For the last week or so, I have been arguing with other members involved in the Occupy movement regarding a fundamental assumption. They believe that the apathy, short attention spans, and desire for immediate gratification that describe a vast number of Americans are obstacles to the realization of any change in our political system and must be addressed before any other action is taken. In this view, the American people need to be awakened and educated regarding the issues before change can occur. As a developmental educator, a political scientist who specializes in political change movements, and recovering alcoholic, I know from my experience, education, training, and observation that assumption is faulty.
Working in the Occupy movement, I have encountered scores of individuals with passion, intelligence, and willingness to work to achieve the goals of the movement. My chief complaint, voiced by many others in and outside the movement, is that action is not being taken to address the ills facing our country that the movement has identified. I have said since November that the Occupy movement is treading water, wasting its energy doing the same things over and over without any movement forward. That remains the case with the efforts in the groups I have joined, the affiliated organizations I have dealt with, and many of the individuals who are taking the lead in pushing the agenda of the Occupy movement. Everyone is treading water. I was told that Bill Maher even pointed this out recently.
My plan has been and remains a way for the Occupy movement to take the essential, next step. It depends on tapping into the one resource we have, the activists and supporters in and around the Occupy movement. It requires that they take up a document such as the Proposed Petition for Redress and Call to Action that summarizes the principles, grievances, redress sought and action needed as the Occupy movement has identified them and use it to go to the American people to explain the Occupy movement. Here is where developmental education comes into play. The American people are quite capable of digesting the contents of a two page document. It was written with the assistance of five teenagers in my Introduction to Political Science class at Hudson Valley Community College. It has been reviewed, commented on, and revised in a process that began November 8, 2011. It is the lynchpin with which the Occupy movement can turn the American public toward change. The Proposed Petition may be a challenge to some to understand, but that it is why it must be presented in the first instance by occupiers to their friends and family in person. The occupiers are the mentors to their friends and families in explaining what the Occupy movement is all about as described in the Proposed Petition. The first principle of developmental education is to set a high standard, identify the student’s strengths and abilities, and use those strengths and abilities to help the student achieve that high standard. All obstacles and weaknesses are ignored. The focus is solely on success.
It does not matter whether Americans are apathetic, have short attention spans, or have difficulty understanding complex issues. Using that assumption as the basis for a plan of action to change the American political system is counterproductive. Trying to address those issues before seeking change puts off change to the indefinite future. I did not realize that others in the Occupy movement that supported my plan assumed the American public is the obstacle to change. When I found out, I said they were wrong. I was castigated for belittling people by saying they are wrong. My “negative” behavior was denounced. The root of the conflict is that the people arguing with me believe I am criticizing their opinions. I am not. I am saying their assumptions are incorrect. They got the facts wrong. And as an educator, it is my job to not only tell people when they get the facts wrong but also to explain what the correct answer is.
The correct answer is that the American people are capable of understanding a two page document explaining the Occupy movement when it is present to them by an occupier in person who is their friend or family member. The correct answer is that people will take a few minutes out of their day to discuss politics, hear someone out and, if they agree, signal their agreement. That process, by the way, overcomes the apathy, short attention spans, and lack of education by ignoring them and pressing on with the lesson. It is that one on one dialogue that has done the most to build support for political change than any other in any movement any time in history. That dialogue is at the core of programs of recovery as well, where one person shares his experience, strength, and hope with someone who is still in the throes of his problems. By that process, they walk out hand in hand, together. And then they share with someone else. Most importantly, the person going in does not do so expecting to change the person he is working with. Rather, he expects to be changed in the process of trying to help another person. That is my plan for the Proposed Petition.
Proposed Petition for Redress and Call to Action
In 1776, representatives of the residents in thirteen North American colonies adopted a Declaration of Independence that set forth the philosophical principles behind their recent and future actions, their grievances against King George III of Great Britain, and the redress they sought. Among other things, that Declaration made note of the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. The writer of the Declaration substituted “pursuit of happiness” for “property” found in earlier formulations of those three inherent rights.
After struggle, victory, and peace, representatives of the citizens of the thirteen sovereign, independent states established from initial trial and error, through debate and consensus a new form of government of, by, and for the people. That government has withstood invasion, wars of expansion, defense, principle, ideology and questionable motive, economic transformations, immigration of individuals from every part of the world, cultural awakenings, social unrest and political corruption, assassinations, and a great conflagration that soaked this country’s fields with blood from self-inflicted wounds and tore the fabric of a shared civic culture. That government has evolved as its creators intended to meet new challenges and provided infrastructure, regulations, and services as the need arose. That government remains a beacon of hope for all human beings seeking democratic, representative, responsible, humane, and limited rule over their affairs.
