How will a National General Assembly happen?

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How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by randallburns on Sat Nov 05, 2011 4:11 am

It isn't clear what kind of formal and lasting national organization in the USA will emerge from the Occupy movement. This forum is intended to discuss events happening on that front.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by PDT on Fri Nov 04, 2011 11:28 pm

Being a Philadelphia native and all, I am partial to the idea of having an assembly here. The original idea when this online group got started, was to bring 870 delegates to Philadelphia on 7/4/2012 to meet and vote on a final draft declaration to the government.

Still think that Philly is a great place for this to happen:

1. No longer the political capitol, so we are free from their influence (politicians)
2. No longer the financial or industrial capitol (free from them too)
3. Just a great place to meet, be inspired and foment ideas
4. Plenty of great places to meet in

Check out this building near Independence hall. The first stock exchange in America and has not been used for that purpose (or even allowed visitors) for years. It currently houses the National Park HQ for Philadelphia (Independence Park is a National Park).

http://www.visitphilly.com/museums-attractions/philadelphia/merchants-exchange/

The square surrounding it would be a great place to meet.


Last edited by PDT on Fri Nov 04, 2011 11:54 pm; edited 1 time in total

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by randallburns on Fri Nov 04, 2011 11:41 pm

Philadelphia certainly has a lot to offer-and has enormous ceremonial significance. The 99 declaration is no longer an NYCGA working group-so I would say it is far from clear how that plan will relate to the larger occupy movement. I'd really like to hear about what folks hear about going on in the Occupy general assemblies on this front.

What I was seeing overwhelmingly when this group was based on a yahoo forum, is that lot of folks want something that would be more representative of the American public than what they are seeing through the current political process. The founding fathers wanted the House of Representatives to represent the Republic "in miniature" and it realy hasn't been doing that. Money is part of the problem-but the nature of US voting rules is also a big problem.

I don't think we really have much idea how a real cross section of Americans would relate to each other. We can gauge popular opinion through stuff like polls-but often polls don't educate the people being polled
on what the public thinks and give them time to reflect. We really don't have much idea of what a real national consensus might be-and I think a lot of Americans desperately want to understand what our national consensus really is and see it given a true and accurate voice.


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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by PDT on Sat Nov 05, 2011 12:07 am

Many of our legislators don't even bother listening to their constituents, I think. It has become an organization of wealthy elite, who are very good at presenting to the public a face that convinces them they are working on their behalf, while at the same time, making deals behind closed doors on behalf of their "true constituents", the corporatists.

Perhaps not all of them, but the majority, I believe. Its simply the way things are done.

An assembly of citizens who are elected by their peers, with nothing to gain but promoting the voice of their constituents, would provide a much needed balance to this current establishment. Eventually, perhaps it could replace it.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by randallburns on Sat Nov 05, 2011 12:35 am

One of the more interesting recent experiments in Democracy was the Citizens Assembly on electoral reform in BC
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens%27_Assembly_on_Electoral_Reform_(British_Columbia)

Basically they picked a group of citizens at random from the voter roles-and asked them to pick a voting system for BC. They picked one that that is pretty mathematically elegant (STV)-the only stuff that I would say is better is stuff that hasn't been used in a legislative body yet and is fairly new.

One problem is that they took an approach that seriously set off the political bosses in BC. The other problem: STV is something that if someone has a while to sit down and think about, they will come to appreciate. It doesn't play well on a public that deals in sound bites.

I did some polling on the yahoo site. About 35% of the people there felt a cleaner version of current electoral politics would serve them well. 15% wanted direct democracy. 5% preferred selecting delegates by lottery(something the BC example suggests can work pretty well as far as representing the public's interest). 45% wanted representatives chosen by substantially different rules with IRV being the most common one-but I think that is largely because that is what folks are familiar with.

Leadership is in part figuring how what folks really want-and then figuring out how to get them to it. The public wants representation. Getting money out of politics would help-but we have some more fundamental issues to deal with when it comes to really representing Americans.

The most I would hope for the first national assembly, is that there really is full representation of the Occupy movement in all its diversity-and some serious realism about what it will take to relate to the rest of the 99%.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by PDT on Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:20 am

I guess what this boils down to is do we change the system from outside or within?

Are we talking about an assembly that runs parallel to the government? How do we ascertain that they take our demands seriously? What authority do we have over them? Do we seek to endorse candidates who pledge allegiance to the movement? Do we run our own candidates?

Its one thing to say we have demands, but how are those then placed into action by a government that is controlled by the 1% (fewer than 1% I actually think)?

What I keep going back to is, the money effect. Its the one thing that needs to happen before anything else can or will. Either that, or we find enough money somehow to run our own candidates against them, I suppose.

But I agree that the Occupy movement is the springboard for the rest of this. And that does have to either be refined for, or taught to the more general public.
Maybe, though, in time, we will see a little of both. A meeting somewhere in the middle. I am still amazed by the strength of the movement and the support it seems to have out there. People are ready for change.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by randallburns on Sat Nov 05, 2011 2:30 am

I have a little fantasy: what would it be like if 50 Occupy participants were picked at random from across the country and in the same place as 50 US voters picked at random from across the country. What sorts of things would these two groups have to say to each other? What kinds of common ground could they find?

I think the Occupy movement are sincere in wanting democracy and consensus decision making. I think a lot of OWS folks are pretty naive though about what kind of US national consensus currently exists and the realistic areas for immediate change.

The thing is: the 1% have started believing their own lies-so they are in a really vulnerable position right now. Machiavelli said that whenever a Prince oppresses a people, he must expect a rebellion if he ever lets up. The financial collapse has means that the influence of the 1% has waned just a little bit. That may be the reason we are seeing what we are now.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by richard in norway on Sat Nov 05, 2011 8:00 am

I watched the Irish election with some friends(online friends) many of us were sceptical about stv before hand but when we saw how it works we were impressed. One aspect which was interesting was the "transfer toxic" concept, it not enough to have a strong and dedicated base, it will only get you so far. Having goodwill among the other voters is crucial, the difference between your candidate being the 4th on a voters list and 7th is huge. The governing party at that election got absolutely crushed, because the voters were not prepared to transfer their votes to them. You have to watch a stv election to get this properly. The other point of interest was the number of independents who were in with a change, you could see them moving up the list after each round as they gained transfers from candidates that had dropped out. Yet another thing was that in some seats you had members of the ruling party that retained their seats because of a personal vote, it was really clear who had done good work in their local area which made up for the mess at the national level. If you get a chance to follow an stv election, do so they are so exciting. Well they are to us election nerds.

flower flower flower

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by randallburns on Sat Nov 05, 2011 9:12 am

This is a cute little video that was prepared when BC was considering adopting classic STV.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y-4_yuK-K-k

There is an interesting variant on STV:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schulze_STV
This is newer and is used in places like Wikimedia elections.

The thing I like about use of a lottery:
a) it was a tradition in ancient Greece-where the founding fathers
in the USA got a lot of inspiration.
b) it is simple to understand
c) We've seen a good modern example how it works:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens%27_Assembly_on_Electoral_Reform_(British_Columbia)

I think that part of what the folks that support OWS want/expect is to see a visible experiment in radical democracy. What the detractors expect:
a left wing version of the Tea party, that will be utterly confrontive in pushing a "hippie/socialist" agenda.

I think the right move to start getting incremental change is to start building concensus on a national scale. We can start that right now, in our heads by looking at national polls and looking at accurate internal polls.












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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by PDT on Sat Nov 05, 2011 11:12 am

I am also encouraged that people are reaching out to each other now, rather than relying on career politicians to come up with the answers. The gig is up. They don't believe them anymore.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by oregonstu on Sat Nov 05, 2011 12:54 pm

Randall: Money is part of the problem-but the nature of US voting rules is also a big problem.

Oregonstu: I would say you are correct on both counts. However, I would say that going way back, it was Big Money (or the unequal distribution of wealth) that caused the problem with voting rules in the first place. I submit that, in addition to the root cause of the multitude of the other grievances being compiled by OWS groups around the country, Big Money is also the proximate cause of electoral fraud - and numerous other undemocratic structural defects of the political system in the US. This includes the winner-take-all design that leads to a huge percentage of the population across the political spectrum being "represented" by politicians who support positions antithetical to many of their constituents, the electoral college, the huge disparity between the number of constituents represented by Senators from populous states vs. states with low population, etc.

PDT: An assembly of citizens who are elected by their peers, with nothing to gain but promoting the voice of their constituents, would provide a much needed balance to this current establishment. Eventually, perhaps it could replace it. I guess what this boils down to is do we change the system from outside or within? Are we talking about an assembly that runs parallel to the government? How do we ascertain that they take our demands seriously?

Oregonstu: I placed your two comments together because they are addressing the same issues, PDT. You are raising an important question here: "I guess what this boils down to is do we change the system from outside or within? Are we talking about an assembly that runs parallel to the government?"

