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Strange Bedfellows–Or Maybe Not

Local left- and right-wing groups find common ground on issues of civil liberties

by Molly Eadie on May 30, 2012 · 2 comments

Despite the popular assumption that the Occupy and Tea Party movements are firmly at opposite ends of the political spectrum, Occupy Albany and the Albany Tea Party have found common ground and joined forces against the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act, sections of which were recently deemed unconstitutional by a federal district judge.

In February, an Occupy Albany activist, Jonathan “Fong” Capra, met an Albany Tea Party activist, John “Spyder” Vukras, at an Occupy-sponsored event. After talking, the two got the idea of reaching across party lines to work on civil-liberties issues.

Kumbaya: Spyder & Fong. Photo by Molly Eadie

“We have this vision of a Venn diagram, one circle representing the issues of the left and the other the issues of the right, and the center is where we want to focus our energy,” said Capra.

Capra began the Occupy Albany Civil Liberties Initiative, a working group to tackle civil-liberties issues and recent threats to civil rights like the NDAA. The act, signed into law by President Barack Obama on Dec. 31, 2011, gives the military power to arrest and indefinitely detain American citizens without a charge or trial.

“I think immediately the light bulb went off that this is something shared with grassroots folks on the right, the Tea Party, and the Ron Paul movement,” said Capra.

Vukras stressed that the Albany Tea Party is very different than the national Tea Party, which is, he said, “nothing but a Republican club.” He said the Albany Tea Party is nonpartisan, focusing on a politician’s ideas rather than the “D” or “R” next to their names.

Capra and Vukras, who might work together one day and protest against each other the next, found that they tend to agree on the things they don’t want to the government to do.

“The NDAA, for instance,” said Vukras, “we don’t want them to do this. The Patriot Act—we want them to stop doing that.”

They also agree on other issues, like supporting local businesses, but civil liberties is the key issue to them right now.

“I don’t think you have a good venue to work on things like heath care, LGBT rights, job creation, et cetera, when you don’t have the basics like freedom of speech, posse comitatus, due process, and protection against unreasonable search and seizures,” said Capra.

“We said, ‘Let’s not talk about the things that we disagree on,’ ” said Vukras, “This way, instead of arguing, we can get something done.”

The cooperation between the two groups contrasts with the lack of bipartisanship seen in federal and state legislatures recently.

“If Occupy and the Tea Party can work together, why can’t Republicans and Democrats?” asked Vukras.

Capra coined the term “crossreach” to describe the two group’s co-sponsored events and combined efforts. The idea came from the terms “inreach,” or reaching in to those in your own group, and “outreach,” or reaching out to the general public, and the idea of reaching across the aisle to the other side.

Not all in the either movement approves of the coalition.

“Some Tea Party members think I’m crazy for working with the Occupiers, and there are Occupiers who think Fong is crazy for working with me,” said Vukras, but they say it hasn’t hindered their progress.

Local Occupy and Tea Party movements also have joined together against the NDAA in places like Worcester, Mass., Medford, Ore., and Atlanta.

Two controversial counterterrorism sections of the NDAA were ruled unconstitutional by Judge Katherine B. Forrest in Manhattan on May 18. Judge Forrest said the law had a “chilling impact on First Amendment rights.”

The case was brought against President Obama by a group of journalists and activists, including New York Times columnist Chris Hedges and MIT professor Noam Chomsky. The ruling is subject to appeal, however, and could be taken to the Supreme Court.

The two groups, the Albany Tea Party and the Occupy Albany Civil Liberties Initiative, joined together on this issue with the New York Liberty Council and a group of other “liberty-minded” groups including Central New York State Oath Keepers, Hudson Valley Americans for Freedom, Campaign for Liberty, 10th Amendment Center, Upstate Conservative Coalition, Defend Rural America and the Hudson Valley Oath Keepers.

On May 22, The Liberty Council took a resolution to every member of the New York State Legislature, calling for the Legislature to declare Sections 1021 and 1022 of the NDAA unconstitutional and unenforceable in the state, and make efforts to repeal the two sections. Virginia, Utah and Arizona have passed similar legislation, and Pennsylvania and North Carolina are considering resolutions.

“Hopefully they pass it,” said John W. Wallace of the New York Liberty Council and the Hudson Valley Oath Keepers. “If they don’t, we’ll see who wants to run for office next time, and who does want to support the people.”

The Crossreach initiative hosted its first event yesterday (Wednesday, May 30) at the Occupy Albany Indoor Space at 472 Madison Ave. Titled “Faces of the 1%: The Council on Foreign Relations,” it focused on the CFR’s “undue influence in our government and economic system.”