21st Century Continental Congress a Dividing Issue Among Occupy Protesters
(MintPress)–The 99% Declaration Working Group, a branch-off group from the Occupy movement, will host a 21st century Continental Congress this summer to prepare and ratify a petition for a redress of grievances to address the issues of economic greed and corruption at the core of the Occupy protests that began in September.
The announcement of a National General Assembly has left some Occupy protesters skeptical, claiming the political nature of the convention violates the fundamental guidelines established by Occupy Wall Street.
The 99% Declaration plans to hold elections to select 876 delegates from across the United States to attend the National General Assembly in Philadelphia this July. The convention will conclude with the signing of a declaration at Independence Hall on July 4th, followed by the presentation of the petition to the Congress, Supreme Court, and President of the United States prior to the fall elections.
“We feel it’s appropriate to go back to what our founding fathers did and have another petition congress,” said Michael S. Pollok, board member for the 99% Declaration group. “We feel that following the footsteps of our founding fathers is the right way to go.”
The convention will emulate the two meetings of the Continental Congress in 1774 and 1776 that lead the founding fathers to set aside their stark differences in opinion to write a petition of grievances to the King of Great Britain and eventually sign the Declaration of Independence. According to Pollok, the Continental Congress can be done again in the 21st century – this time focused on issues more closely related to economic greed.
The prospect of a National General Assembly may seem like a step in the right direction for a movement labeled “violent,” “disorganized” and “unfocused” by mainstream media sources. However, the 99% Declaration group’s announcement of upcoming elections and a full-blown convention has sparked much debate among members affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street campaign.
General Consensus: Who Needs It? Dissent from OWS
One Occupy protester wrote on the Occupy Philly Media site in response to the 99% Declaration’s announcement, “Judging by their actions, either the 99% Declaration is completely out of the loop with what’s going on at Occupy Philly, or this is a deliberate attempt to co-opt our movement and use it for their own political agenda.”
The Occupy Philly General Assembly voted in December to disaffiliate itself from the actions of the 99% Declaration group. Members of Occupy Philly and the OWS New York City General Assembly (NYCGA) believe that the 99% Declaration violates the OWS Statement of Autonomy, which denies affiliation of the Occupy movement with any political establishment.
“We wish to clarify that Occupy Wall Street is not and never has been affiliated with any established political party, candidate or organization. Our only affiliation is with the people.” The statement continues, “Those seeking to capitalize on this movement or undermine it by appropriating its message or symbols are not a part of Occupy Wall Street.”
Many protesters believe the 99% Declaration group is fundamentally against the Occupy movement in its pledge to hold elections and endorse political candidates if the petition for the redress of grievances is left unaddressed by politicians. By continuing to use phrases like “the 99%” while following a path anomalous to the Statement of Autonomy, some OWS affiliates believe the Declaration Working Group is capitalizing on the movement for its own success.
In a proposal to remove the 99% Declaration from the OWS NYCGA website and denounce its credibility as an affiliated working group, Brett Goldberg wrote, “The association with OWS lends credibility to the 99% declaration and increases its visibility, which allows the group to reach more potential donors and fool them into giving to a campaign that operates non-democratically.”
The 99% Declaration has been accused of working within a broken, discriminatory democratic system for using existing Congressional districts rather than creating a better system. According to a statement by a protester in the Occupy Philly group, “It is hard to take seriously a group who uses an icon of George Washington on an American flag, since his image represents the old imperialist colonial principles this country was founded on.”
One protester affiliated with OWS wrote in regards to the 99% Declaration, “There’s plenty of room for allies with differing tactics, but when one of them starts claiming the Occupy name while completely disavowing the Occupy process and any participation by the Occupy groups, there’s a problem.”
What is the 99% Declaration?
The 99% Declaration Working Group emerged at the beginning of the Occupy Movement when Pollok was asked to provide legal counsel pro bono to several dozen students who were arrested while protesting on the Brooklyn Bridge.