My response is... why does it need to be an either-or issue? I would guess that there is a pretty significant split within the movement between those who want to reform the existing system and those who think it isn't possible to do so. I find myself in the curious position of belonging to both of these camps. I guess I need to explain this apparent contradiction.

Although I believe that any attempts to reform the system from within will almost certainly be doomed to fail, due to the fact that the odds are so extravagantly stacked in favor of the banker's corporate state, I believe we must, nonetheless, make every effort to do so.

One reason is that so many of us think that reform from within is the only real option. If we turn our backs on so many who support genuine structural changes in the existing political system, not only do we divide and weaken the forces in favor of these changes, but we also, obviously, can no longer even pretend to be speaking on behalf of the majority of people - let alone the 99%.

Another important reason is that a determined, well considered effort to change the system from within could perform an invaluable service to the cause, even if it fails. It would, among other things, harness the energy and participation of the (apparent) majority that believes that change-from-within is the only option. It would demonstrate to the world, along with our detractors in the corporate media, that we have made a good faith effort to effect change from within the system. Most importantly, perhaps, is that it would (hopefully!) articulate a clear, coherent petition of grievances to the corporate state that expresses the will of a broad cross section of the American people.

This last bit above is a mighty tall order - and it will remain to be seen if we can pull it off. (I have grave doubts about that, also!) However, if we can manage to accomplish this goal, it will be an extraordinary and powerful achievement in and of itself, even if the means of redress fail to pass through the corrupted machinery of the corporate political system.

If redress is not achieved after our best efforts, the will of a large majority of the people will have been articulated nonetheless, and this will reverberate! If this effort results from the creation of a truly democratic structure, this will then be perceived by the majority as the legitimate, democratic voice of the American people. The stark contrast between our voice and that of the corporate media and the corporate state will be evident to the entire world. This will not mean that we will magically supplant our corrupt government... but we will then have the moral legitimacy to function as a parallel political structure - do you agree, PDT? I think the real changes will most likely be incremental, and take a long time - but a working model of genuine democracy cannot fail to have an effect

Randall: The most I would hope for the first national assembly, is that there really is full representation of the Occupy movement in all its diversity-and some serious realism about what it will take to relate to the rest of the 99%. I think that part of what the folks that support OWS want/expect is to see a visible experiment in radical democracy. What the detractors expect: a left wing version of the Tea party, that will be utterly confrontive in pushing a "hippie/socialist" agenda.

I can't agree with you more on this, Randall. We do indeed need some serious realism about what it will take to relate to the rest of the 99%. I get the impression that many of us in the OWS movement get that... but unfortunately, too many of us apparently do not get it. We have a lot of work to do within the OWS movement to get over this hurdle.

There have been a few very interesting examples of dialogue between groups and individuals from opposite ends of the political spectrum recently, and I think the movement can learn some important lessons from these encounters. One was a session between Ron Paul and Ralph Nader, and another occurred between the US Public Interest Group and the National Taxpayers Union. In both cases, what was remarkable was the common ground that existed between these two poles. Here is a link to the latter: http://www.uspirg.org/home/reports/report-archives/tax--budget-policy/tax--budget-policy--reports/toward-common-ground-bridging-the-political-divide-to-reduce-spending

I think you might be on to something with your concept of an assembly comprised of 50% OWS activists and 50% average Janes and Joes pulled at random off the street, Randall. In any case, I agree that we need to figure out a way to get some sort of representative diversity into the mix of delegates at the national assembly, and we need to focus on issues that resonate throughout the entire 99%. A long laundry list of issues that appeal primarily to liberals and progressives will do actual harm to our chances of seeing meaningful structural changes being enacted within our economic and political systems.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by randallburns on Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:16 pm

78% of Americans support term limits.

I was honestly surprised by this number. What I suspect more detailed polling would show:
US citizens want less corruption and more representation very badly.


This poll has some interesting data that relates to creating a national general assembly.







Gallup Poll. Nov. 19-21, 2010. N=1,037 adults nationwide. Margin of error ± 4.

"Please tell me how you would rate the honesty and ethical standards of people in these different fields: very high, high, average, low, or very low? How about . . . ?"


.
Very high/
High
%
Nurses 81
Military officers 73
Druggists, pharmacists 71
Grade school teachers 67
Medical doctors 66
Police officers 57
Clergy 53
Day care providers 47
Judges 47
Auto mechanics 28
Nursing home operators 26
Bankers 23
TV reporters 23
Newspaper reporters 22
Local officeholders 20
Lawyers 17
Business executives 15
State officeholders 12
Advertising practitioners 11
Members of Congress 9
Car salespeople 7
Lobbyists 7

By comparison, right now about 30-47% of the public have a positive view of the occupy movement(depending on the poll )-which exceeds the opinion the public has towards anything governmental except the police, the military and judges.

