Occupy movement gets into politics

Nathan Kleinman is running for Congress in Pennsylvania as a Democrat, but is being profiled as 'the first Occupy candidate.'

David Brancaccio: We're in the heart of the primary election season and where is the Occupy Wall Street crowd in any of this? The movement--which erupted in lower Manhattan late last summer-- has spawned some candidates, including one running in the Pennsylvania primary tomorrow.

As part of Marketplace's coverage of what matters in this election--we call it 'The Real Economy,' let's check out what some see as a logical next step for Occupy Wall Street.

Nathan Kleinman: It's going to be hot today.

First things first. Nathan Kleinman is running for Congress in Pennsylvania as a Democrat. Not Green Party, not Independent -- Democrat, capital D. But in January when Kleinman announced he was going up against his hometown Democratic Representative Allyson Schwartz, a friend passed the word along to the online news site Politico.

Kleinman: The very next day they had this story, “The first Occupy candidate," and when I saw that, I smirked a little bit and thought this is going to be a different campaign than I expected.

Kleinman spent a lot of his time down at Occupy Philly last fall, and now as a congressional candidate has spent these past few months doing the political candidate thing. Town meetings, knocking on doors...

Kleinman: Hey Mike, how you doin'? I'm Nate.

And fundraising; Ben Cohen from Ben & Jerry’s donated $2012. But even in the weeks leading up to the election, he’s still devoted to Occupy. Last week, Kleinman taught a course for Occupy’s Free University of Philadelphia.

Kleinman: This is the introduction to a book called, “The First American Revolution.” The American Revolution did not start with the shot heard around the world on the morning of April 19, 1775.

Kleinman’s one of a handful of people coming out of the Occupy Movement who are deciding to take part in electoral politics, including candidates in South Carolina and Illinois. U.C. Berkeley political scientist Paul Pierson says should embrace the development.

Paul Pierson: The ballot box has to be part of it. The people who are making the laws need to know what the consequences politically for them are going to be, depending on positions that they take.

But electoral politics can be tricky. Kleinman opted to become a write-in candidate when there was a legal challenge to the signatures that got him on the ballot. Quite a hurdle. And even in his Free University class, some are skeptical: Can you really Occupy Congress?

Man: I’ve seen people get elected and all their promises disappear once they get there. And it’s not about you, Nate, it’s not about you.

Some say part of the problem with running for office, is that the system itself is broken. Tammy Shapiro is an organizer with Occupy in New York.

Tammy Shapiro: When you run for electoral politics, you have to run and be a part of that system and once you’re a part of that system, it’s really difficult to make huge impacts. 

But, she says, that doesn’t mean forgetting electoral politics.

Shapiro: I think the power and the strength of the Occupy movement is that there people who take different approaches to the same problems and it’s those different approaches that’s going to get us somewhere.

Kleinman agrees wholeheartedly. After he got dubbed “the nation’s first Occupy candidate,” Occupy Philly crafted a statement saying it doesn’t endorse candidates.

Kleinman: I stood there and I supported that proposal. Ultimately, people decided that it should be short and it should just be 'We are a non-partisan movement, we do not support candidates, we are not a political party.' But I supported not supporting myself, believe it or not.

Brancaccio: Nathan Kleinman, write-in candidate for congress in Pennsylvania and an Occupy Philly activist.

About the author

David Brancaccio is the host of Marketplace Morning Report. Follow David on Twitter @DavidBrancaccio

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