There is a world of difference between ideas, virtual reality, websites, and real people getting together in the physical world. The man who came up with the idea of the Continental Congress 2.0, a lawyer named Michael Pollok was drawn into the Occupy Wall Street Movement when he defended the 700 people arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge. Not surprisingly, his ideas were not fully embraced by the Occupy Movement, and I suspect the idea for the National Occupy Gathering was a direct challenge/alternative to the Continental Congress idea, which failed to raise as much money, nor draw as many people to it as other parts of the Occupy Movement.
The website and process were continually challenged and no one really knew exactly how many people would show up or how much they would be able to accomplish. There was almost a virtual censorship of the idea, and I must admit that it was probably challenging for journalists to describe something that was complex, ambiguous, uncertain, even to the main organizers. About seventy-four actual delegates from all over the country did show up, were issued electronic voting devices, participated in the various committees which proposed grievances, amendments and eventually came up with "The 99% Declaration", modeled on the Declaration of Independence.
We met in an enormous ballroom inside the Pennsylvania Convention Center. I was amazed that we were able to agree on as much as we did. There were times, however, when votes were cast and the group was evenly split 50/50 on a couple of issues. It is easier to agree on a description of the problems we face than the remedies. We weren't given the opportunity to vote on who would be the presiding chairman of the steering committee, or process, nor were we able to follow the initial agenda. There was a pow-wow the evening before the Congress where the independent online discussion group met with the steering committee to iron out some of the differences between the groups. Michael Pollok decided to attend the National Occupy Gathering.
It did seem that most people who came for the Congress were willing to go along with the procedures set in place, despite the glitches and delays with the technological aspects of the voting devices. The voting machines were initially used to keep the "stack" or order of those wishing to speak or address whatever issues we were discussing or voting upon. By the third day, we streamlined our process, took so many votes, that we ceased to use the electronic devices for anything, but voting, and just cued up behing a microphone when we felt the need to speak.
There were very few people who loudly voiced opposition or were ousted for breaking the rules, but for the most part, everyone seemed to be working hard to find agreement and create a document that would reflect our deepest concerns and the best ideas to solve the problems we face.
The only outsider that was voted an opportunity to speak to the assembly was David Cobb, from MovetoAmend.org who has been travelling, speaking and organizing to build support for a Constitutional Amendment "to amend our Constitution to firmly establish that money is not speech, and that human beings, not corporations, are persons entitled to constitutional rights." Those were the top two grievances on our list and shared deep support from our group.
When we broke up into committees, we had to prioritize which ones we could work on and where our passion, expertise, efforts, would bear the most fruit. I focused on monetary reform and the economy and had to let go of my other issues.
Hundreds of people also came to Philadelphia for the National Occupy Gathering. Twenty-six of them were arrested in one of the early marches, apparently for no real reason (except perhaps to scare others away); they were charged with "disorderly conduct" and "blocking a highway" and are supposed to appear in court in late July.
Since Philadelphia was experiencing a major heatwave, the numbers were less than anticipated. I was picked up from the airport on Sunday evening and the family that I stayed with were exhausted by the heat and didn't find the energy to participate in any of the Occupy activities, although they were generally supportive of the efforts. The heat sapped me of my strength and I failed to participate in much of the larger gathering, beyond a few conversations and passing out the new Perception Dollars which I hoped that they would like and be able to use for outreach. I did run into some old friends, one from Palo Alto, as well as people I had met at last year's DC Occupation.
On the 4th of July, we did miraculously finish our Declaration before the scheduled march to Independence Hall. We signed the banner, which we carried, along with flags, signs, as we paraded to the heart of Philadelphia. The sun was bright and blazing; the shade was scant; we lacked a real sound system and made do with a megahorn. People took turns reading The 99% Declaration. There were only a couple of identifiable members of the press in attendance, and it is clear that our biggest challenge is reaching a wider audience and gaining large popular support.
I know from my experience with the Declaration of Accountability that it's impossible to say precisely what effect the words, ideas, will have in any measurable way. I also received a Declaration of Independence from a War Economy today, which is more narrow in scope than the others, but hopefully will move public opinion and inspire more people to get involved and take action. There is also a 2011 crowdsourced short film of a Declaration of Interdepence and a print version of a 1975 Declaration of Interdependence which have also inspired people.
Here is a link to The 99% Declaration document that we agreed upon. It isn't perfect, but the best we could do under the circumstances.
Here is the text:
Continental Congress 2.0
Petition for a Redress of Grievances
A New Declaration
WHEREAS THE FIRST AMENDMENT TO THE UNITED STATES CONSTITUTION PROVIDES THAT:
The people have the right to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
BE IT RESOLVED THAT WE, THE PEOPLE of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, in order to form a more perfect Union, by, for and of the People, have convened a NEW CONTINENTAL CONGRESS this week of July 4, 2012 in the City of Philadelphia. We, the people, have deliberated, drafted and ratified a PETITION FOR A REDRESS OF GRIEVANCES to be served upon the United States Congress, Supreme Court, and President, prior to November 6, 2012.
Our country is beset by problems too large to fit comfortably under rubrics like liberal, independent, or conservative.
No single label fits, and no single ideology suits, but what we all have in common is that we are all (left, right, and center) being marginalized and defeated by the moneyed interests of the 1% as we struggle for life, liberty, happiness, comfort, and health. The 1% have enjoyed inordinate power and influence over our lives as they spread propaganda through the corporate media, and extract our nation’s wealth, only to deposit it out of the country. All the while, the 1% are delighted by our inability to recognize and address our common plight in any meaningful way.
