 1%er dollars has terrible consequences for the rest of us. The $50,000 dollar per couple fundraiser sponsored by David Koch at his beach house was the perfect opportunity to get Mitt to take that first big step toward recovery: Admitting you have a problem.
Though the Koch brothers are certainly not the only ones who use their billions to influence our government to the detriment of the 99%, they are apt representatives of the problem. They poured millions into Wisconsin to prevent the recall of Governor Scott Walker. Koch money has gone into the fight against healthcare, support for Citizens United, attacks on public education, funding for ALEC, union busting, and many other regressive campaigns. They also use their wealth to prevent the use of alternative fuel sources and reductions in the use of fossil fuels. The Koch brothers and their ilk have little regard for the 99%; they seek only to hasten the demise of the middle class and increase their profits. At times their behavior is outright criminal. In 2000, David and Charles Koch’s company was indicted on criminal charges related to the dumping of 91 tons of liquid benzene, a chemical linked to childhood leukemia, into a stream in Corpus Christie, Texas. After successfully lobbying the newly appointed Attorney General John Ashcroft in 2001, David and Charles reduced their criminal counts to a $350 million dollar fine for falsifying documents related to the dumping.
Though it was obvious we were headed to the getaway of the elite, as soon as we arrived in Southampton and looked around it struck us acutely that we sure were not in Kansas anymore. We passed by the huge estates of the 1%, some with gatehouses that were bigger than my home. The gathering place was at Coopers Beach. Activists arrived by car and bus, and by four o’clock around two hundred and fifty of us had gathered on the roadway. There was also a lot of press, which was encouraging. Lining the road across from the beach access we held our signs high as cars rolled past. There were more shows of support than I expected, though some yelled out the standard, “Get a job.” When one occupier yelled back, “I have two jobs,” the response was, “that figures.”
Once gathered, we marched down to the protest point at the end of the street leading to David Koch’s residence. It was a far cry from the city streets we are used to marching along. Instead of monolithic buildings towering overhead, we marched past pristine beaches, wetlands, and palatial homes. We stood with our banners and signs, chanting as the luxury vehicles of the 1% rolled by on their way to the fundraiser. It was then that the Occupy “Romney Mobile” drove up, bedecked in corporate stickers, and almost made it past the roadblock. Perhaps the (fake) dog strapped to the top was a giveaway. As I took a break in the shade, one supportive resident of the area told me, “There’s never been anything like this here before.”
The heat was oppressive. We stood in nearly triple digit temperatures for over an hour. Heat has been an issue at the Chicago NATO action, NATGAT, and this last action, which is ironic, since we may have been dealing the with consequences of global warming while protesting at the residence of someone who spends millions of dollars to refute global warming with pseudo-science. Some of us decided to head to the beach and protest from the ocean side of the Koch mansion. About a dozen of us marched, one carrying an American flag. It was a good move. The beach was cooler, and we walked along letting the refreshing waves lap at our feet. When we reached the Koch residence we planted the flag Iwo Jima style in the sand dunes as the secret service and police looked on from the property. We held up our signs and offered the security forces some water, since the Kochs hadn’t provided any refreshments. Just then we looked above and saw a plane with a banner trailing behind it that read: Romney has a Koch addiction. It circled the estate for the entire action. We were all feeling pretty exuberant.
Then we saw the rest of the protestors marching down the beach toward us, banners unfurled, signs held high. They were a half mile away, just a blur, kicking up a cloud of sand. It was a strangely beautiful scene, certainly not a typical day at the beach. They reached us and we stood together shouting loudly, “Voters in, money out,” and such. Photographers took pictures, live streamers worked up and down the crowd, and reporters did interviews. There was ample documentation. We continued for about an hour and it was getting close to the bus departure time. Many occupiers took advantage of the locale and enjoyed some well deserved beach time. Though our mission was serious, there was also something festive in the air. Ocean breezes, white sands, the brilliant blue water and crashing waves, allowed everyone to end the day on a relaxed and joyful note.
Though two hundred fifty people might seem like a small turnout, it was interesting that we got as much attention and impact for this event as for actions where thousands were present. The logistics for this beach invasion were difficult and the organizers did a good job with only a little time and limited resources. And the numbers were adequate for the mission. There’s a lesson to be learned here on effective messaging at the right time and place. Money out of Politics is a core Occupy issue, as well as the focus of many other groups. Working in coalitions and taking this message into the political arena in an election year where Obama and Romney may raise over a billion dollars combined will expose the true nature of our government, and, while we may not see an immediate solution, the voters may become much more skeptical about the candidates and the system.