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Uprising

Thursday, Feb 23, 2012, 9:44 am

Occupy Wall Street’s National General Assembly

By Allison Kilkenny

Updated 10:29 AM

General assemblies were one of the biggest attractions at the first-ever Occupy camp when it still existed at Zuccotti Park. The G.A., as it became known, was truly a surreal sight: hundreds of individuals gathered within the relatively small concrete patch to democratically vote up or down every -- and I do mean every -- decision Occupy Wall Street ever faced. Speakers were permitted to talk at length using the People's Mic and the activists expressed their approval with a new hand gesture ("twinkling") unknown to most Americans.

The G.A. was created as a direct response to the alienating, disenfranchising process known as the American political system. Within the borders of the assembly, every single participant is totally empowered. No Super PAC can buy more time to speak at a General Assembly. In fact, the few times I saw celebrities show up to the General Assembly and ask to cut the line of speakers, Occupiers shut them down and told them to wait their turn. 

And while the G.A. certainly still exists at smaller camps and the off-site OWS location at 60 Wall Street's Atrium, the grand show of huge, daily outside assemblies faded along with the pleasant weather.

However, one group of protesters affiliated with Occupy Wall Street (see update below) now plans to bring back the tradition by electing 876 "delegates" from around the country to hold a national "general assembly" in Philadelphia over the Fourth of July.

The group, dubbed the 99% Declaration Working Group, said Wednesday delegates would be selected during a secure online election in early June from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

In a nod to their First Amendment rights, delegates will meet in Philadelphia to draft and ratify a "petition for a redress of grievances," convening during the week of July 2 and holding a news conference in front of Independence Hall on the Fourth of July.

Candidates for delegate must be U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents who are 18 years of age or older, according to Michael S. Pollok, an attorney who advised Occupy Wall Street activists arrested during the Brooklyn Bridge protest last year, and co-founder of the 99% Declaration Working Group.

"We feel it's appropriate to go back to what our founding fathers did and have another petition congress," Pollok said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We feel that following the footsteps of our founding fathers is the right way to go."

But Pollok has big plans for the national G.A. that he promises won't be like a typical Occupy-style event.

The group would meet in a "state of the art" facility near Independence Hall as opposed to occupying a public space, he said. Also, the delegates who attend must be elected, a major shift from how Occupy Wall Street or Philadelphia operated.

The elected delegates would converge on Philadelphia on July 2 and develop a list of grievances to be presented before the November election to the president, each member of Congress, and the Supreme Court, Pollok said.

Elected officials (one male, one female from each district) have the right to reject the petition that would call for action within 100 days of the next session of Congress, but doing so would mean the group must then field candidates against those who are up for reelection in 2014.

Pollak likened the proposed document to the petition for redress from the First Continental Congress to King George III.

"We're doing exactly what they did in 1774," Pollak said.

The group's website, www.the99declaration.org, lists a sampling of 21 grievances: a call to end the war in Afghanistan, overturn the Supreme Court's "Citizens United" ruling on campaign contributions, implement universal health care, emphasize debt reduction, and support banking and securities reform.

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Mini-update: The pepper-spraying meme that occasionally works as a police officer, Lieutenant John Pike, has been named in a lawsuit filed Wednesday by the ACLU. 

The ACLU, representing the victims, charge the defendants with failing to properly train and supervise officers, which they say resulted in a “series of constitutional violations against the demonstrators. “

In a press release that accompanies Wednesday’s suit, the ACLU attests that “the University’s response to seated student protesters amounts to unacceptable and excessive force that violates state and federal constitutional protections, including the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.”

After the incident, Pike was temporarily suspended from the squad at UC Davis, and University Chancellor Linda Katehi openly apologized for Pike.

Footage of Pike pepper-spraying peaceful students:

Update: Occupy Philly has voted down the 99 declaration:

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.”

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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