Based on his discussions with the protesters, Pollok drafted the 99% Declaration and sought comments and revisions on the Internet. 400 copies of the declaration were distributed in Zuccotti Park and a proposal was made to the NYCGA to form an official working group.
Pollak confirmed to MintPress that the 99% Declaration Working Group did in fact start as an official NYCGA Working Group but split off due to differences in opinion. The 99% Declaration no longer affiliates itself with OWS nor does it claim to be a part of the NYCGA.
However, the 99% Declaration does welcome support from the Occupy movement and claims to have a broad base of support from Occupy protesters outside of the big cities like NYC and Philadelphia, many of whom have reportedly registered as candidates for the June elections.
“People attracted to our group feel that [the OWS General Assembly] model is undemocratic because if you are too old or too young or disabled or can’t speak or have other disabilities that prevent you from going in person to the meeting, you are disenfranchised,” said Pollak. “We found that the facilitation people of the general assemblies often controlled the agenda and it really wasn’t democratic.”
Pollok believes the OWS General Assembly model can work in some circumstances, but bringing a list of grievances to politicians on a national level will not work on a direct democracy level.
The group said in a message to Occupy that, “The 99% Declaration’s requirement of a transparent election was never intended to be a slap in the face to #OWS and their use of direct democracy. In our view, an election representing all of the geographic sections of the country is necessary for the courts to compel the government to redress the grievances voted on by the National General Assembly in July.”
The 99% Declaration is thankful for the role that OWS played in starting the movement, but they believe the NYCGA does not represent everyone in the United States and should not dictate how members of the 99% choose to advocate for change.
In response to concerns raised by OWS protesters about the presence of former VP of Goldman Sachs, Adeline Malone, and various lawyers on the 99% Declaration board of directors, Pollok responded, “She [Malone] knows better than anybody what the system is like and what goes on on Wall Street.”
Pollok has always had very strong beliefs on issues of corporate greed and was furious about “Citizens United.” “It made my stomach churn when I heard that decision,” said Pollok, who believes that the 99% Declaration group gave him an outlet to help make a difference on the issue.
Despite the backlash raised online by many members of OWS, the 99% Declaration believes, “there is no reason that this effort cannot continue parallel to and in synergy with #OWS’s continuing peaceful resistance to the corporate state that has insidiously stolen our democracy.”
“No one person represents the OWS movement or the 99% movement, there are as many views as there are people, said Pollok. “Whatever you want to call yourself, this is about a nonviolent revolution to reform our political system – to save our democracy from money.”
How will the elections work?
Online elections will be held during the first week of June to select delegates for the July convention. One man and one woman from each of the 435 Congressional districts and U.S. territories, will be elected to represent the 99% of Americans who are believed to be unjustly affected by the concentration of wealth among the top 1% of income earners.
Any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who is 18 years of age or older may run as a nonpartisan delegate using the online database. Board members are not eligible for candidacy. Over 400 delegate candidates are currently registered, and Pollok is confident that well over the 876 required delegates will be registered for the elections by June.
Elections will begin on June 1 using a system provided by Votenet Solutions, Inc., a leading provider of on-demand voting and nominations software for private organizations including universities, homeowner associations, unions, and also corporations and financial institutions. The 99% Declaration intends to set up polling stations for those who do not have access to the Internet.
Once elected, delegates will prepare a petition for a redress of grievances, which may include topics such as overturning “Citizens United,” student loan debt refinancing, ending censorship of the Internet, and other issues outlined in the 99 Declaration. The group has made clear that the elected delegates may or may not include the grievances outlined on the website in the final ratified version.
If the Congress, President, and Supreme Court do not act upon the list of grievances, the 99% Declaration has vowed it will reconvene in a second time, as did the founding fathers, to go about selecting political candidates who will seek election in the next term. The group believes that if the government refuses to respond, an electoral revolution will begin.
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