We are the truckers, the teachers, the first-responders, the engineers, the self-employed and unemployed, the off-grid and organic farmers as well as the cutting-edge, fully-wired, 4G digital entrepreneurs. We are the butchers, the bakers, the builders and the makers. We are the foundation of our country!
We gather in Philadelphia for a cause larger than ourselves. If we are to succeed in taking back our country we must put aside the petty partisan differences that might divide us. We must recognize that many of those differences have been created and demonstrated by the 1% in their efforts to maintain control and profits at our expense.
We will not agree on everything and that is to be expected. We only need to agree on ONE THING:
American Government cannot continue to be sold to the highest bidder.
Another group of Americans joined together in Philadelphia over the days leading up to what we now proudly call Independence Day. Those Georgia planters, New York bankers, Massachusetts lawyers and Virginia scholars had radical differences and little in common when they began, but they finished by signing a Declaration that gave birth to our great nation and changed the world. We, too, can change the world by renewing their vision and our democracy.
We petition the government for redress of the following grievances:
Our government has allowed organizations to have undue influence and control over policy decisions affecting the people. The rights of organizations, including corporations, nation states, labor unions, and other collected bodies, are not the same as living human beings. No single organization shall have more influence over our government than that of an individual citizen. Corporations are not people.
Our government has allowed freedom of speech to be corrupted by the influence of money. Money is property, not speech.
Our electoral system has been unjustly weighted in favor of two major political parties. This, in combination with enormous campaign expenditures has subverted our democracy and discouraged citizens from participating in the electoral process.
Our current political system allows for the legal bribery of our government officials. They have been part of a “revolving door” with the private lobbying sector and have engaged in insider trading with the very companies they are charged with regulating.
Mainstream media, with no regard for the public they are meant to serve, have misled and misinformed the people, suppressing informed debate and crippling democracy in their single-minded pursuit of profit.
Our privately-controlled and exploitative monetary system, unjust trade policies, and regressive tax system, which greatly favor the 1%, are increasing inequality and eroding the American dream.
Our congress has aided and abetted a massive fraud by predatory lenders, bankers, speculators, and financiers which has deprived millions of Americans of their homes, property, and livelihoods.
Our government has not recognized our right to clean air, clean water, untainted soil, and safe food. It has failed or refused to enact and enforce laws preventing the destruction of our natural ecosystem, willfully ignoring empirical evidence of significant harm caused by human interaction with the environment.
Our government has failed to protect essential civil liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights. American citizens should not be indefinitely detained without due process of law. Their rights to privacy and freedom of speech on the internet should be ensured, and the choices of romantic partners must not be restricted by the government.
Our country imprisons more people per capita than any other country in the world to feed the profits of the growing private prison-industrial complex. Many people are imprisoned for non-violent drug crimes causing harm only to themselves while white collar criminals, who have defrauded the American people, walk free.
Our congress has abdicated its responsibility for the declaration of war, allowing the United States military to engage in unconstitutional military actions and occupations abroad. There is an unacceptable lack of transparency in negotiations between the military and multi-national industrial contractors who profit from perpetual war.
After Congress has allowed or required our men and women to be sent into military action, it has failed to uphold its promises of benefits and medical care to those who have served unless they have been physically injured. This is not right.
Our government has failed to prevent healthcare, insurance, and pharmaceutical companies from profiteering off of the illnesses and injuries of the American people. The for-profit healthcare system is immoral and economically unsustainable.
The current state of our education system is abysmal and under-funded. Without a well-educated populace, a democracy cannot adequately provide for its own common defense or promote the general welfare.
Our government has been derelict in its duty to substantially and equitably invest in the productivity of its people by supporting job training initiatives that will create more domestic employment opportunities and enable our workforce to transition to an independent renewable energy economy.
Our fellow citizens in Puerto Rico and the United States territories’ have been disenfranchised as voters. This is incompatible with American representative democracy. We recognize the right of Puerto Rico to become a state of the Union.
Citizens of the District of Columbia have been unjustly deprived of their right to determine their own governance. They have been denied congressional voting rights and control over their own local affairs. We recognize the right of the District of Columbia to self-determinative government.
We will be delivering the forgoing list of grievances, along with suggestions for their redress, to all branches of the federal government in the coming weeks. The American people expect a timely response. If our grievances are insufficiently addressed, we will take legal action in federal court seeking injunctive relief.
The sovereignty of the United States derives from WE, THE PEOPLE.
We will be heard.
And…in time -- pushing through obstacles, overcoming set-backs, and basking in hard-won victories -- we WILL restore our democracy.
Bejamin Franklin wrote (regarding the writing of the Constitution)-
"I confess that there are several parts of this constitution which I do not at present approve, but I am not sure I shall never approve them: For having lived long, I have experienced many instances of being obliged by better information, or fuller consideration, to change opinions even on important subjects, which I once thought right, but found to be otherwise. It is therefore that the older I grow, the more apt I am to doubt my own judgment, and to pay more respect to the judgment of others. Most men indeed as well as most sects in Religion, think themselves in possession of all truth, and that wherever others differ from them it is so far error. Steele a Protestant in a Dedication tells the Pope, that the only difference between our Churches in their opinions of the certainty of their doctrines is, the Church of Rome is infallible and the Church of England is never in the wrong. But though many private persons think almost as highly of their own infallibility as of that of their sect, few express it so naturally as a certain french lady, who in a dispute with her sister, said "I don't know how it happens, Sister but I meet with no body but myself, that's always in the right — Il n'y a que moi qui a toujours raison."
"In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another's throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administred.
"On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument."