I researched and wrote on political change movements for years as an undergraduate and graduate student at Johns Hopkins University and taught political science at several colleges before some life events moved me on a different path. I also have a law degree from Case Western Reserve University. I have continued to read, observe, and think about political change over the years.
I went back to the classroom in the fall of 2011 to teach political science for the first time since 1991. The five teenagers in my course discussed Occupy Wall Street with me in early November. We came to the conclusion that the occupiers had begun to tread water. They were continuing to produce documents from their General Assemblies listing grievances and citing principles. They called for more action that would get the attention of the government, the wealthy, and the corporations. These were things they already had done successfully. They were going to do them again. Well-known people like Michael Moore proposed further actions that looked like the exact same things the Occupy movement already has done. Occupy D.C. spent a month working on a Declaration that said what already had been said.
They were not leaving the parks. They were not speaking to others except for some media. They were not doing anything other than thinking of variations of the theme of occupying places. They were not accomplishing anything more than what they already have accomplished.
I wrote the Proposed Petition of Redress and Pledge of Action on 8 November 2011. The original document sets forth the sweep of history that has led our country to this point and the principles upon which the Occupy movement has based its actions. It states in moderate, objective tones the grievances that the occupiers have spelled out in resentful, angry words and seeks the same redress the movement has sought, using broad strokes rather than specific demands. Last, the text describes what those who signal their agreement to the Proposed Petition offer in exchange, a willingness to once again become engaged, thoughtful citizens of the republic.
The Proposed Petition contains the same ideas the occupiers, Elizabeth Warren, President Obama, and many others are talking about as the areas in which our country must seek change. The difference is that the Proposed Petition is intended to be presented to the ninety-nine percent one by one to ask their consent for that change. I am asking for the same horizontal decision making that OWS uses, just not in the general assemblies but rather the wider world. I am asking that the energy of the occupiers be used briefly to reach out to the ninety-nine percent, get the ninety-nine percent to signal that they understand what has happened as a result of OWS, and ask the ninety-nine percent whether they agree, yes or no, with the principles, grievances, redress sought and action needed that the occupiers identified.
The point of the Proposed Petition is not to obtain the redress sought. If you read it carefully, the remedies are ours to fashion. What we need are the resources to effect the change required. We can begin to get those resources by demonstrating to the one percent that we have the support of tens of millions of Americans. And we do that by using the one resource we currently have, the occupiers, who can go out door by door and face to face to obtain the agreement of their friends and families and ask their friends and families to ask others for their agreement to the change Occupy has identified. In doing so, the occupiers will be spreading the message of what Occupy means to every household and family, opening the lines of communication and laying the foundations for support down the road.
Petition for Redress and Call to Action from the Ninety-Nine Percent
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.
Bear ~ 8 November 2011 in East Greenbush, New York