A national general assembly needs to be about creating a new national consensus. Can Occupy create the kind of image the public has towards say nurses, Military officers, pharmacists ,Grade school teachers or Doctors?

that is the challenge.

I don't have quite as dim a view of career politicians as the public. I honestly think Dennis Kucinich is a decent person(and I've interacted with him a bit directly and even felt I could introduce him to my kids at an impressionable age without damaging them). I think Ron Paul is a decent person-even if he is sadly mistaken on key aspects of economic theory. Those guys are both career politicians that are outside the big money system.

I worry a bit about stuff like the House Security committee if it lacked the adult supervision of someone like Dennis(he's one of the more senior democrats there).

I think if a national general assembly puts a process in place the public can really identify with, it could get broad support-and a lot of responsibility fast. I'd like to see some citizens assemblies leading up to a National General assembly-basically some smaller events that are more issue specific, where the Occupy movement specifically puts a cross section of citizens into a position to get a wide range of expert opinion on a key subject. I think that would create a real positive public image-and it would give the Occupy movement some much needed feedback.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by PDT on Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:20 pm

I agree that the first step is legitimacy and true faith in the movement by the majority of Americans. If we prove this can work, even on the smallest scale, each new accomplishment will be seen as further proof.

I suggest we both limit ourselves to what is doable first, and also reinforce that faith by promoting our accomplishments.

I was struck by watching a group of concerned citizens taking over a school board meeting, using the human microphone technique. The board members had to leave the building because no one was listening to them. That was quite an accomplishment.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by randallburns on Sat Nov 05, 2011 1:32 pm

The US inherited the idea of election by districts from England. Kings developed the tradition of listening to delegates from throughout their kingdom-and that became the house of commons. The first papers on proportional representation hadn't been written when the US government was created-so that wasn't an obvious option. The founders the US didn't really understand how the party system they disliked in England was pretty heavily linked to voting rules. Now,there _have_ been attempts to change the 2 party system in the US. Most center around the idea of multi-member house districts(lani Guinier at Harvard Law is a leader there-along with Krist Novoselic who used to play bass for Nirvana). The thing is: a substantial minority of voters-even here are attached to election by districts. Having a congressman gives them a warm fuzzy feeling-and they understand the system. Really most people have little idea how their congressman votes-and their only contact may be as a sort of ombundsman with the government(i.e.helping with problems with social security and such).

I tend to think the best target for proportional representation may be the senate right now even though it would require a constitutional amendment. The thing is a lot of folks know the election of senators is a mess. Switching to a PR senate would mean a few places like Vermont, Wyoming, Delaware and Alaska would loose out-but none of those are presidential swing states and they are divided enough it isn't clear to me either party would hang it out for the small state side. The folks we'd see in a PR senate would probably be people like
Ralph Nader, Michael Moore, Pat Buchanan, Paul Craig Roberts, Oprah Winfrey that have strong appeal to some segment of the population.

I expect the real "meat" of this is expanded use of citizens assemblies-which is something we could plausibly do in a few months leading up to national assembly. An STV senate is more symbolic-even on the national assembly level-but I think it is an important symbolism.

oregonstu wrote:Randall: Money is part of the problem-but the nature of US voting rules is also a big problem.

Oregonstu: I would say you are correct on both counts. However, I would say that going way back, it was Big Money (or the unequal distribution of wealth) that caused the problem with voting rules in the first place. I submit that, in addition to the root cause of the multitude of the other grievances being compiled by OWS groups around the country, Big Money is also the proximate cause of electoral fraud - and numerous other undemocratic structural defects of the political system in the US. This includes the winner-take-all design that leads to a huge percentage of the population across the political spectrum being "represented" by politicians who support positions antithetical to many of their constituents, the electoral college, the huge disparity between the number of constituents represented by Senators from populous states vs. states with low population, etc.

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Re: How will a National General Assembly happen?

Post by Alstein on Sun Nov 06, 2011 4:38 am

I do think 870 is an unreasonable number for getting anything done, especially in a short timeframe.

I'd use this formula

1 Per state
+1 for every 10 electoral votes a state has rounded down

This would also help diversify away with urban overconcentration.

That gives 84. It's not perfect, but I think that's a number that is easier to get a consensus from.

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