Participants in Occupy Wall Street’s National Gathering have converged on Philadelphia, bringing with them a host of ideas on how to reshape the country.
The gathering, dubbed NatGat by participants, drew a wide array of people that ranged from a group of architects calling for an independent investigation into the collapse of the World Trade Center to others calling for reduced defense spending and an end to corporate personhood.
Gina McGill came from Madison, Ala., to pitch an idea for direct democracy to the group, hoping that by speaking at Occupy’s National Gathering, the idea would gain traction and transform American government.
“We need a change; actually we need a new government foundation, a partial redesign,” she said. “It would be a fourth branch of the government, the people’s branch. Whatever we say through consensus would be what the government would have to do.”
It would give people a direct voice in setting policy like minimum wage, standardized work week, tax rates and government spending. The idea was not hers, McGill said. Rather she was endorsing an idea from Roger Rothenberger and his book titled “Beyond Plutocracy.”
“We live in a plutocracy,” McGill said. “It’s minority rule and it’s all about money. “We the people are not having our needs met.”
Despite a broad range of opinions, everyone gathered as part of the movement had one thing in common: They all endorsed change of some sort.
Not everyone endorsed government reform.
One man, an 18-year old from West Hartford, Conn., who declined to give his name, said he had been listening to a lot of the conversation and agreed that change is needed. But, he was not sure exactly how it would happen. He thought a personal approach might be better.
“I personally am trying to figure things out about myself,” he said. “I don’t know if I can change another person’s mind. I can only change me.”
He’d been drawn to the movement after talking to a friend, and arrived Saturday in the official caravan.
“I just kind of got whisked off on this journey,” he said.
As he spoke, someone addressed the general assembly, thundering, “Corporations are not people!” An older woman passed out yellow leaflets urging Congress to cut defense spending and shift the money to domestic priorities like education and health care. Another young man in a Guy Fawkes mask — the symbol of the Occupy Wall Street movement — silently carried an Occupy flag through the crowd.
Occupiers were sprawled in the shady southeast corner of Franklin Square, lounging under London Plane Trees, in the shadow of the Roundhouse and just a block away from the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia, where two protestors called for an end of the Fed.
Unlike Occupy Philadelphia, which set up camp in Dilworth Plaza for nearly two months until being evicted by police last fall, this group was not camping in the square. McGill said she was staying in a nearby hotel. Some were reportedly camping in a nearby parking lot.
Plainclothes and uniformed police officers ambled through the crowd.
On Sunday evening, 26 Occupiers were arrested without incident and held overnight after clashing with police near the Pennsylvania Convention Center in the 1200 block of Race Street.
They were released individually and in small groups throughout the day Monday. According to the group’s Facebook page, another protestor was arrested Saturday as Occupiers marched on Chestnut Street in the historic district near Independence Hall.
Independence Mall was ringed with police barriers on Monday morning, with National Park Service agents and Philadelphia police officers stationed intermittently throughout the area.
Organizers won’t discuss the group’s plans in detail, but a number of marches are expected.
There was little evidence on Monday of the enormous gathering that was initially expected.
Though the crowd in Franklin Square ebbed and flowed Monday, it never seemed to exceed 400 people, most of whom were gathered for a noon general assembly.
Organizer Matthew Armstead said the gathering was a chance for Occupiers from across the country to come together and decide what the next step for the group will be and how to capture attention at a national level.
“Elections aren’t the only way we can have our voices heard,” said the West Philadelphian. “So, we went national here to allow people across the country to connect with ideas and help steer strategies.”