Bailout for OWS?

Corporate funders come to the failing anti-capitalist movement's rescue.

Bankruptcy makes for strange bedfellows. During its brief spell on the national stage, the Occupy Wall Street movement raged against rich corporations – “corporate fascists” in OWS parlance. But as the national spotlight has faded – and as cash from progressive donors has dried up – the movement's soak-the-rich agitators are set to welcome a financing boost from the same “1 percent” they once denounced.

OWS's corporate benefactor is the so-called Movement Resource Group, a funding venture backed by the left-wing founders of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream as well as the former manager of grunge group Nirvana, among others. The group has raised some $300,000 so far, and plans to raise around $1.8 million to revive the moribund movement.

Ben and Jerry’s involvement in the cause is entirely in keeping with the company's activist giving. Driven by its founders’ Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield’s radical politics, the ice cream giant has long funded extreme left-wing causes through its Ben and Jerry’s Foundation. Dispensing funds to a broad spectrum of left-wing groups, from ACORN to the Tides Foundation, the ice cream makers have never seen a contradiction between their commercial success and their intense loathing of free-market capitalism. In recent years, for instance, their foundation has endorsed the "Earth Charter," a document that blames capitalism on the world’s environmental, social and economic ills. The charter declares that “the dominant patterns of production and consumption are causing environmental devastation, the depletion of resources, and a massive extinction of species” and blames capitalism for causing the “gap between rich and poor.”

Considering how closely these tenets align with OWS's class-warfare rhetoric, it’s no wonder that Ben and Jerry’s see OWS as the ideal vessel for their views. Last fall, Ben and Jerry’s issued a statement of solidarity with the OWS protestors, praising them for raising issues of “fundamental importance to all of us,” and pronouncing themselves “honored to join you in this call to take back our nation and democracy.” Ben and Jerry’s also endorsed the movement’s grievances, bemoaning the fact that “[c]orporations are permitted to spend unlimited resources to influence elections while stockpiling a trillion dollars rather than hiring people.”

To be sure, that opposition to corporate money in politics doesn't seem to apply to Ben and Jerry's, which is now trying to spend millions to influence the political process through OWS. Nor, seemingly, does it apply to Unilever, the global conglomerate that owns Ben and Jerry’s and which spent a million dollars on political lobbying in 2010.

But hypocritical or not, the funding comes at a desperate time for OWS. By all accounts, the movement is in shambles. Now that it is no longer generating media attention, the movement’s finances have fallen to $200,000, half of which is apparently designated for bail money for arrested occupiers. OWS also has nothing to occupy, having been evicted from its hijacked headquarters New York's Zuccotti Park last November. To that end, funds from the Movement Resource Group are intended to pay for an OWS office in New York as well as stipends for “core activists.” Exactly who these might be is not clear, but given OWS's history of violence, the infusion cash should raise eyebrows.

In fairness, not all OWS protestors have welcomed the corporate bailout. Some are already complaining that the movement’s financial backers want to turn it into a progressive nonprofit, complete with a liaison and formal operational structure. For a movement that prides itself on its decentralized nature, the imposition of a top-down hierarchy would be an embarrassing setback.

Still, the fact remains that without that bailout, OWS looks likely to disappear from the political scene altogether. The movement that drew media in flocks has become a distant memory. And nothing better underscores OWS’s irrelevance than the fact that the self-styled anti-corporate, anti-capitalist movement may soon be dependent on corporate cash to keep it alive.