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Uprising

Thursday, Feb 9, 2012, 9:10 am

Protesters Prepare to Occupy CPAC

By Allison Kilkenny

Conservatives from across the country will converge upon Washington today for the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), featuring such prominent speakers as Florida Governor Rick Scott, Texas Governor Rick Perry, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul. 

According to CPAC's website, the conference is a great meet-up opportunity for activists to mingle with conservative leaders in order to share their resources. The website also adds CPAC is super awesome for "Average Joes" and students  who might find the speakers and participants "inspiring and enlightening" since ordinarily the "liberal left tends to encompass everything that happens on college campuses."

In the past, CPAC has been criticized for its vitriolic style. Matthew Albright, a journalist for the award-winning Louisiana State University Daily Reveille, once described the youth presence at CPAC as "disturbing, but only because CPAC itself is disturbing."

Albright continues:

The event is a riotous and self-congratulatory anger festival showcasing the many faults of the most militant, reactionary and dangerous wings of the Republican Party and the conservative movement. The prime speakers at the event included Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh and Ann Coulter — a veritable laundry list of exactly who should not be in charge of steering a movement, let alone a political party.

It was CPAC's embrace of James O'Keefe, who is currently serving a three-year probationary sentence after pleading to a misdemeanour in court (reduced from an initial FBI felony charge of maliciously interfering with the telephones at U.S. Senator Mary Landrieu's office) that led Albright to write, "Instead of being shunned, this thug -- who may well be a felon before the year is out -- was given a hero's welcome at the party, including an open bar tab, VIP spots and all the cigars he could smoke."

CPAC previously made waves when thirteen-year-old Jonathan Krohn spoke at a 2009 panel about grassroots activists, delivering his speech, "Conservatives Victories Across the Nation."

CPAC gatherings in the past have featured intra-party squabbling over the presence of GOProud, a gay conservative group. Founded in 2009, GOProud advertises itself as a group that advocates for a "traditional conservative agenda that emphasizes limited government, individual liberty, free markets and a confident foreign policy." But the involvement of icky gays was enough to send a non-profit group called the American Principles Project completely over the edge.

Executive Director Andy Blom told ABC News that his group pulled out of the conference last year because his members regard the "sanctity of marriage as every bit as important as keeping taxes low."

This year, the list of speakers includes Rep. Michele Bachmann, Speaker John Boehner, John Bolton, Andrew Breitbart, Herman Cain, Ann Coulter, Jonah Goldberg, Mike Huckabee, Laura Ingraham, Gov. Bobby Jindal, Sen. Mitch McConnell, Grover Norquist, Sarah Palin, Tony Perkins, Mitt Romney, Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. Paul Ryan, Sen. Rick Santorum, Phyllis Schlafy, Gov. Scott Walker, and Rep. Allen West, among others.

Controversially, CBS News correspondent Sharyl Attkisson is set to receive a journalism award at the conference from Accuracy in Media, a right-wing group with a long history of promoting anti-gay views and conspiracy theories. Attkisson will be the first reporter from a mainstream news outlet to receive AIM's annual award. Media Matters chronicled AIM and Attkisson's bad journalism over the past year, involving the topics of clean energy, homosexuality, and vaccines.

CPAC's statement that the conference is an excellent meet-up point for activists may prove prolific, although they may not be thrilled with the type of demonstrators the event attracts. 

Occupy DC plans to protest the four-day conference in an attempt to "liberate discourse." An announcement from the group reads: "This event is another gathering of bigots, media mouthpieces, corrupt politicians, and their 1 percent elite puppet masters."

“CPAC will parade and attempt to perpetuate the radical right wing’s imperialist ideologies with keynote speakers, movies and banquets dedicated to pursuing its racist, sexist, patriarchal and exploitative agenda,” the movement said on its website.

Occupy DC media team member Justin Smith didn't offer specific details to CBS News Political Hotsheet on the planned demonstrations, but he did make clear that the movement plans to engage with conservatives all the way to November's election.

"We want to make sure that attendees of CPAC - those people who will ultimately do the work of the 1 percent - know that from the moment they get their marching orders, we'll be challenging them the whole way," Smith said.

CPAC is aware of Occupy DC's plans and spokeswoman Kristy Cambell told CBS that the group's tactics are "unfortunate," adding that safety at the conference is her chief concern.

"Our team is prepared and has a security plan in place," Campbell said.

The group is also upset that a scheduled debate "Taking Back Wall Street: The Tea Party vs. Occupy Wall Street," features no representative from the Occupy Wall Street movement.

"It's remarkably telling that it's titled what it is because in fact we have a lot of common ground with the Tea Party," Smith said. "CPAC is trying to drive a wedge between" our two movements.

"Maybe we could sit down like human beings and have a conversation about what's going on in the country," he said, "and look for solutions instead of having cartoon representations of our political viewpoints."

Occupy DC will be joined by members of other organization, including the AFL-CIO, SEIU, National Nurses United, and the Metro Labor Council.

Allison Kilkenny is an In These Times Staff Writer and the co-host of the critically acclaimed radio show Citizen Radio. Her blog for In These Times, Uprising, focuses on efforts around the world to address the global economic crisis.

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