Occupy D.C. Learns To Like The Tea Party

The Occupy D.C. movement on K Street is getting itself educated. NPR's Peter Overby checked in this week as they held a teach-in with Harvard Law School's Lawrence Lessig, who said protesters can take their government back from the influence of big donors by forging an alliance with the Tea Party grassroots.

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All the Republican candidate campaigning in Iowa hope to one day occupy the White House. In the nation's capital, protesters are camped out under the slogan Occupy D.C., and they've taken their cues from the Occupy Wall Street movement. The daily routine includes teach-ins of topics such as communicating non-violently when someone is doing something you're not enjoying. NPR's Peter Overby joined the group one evening this week. He chatted with the demonstrators and listened to a teach-in on corruption in politics led by a Harvard law professor, Lawrence Lessig.

PETER OVERBY, BYLINE: I'm standing in McPherson Square in downtown Washington. There are a few hundred people here and they have pitched tents all over the lawn. The White House is about three blocks in front of me, and right behind me is K Street, as in K Street lobbyists.

MONICA YIN: The lobbyist arrangement - the way that Congress is just tied to the lobbyists.

OVERBY: That's Monica Yin. She lives nearby.

YIN: It really bothers me, for instance, the way that they are so powerful, bullying Obama over this pipeline and all that stuff. It's all special interest forces. The people have no power at all.

OVERBY: And this evening, Yin wants to hear the teach-in about government corruption. So do Sean Carman and Rachel Wojnowicz. They work downtown and Carman says he and his friends talk about Occupy D.C.

SEAN CARMAN: I would say this movement resonates and has a message that people intuitively understand and agree with, that there's a social and economic injustice in the United States. And that to some extent, the last presidential election didn't address it as thoroughly and as completely as people wanted.

OVERBY: He says this is his first visit to the encampment.

CARMAN: My friend Rachel invited me to hear Dr. Lessig speak.

CROWD: Mic check, mic check, mic check.

OVERBY: The teach-in starts with the no-tech sound system used by the Occupy movement.

CROWD: Friends, friends, occupiers, occupiers, Lawrence Lessig.

OVERBY: Lessig stands under the tree. He's wearing a black T-shirt and jeans. He says the fundamental reality here is really this government is corrupt.

LAWRENCE LESSIG: Seventy-five percent of people believe money buys results in Congress.

CROWD: Seventy-five percent of people believe money buys results in Congress.

LESSIG: I don't know what the 25 percent are doing, but, you know, 75 percent believe that.

OVERBY: The Occupy movement likes to define itself as representing the other 99 percent; people who aren't rich and getting richer. Lessig says it's not about the 1 percent. He says only one-twentieth of one percent of Americans wrote the maximum $2,500 checks to members of Congress in last year's elections.

LESSIG: Point-zero-five percent and Congress listens to them.

OVERBY: And then he springs a really radical idea: think about reaching out to the Tea Party.

LESSIG: Forget their leaders. The populist members of the party, those people would agree with this point about the corruption of the system.

OVERBY: Is he kidding? Well, no. He says he spent a lot of time with grassroots people in the Tea Party back before big funders started backing it. And then a hand goes up in the crowd. It belongs to a guy sitting under the tree.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I'm one of the original Tea Party people.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OVERBY: But still, there are questions like this one:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: How do we reach out...

CROWD: How do we reach out...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: ...to those original Tea Partiers?

CROWD: ...to those original...

OVERBY: Lessig says try starting with some questions.

LESSIG: Do we agree...

CROWD: Do we agree...

LESSIG: ...this system is corrupt?

CROWD: ...this system is corrupt?

LESSIG: Yeah, we do. They do, we do.

OVERBY: He says the Occupy movement should extend an invitation - come work with us now to end corruption so we can have a good honest fight over our differences later. The Occupiers may not be sold but they are intrigued.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

OVERBY: Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.

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