*Update* Reposting due to increased media coverage which inaccurately links the 99% Declaration event in July to the Occupy movement.
Representatives from the 99% Declaration group were hoping to have a discussion which would lead to an endorsement from Occupy Philly for plans to hold a National General Assembly in Philadelphia on July 4th of 2012. Instead, in an unusual display of collective assertiveness, the GA voted to unaffiliate themselves with the group and any of its future events.
On Tuesday’s General Assembly, representatives from the group, the 99% Declaration presented plans to organize a National General Assembly in Philadelphia and hold an online election of 890 delegates from all over the US who would vote on a list of grievances the current government would be asked to redress. During the questions and concerns part of the conversation, OP members presented information detailing the backgrounds and comments of three board members of the organization. In addition to these concerns, OP General Assembly attendees raised issues surrounding the selection of delegates and the current efforts to plan the national gathering. OP quickly weighed the evidence, and as a result of the overwhelming concerns raised by the group, the GA voted “We do not support the 99% Declaration, its group, its website, its National GA and anything else associated with it.”
Who exactly is the 99Percent Declaration?
The 99% Declaration is a national working group led by NY criminal defense attorney, Michael Pollok. The story on their website says that Mr. Pollok was contacted for legal representation after the arrests of 700 OWS protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge in NYC. Of the protesters, 20 or so are students from a small liberal arts college in upstate NY where Pollok resides. After meeting with them, he agreed to represent them pro bono. He then began drafting a list of grievances developed during conversations with them. The document he subsequently posted online is now known as the 99% Declaration. The website further states he later distributed about 400 copies of the declaration to Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park. While there he gathered some people to form a working group at OWS. However, organizers from there have not acknowledged the group’s legitimacy, as noted in heated discussions posted on the NYC GA website.
Two days after his visit to Zuccotti Park, the story was picked up by the Huffington Post and the Global Grind after locating the draft document online. Immediately, the story drew national attention. The news reached Philly immediately, as OP was contacted by reporters for comments on the matter. It seemed mysterious that an event like this was being coordinated without first consulting any of the key organizers at Occupy Philly. Similarly, the large scale media attention given to a presumed OWS group amid reports of a National General Assembly in Philly raised a lot of concerns from key organizers at OWS, especially from those working in the Demands Working Group. A dispute ensued about the group’s authority to use the OWS name for a proposal that had not been passed in their GA. Shortly after, the 99% Declaration was deemed by OWS, not an official working group. This caused their leader, Pollok, to make the following statement,
“OWS is a failure and there is no backup plan. it is antidemocratic and censors people outside of the narrow agenda of the small elite oligarchy that runs it; I have been down there and I saw them in action; they are a star chamber made up of anarchists and other antidemocratic movements who want everything and nothing. it cannot succeed; it has consumed it’s own oxygen and now the flame is out what a waste. we will press on with the nationwide election of delegates to a National General Assembly”
“this is an anti-democratic movement and we withdraw our support.”
Despite their tumultuous relationship with OWS, the group continued to develop its plans and formed its own nonprofit, The 99% Declaration Working Group, Ltd. The board members include founder Michael Pollok, a former white collar crimes criminal defense attorney who ran for Congress in 2009; Nancy Marcus Newman, whose father Steve Newman was involved in a bribery scandal with Vince Fumo; Adeline Malone, a former VP at Goldman Sachs; and an unknown Kevin Archambault. The comments made by Mr. Pollok, coupled with the background of the board members were enough to set off red flags in the beginning of the GA discussion.
The 99% Declaration claims they have over 10,000 fans on FB who vote on various things, help plan the event, and are coordinating the election of candidates. Though when asked, the representatives at the OP GA could not articulate how their FB voting works nor could they identify the people on the delegate selection committee.
They communicate through 3 different Facebook pages and 2 websites (one of which has curiously been taken offline). Its not clear if these fans are affiliated with Occupy Movements or if they are random people who are not connected to any communities. Nevertheless, its important other Occupy sites be informed that both OWS and OP have officially unaffiliated themselves from this group and its activities.
You want to elect people, HOW?
Aside from the group’s questionable history, the 99% Declaration also had serious problems with the plan they presented, especially the methods proposed for delegate selection. The 99% Declaration is proposing 890 delegates (2 from each of the 485 Congressional Districts and Puerto Rico, DC, and the US territories) be elected via an on-line voting system to come together in Philadelphia on July 4, 2012 to vote on a list of grievances to be addressed by our current government. The first issue is that this is not representative or direct democracy. It reenacts the current failed system of representation.
99% Declaration representatives were asked, “When so many protesters feel the structure of our democratic system is broken, why would we endorse a plan to work within that system?” After all, if there is a revolution in this town, then why would anyone bring forth a proposal to operate within the same corrupt framework of government to represent our movement? Its contrary to OP’s vision of creating a new system.