Today, many citizens of the United States of America fear their government has become a creature of the wealthy, the corporations from which the wealthy derive their resources, and the politicians driven to act in the interests of those corporations due to their need for funds to fuel their endless campaigns to stay in office. Some of those citizens have made their concerns known by occupying parks, streets, and public areas in the cities and other localities of this country. They call upon the one percent that wields power through wealth and elected office to return the government, its policies, laws, regulations, and justice to the ninety-nine percent that have the capacity to fuel the economy, generate jobs, mobilize society, and move forward but are starved of the resources to do so. They seek change.
As the colonial representatives knew two hundred thirty-five years ago, great change must be founded on rational principles soundly developed from evidence, facts, and natural law. Such are the times now that some choose to twist, dissect or profane the principles supporting change out of fear, ignorance, or self-interest. Nonetheless, the foundations for change are present for all to see. The evidence is clear.
We truly are created equal, endowed with certain rights, among which are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We all require and are entitled to consistent shelter, social and familial companionship, wellness and good health, education to our potential, full and complete nourishment, adequate clothing, employment of our skills and knowledge, and safety from harm. We build communities, support our brothers and sisters regardless of skin color, religion, ability, condition, sex, attribute, or characteristic, and treat one another with respect and dignity. We are a diverse nation.
The citizens of the United States of America have found their government and political discourse in their country at an impasse. They have reacted in frustration, fear, apprehension, and sadness to the growing sense that their great nation has taken an unproductive and dangerous path.
Witness the facts:
• the wealthy have steadily increased their share of the nation’s wealth at the expense of the poor and middle classes;
• politicians have pledged to enact no taxes despite the necessity for revenues to meet the needs of the people and revitalize our nation’s infrastructure;
• corporations have been deemed persons with political rights, allowing these corporations to support candidates and political causes financially, thereby drowning out the voices of voters;
• elected officials have engaged the nation in lengthy, unwarranted wars that have sapped the economy, killed and harmed tens of thousands of people, and invoked ill feelings abroad;
• legislators and governors have used the narrow tenets of religious minorities as the basis for laws that restrict the exercise of fundamental human rights in order to maintain political support;
• politicians have set out arbitrary and selfish requirements prior to debates on issues that require negotiation and consensus;
• companies, business groups, and single-issue interests have used their resources to influence and shape legislation and regulations for their benefit, squeezing out the common good;
• representatives have conducted inquiries and provided earmarked funds for their own self-promotion;
• laws have been passed to address issues that do not actually exist and other laws have not been taken up that would address pressing concerns, all in the name of partisanship;
• the judiciary has become suspect of issuing opinions based on ideology and party affiliation rather than the law and common sense;
• financiers and investors have used the markets and banks with little oversight and adjustable scruples to speculate, profit, and gain without adding any real value to the economy;
• many news media businesses have adopted clear ideological perspectives while continuing to claim the mantle of unbiased journalism;
• the United States Senate has adopted rules that require almost all legislation to find support from many more than half plus one members of the chamber, making a mockery of the idea of unlimited debate established by the nation’s founders;
• and candidates for public office have created the endless election cycle in their quest to hold onto their offices once acquired.
These are reasons for deep concern regarding the future of this nation. Their mitigation and elimination require substantial action.
There is hope. Citizens that have occupied Wall Street, Oakland, the tundra, Albany, and other places have taken the first step in calling attention to the plight of the ninety-nine percent and the power of the one percent. Now that the problems have been identified so manifestly, we can move forward. Our progress together can and will change America. This petition is the next step.
We seek redress of our grievances from the government, the wealthy, and the corporations. We seek the resources to take action to correct the deficiencies that have arisen in this country. We seek the means to rebuild our communities and the support to meet our essential needs. We seek dignity and honor from our labors. We seek peace, security, and fulfillment.
In return, we offer action. We offer involvement in our cities, towns, and villages. We offer engagement with those that need. We offer ourselves to the betterment of our country and the future. We offer participation in civic culture to be a defense against the weaknesses of apathy and self-absorption. We offer to be active, American citizens.