Re-Visioning the Constitution to Serve The People
Philadelphia, PA
Aug 9, 2014

In Philadelphia, Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) and Disabled in Action (DIA) have teamed up to anchor the planning for the 2015 U.S. Social Forum polycentric site. Addressing Philadelphia’s history as the original namesake of the Constitutional Convention, we kicked off the community outreach with a Peoples’ Movement Assembly in August that focused on the U.S. Constitution, discussing its original intentions and how it was never designed to include the most affected—including women and people of color— but was always meant to be a document that protected property rights.

The Goals of the PMA: 

  • To help introduce local/regional movement forces to the Philadelphia Local Organizing Committee (PLOC) and get them involved in that process.
  • To share the PMA as a movement tool for political education.
  • To encourage various fronts of struggle to think about how to frame their own work as demands for constitutionally recognized rights.
Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

The Results of the PMA:

  • Approximately 75 folks participated. It was racially diverse, with representation from groups advocating for labor, peace, justice, democracy and environmental protection.
  • 25 people signed up to participate with specific PLOC committees.
  • Several folks expressed interest in facilitating PMAs in their communities and/or regarding their movement work.

Anchor Organizations: American Friends Service Committee, Disabled in Action, Move To Amend, Poor Peoples Economic Human Rights Campaign

Additional NPC orgs that participated: USACAI (Rob Robinson), Occupy Theory (Pam Brown), Youth United for Change (Priya Johnson)

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Assumptions Organizers brought to this Event:

  • The USA is not now, nor has it ever been a functioning democracy.
  • The US Constitution (the “Supreme Law of the Land”) is *not* a human rights document, it is a property rights document.
  • The US Constitution was used to perpetuate and to legalize attempted genocide, white supremacy and racism, male domination over women, and class oppression. It took mass social movements—broad, deep, conscious, organized and educated—to make marginal improvements in this country.
  • Any movement that wants to actually create a new world must create new institutions (including new legal institutions) that meets people’s needs without destroying the planet that we depend upon for life itself.
  • Question—Do we need to rewrite this entire document to secure the world we want to live in?

We had a brief discussion in large group about these assumptions, and discovered that there was basic agreement about them. We then split into small groups for discussion of the following questions:

1) What is happening and why?

  • Economic Crisis (late stage capitalism)
  • Political Crisis (emerging blatant fascism)
  • Ecological Crisis (Earth is being destroyed)
  • The Legal Crisis (Constitution as Supreme Law)

2) What is our vision for the world we want?

 3) What is our plan to get to that world? 

  • The need to imbed our demands in constitutionally recognized rights
  • The role the USSF III can play
  • What can/should we be doing right now?
Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

The following are the synthesized report backs from each small group

Break-out facilitated by Move to Amend (Jerome/David)

Our list of what we are fighting for:

  • Distribution is based on need not ability to pay
  • Right to healthy food, clean water, clean air, quality housing, health care and public education should be a human right.
  • Right to an ecologically sustainable society
  • Right for meaningful participation on issues that affect us
  • Right to real justice
  • Restorative justice…no for profit prisons
  • Right to a guaranteed livable salary
  • Right to revoke corporate charters
  • A cooperative and egalitarian society

Things we can/should be doing right now: 

  • Build a social movement big enough to transform society- the best way to do that is to be part of the Social Forum process
  • Build and promote independent media, institutions, and political parties
  • Promote and support the “We the People” Amendment- abolish the doctrines of corporate constitutional rights and money is political speech.
  • Support full publicly funded elections
Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Breakout facilitated by Disabled In Action (German)

What holds us back from our vision

  • Inequality
  • 2 party system
  • Money based society that induces poverty
  • Lack of union density
  • Idea of property including intellectual
    • Propaganda
  • Suppression of information
  • Violations of constitutional rights: law not applied equally to all people
    • Racism
    • Discrimination
    • Puts workers against each other
  • Lobbyist – government
  • Decimation of organized labor
    • Ability of workers to organize
  • Privatized industrial prison complex
  • Gmo’s
    • Big agriculture
  • Militarized police state
  • Drug war / pharmaceutical industry
  • Military industrial complex
  • Victimization of immigrants worldwide
  • Race to bottom

Vision of New World

  • Economic justice for all
  • Multi party system with new Congress
    • Money out of politics
  • Resources used for good of all
  • Adopt an economic bill of rights
    • Housing, universal healthcare, water, air, land, free education of all levels, family sustaining income
  • Greed is not rewarded but discouraged
  • Guaranteed universal franchise
  • A world without a military
  • A system where policies to promote a sustainable environment is a priority
    • Local farms, local economies, shared resources
  • Land use shared not owned
  • Art is encouraged

Path to Vision

  • World without borders
  • Inform and organize / support services
  • Engagement with others
  • Safe spaces to gather, including digitally
  • Commitments to visions beyond organizations’ specific goals
  • Unified power supporting worker rights
  • Connection – unification
  • Concrete actions long pathway
    • Local investment
    • S. 2515 Community Integration Act of 2014: Guaranteed right to home and community based services for people with disabilities
    • Single payer
    • Worker card check – making it easier for worker representation
    • Make illegal privatization of public utilities while finding ways to fully fund them without defunding other common goods, ie. heating, welfare, etc.
  • Starting tomorrow
    • Support 28th Amendment to overturn Citizens United
    • ID legislative supporters
    • Spread the word far and wide of USSF – 3
Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Breakout facilitated by Walda/Pam 

1 – Create a document that lists grievances and articulates vision including values of the new society

2 – Create an organizational structure:

  • Develops popular education (with consideration of digital divide)
  • Creates sites of engagement
  • Serves as a clearinghouse for information (everything is in one place)
  • Prefigures the kind of democracy we would strive for

3 – Challenge the state and expose its contradictions through a variety of strategies including direct actions like giving away free food in low income neighborhoods and creating cooperatives

Additional points regarding vision:

  • beloved community, affirmation of dignity
  • all required for life is provided
  • free education
  • freedom from anxiety
  • freedom determined by true democracy
  • break out of culture of individualism, what does freedom look like in context of community?, full human expression occurs in community with others
  • peace
  • commons
  • beauty, art, creativity, athletics
  • care for environment
Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Photo Credit: Harvey Finkle

Breakout facilitated by Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign (Cheri/Galen)

Our group had a rich conversation about the rights of people over corporations. About how we would value the worth of all human beings and that everyone wouldhave something to contribute to society. We would also have a responsibility to the next 7 generations. To People,the planet and peace.

We agreed that time was of essence and that we needed to begin having these conversations everywhere and build for the next USSF.