Secondly, the proposed use of Congressional Districts as a measure of representative allocations was not well received. Many informed occupiers were knowledgeable of the criticism against Congressional Districting methods. They are often used for the packing and splitting of concentrations of voters to weaken or strengthen influence to gain partisan advantage, resulting in tactics known as gerrymandering. Members of Congress essentially get to draw lines around their own districts and choose what populations they want to vote for them. This ensures that incumbents keep their positions and makes it difficult for newcomers to get elected. These practices have sparked a current movement to reform the border lines for each districts by changing legislation to mandate the district lines be drawn by an independent commission.
One man and one woman should be elected as delegates from each district, says the proposal. This is problematic because it eliminates the possibility of a trans-gendered person running for office without having to identify as a man or a woman. This type of gender designation further marginalizes this group. If one were a regular participant at OP, you would know there is a pretty active trans population who have been very vocal about the daily discrimination they encounter by gender designations. They face discrimination from organizations like SEPTA who use gender designations in their transpasses, fare cards used for public transit.
Perhaps the most alarming part of their plan for a national delegation is the requirement that each delegate submit their social security number and undergo a criminal background check. The rationale is so that the 99% Declaration can verify identities and eliminate infiltrators who might attempt to be elected as delegates. The OP legal collective quickly informed them collecting social security numbers in this way is illegal. Very illegal. When asked where the numbers would go and who would collect them, they were unable to answer. This is pretty scary considering this idea was cooked up by a team of “lawyers.” Understanding the growing prevalence of identity theft and surveillance, the idea of giving SS# to unknown individuals and undergoing criminal background checks is downright crazy.
Delegate requirements also say that only US citizens registered to vote can be delegates. This means that immigrants and those who don’t have the documents needed to be registered voters are excluded. Finally, persons convicted of violent offenses within 10 years are also not eligible to become delegates, which would disproportionately affect people of color in urban areas. When these concerns were raised, the representatives seemed callous in their responses. There was a disinterest to commit to changing the proposal and little empathy for our feelings of being misinformed. In sum, their attitude and ignorance to discriminatory practices alienated more than it unified.
Backed by Reasonable Solutions and Mayor Nutter
Perhaps the final nail in the coffin for the 99% Declaration was the fact that they met with Mayor Nutter’s staff, including the deputy director, Richard Negrin on the day of Occupy Philly’s eviction. According to their representative, they met with city officials to inform them of this National GA, get their backing, and give them the heads up for anticipated increased security due to thousands of visitors. In a post on an on-line forum, the 99% Declaration also mentioned following up with the Mayor’s office to see if they would participate in a joint press release about the event. The fact that they met with the Mayor was exacerbated by the fact that the meeting occurred on eviction day, the same day over fifty of our friends were arrested by the same “security" force that would be on hand during their event on July.
A common argument made by Occupy Philly members is that the City of Philadelphia went overboard with the large police presence they assigned to watch them peacefully protest. Occupy movements across the country are all drawing attention to the militarization of US police forceswho are almost always sent in large numbers to intimidate and suppress protesters. Approaching the Mayor to discuss security for this event is totally inappropriate because it will ultimately result in increased arrests for protesters via a large police presence.
A representative from Occupy Philly would have briefed the 99% Declaration representatives on divisive nature of our relationship with the city, if they had been invited to the meeting. Unfortunately, they were not. The group was not only meeting with the city, but also with the ousted group, Reasonable Solutions. This is the same splinter group from OP who publicly denounced the GA process and the decision to stay at Dilworth Plaza. If the 99% Declaration wishes to duplicate a General Assembly by calling for a national gathering, then why would they align themselves with a group that has denounced this same process? Because they have that in common. Michael Pollok also denounced OWS.
Affiliation is not a good idea
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. Its 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.
The dirt is piled high against this group. For that reason, OP cannot put themselves at risk for associating with them. They seek to organize a National General Assembly, but do not respect the decision making process of local GAs which empower them all to decide when and how they organize a national gathering for their movement. Its difficult to get support for a proposal when their attitude is that they will proceed with their plans no matter what OP decides.
Their proposed plan has a lot of flaws, which could be improved if they were open to feedback. Its clear they are not open to making changes that would end discriminatory election of delegates, create a new system for collective governance, or end their friendly relationship with the city and police. Even if they did, it would still be hard to endorse a group whose leader has publicly denounced OP’s allies at OWS.
Preceding the vote of no support, the GA discussed values they shared in the movement. Occupiers expressed values of equality, inclusiveness, and transparency. Its no wonder they voted not to support a group who proposes processes that exclude and discriminate. The power that they hold as a general assembly is their ability to weigh evidence, think critically, and assert collective decision making. The 99% Declaration was perhaps not prepared for such an intelligent, empowered group.