Occupy Denver inspires Internet-based nonprofit The 99 Percent Foundation
When it comes to the national Occupy movement, Blair Preston is less concerned with apathy than with access. In his time visiting Occupy Denver, it was the second issue that restricted his involvement, not the first, and he noticed the same problem gripping other protesters. To find a solution, he went online, where Preston and a handful of co-organizers created the 501(c)(4) nonprofit The 99 Percent Foundation.
During Occupy Denver's first few months, Preston encountered frequent logistical questions in regard to the local branch. Such as: Does it send newsletters? How can people contact each other? Is there a place to go when it's cold? When it rains? How can people get involved if they can't physically occupy?
As Occupy Denver's website expanded to provide some answers, Preston, a web developer for the open source collective opencoopt.org, saw potential in creating a networking organization devoted to collecting public input and directing it toward a series of statewide political issues.
"There is no doubt that the formation of the 99 Percent Foundation was inspired by the Occupy movement," Preston says in the group's mission statement. "We feel it struck a chord that resonated with the anger and frustration shared by a great many people around the world with regard to our economic and political environment. In some ways it may also have served as validation for those who did not recognize that a large cross section of the populace felt as they did."
After Occupy Denver made an early mark on the city, Preston met Bruce Bennion, a local landlord who offered a building on East 43rd Street as an indoor headquarters for the budding nonprofit. In December, the two applied for the organization's name as a starting point. As the two collected input and membership to lay out the 99 Percent Foundation's bylaws and finalize its paperwork, they pin-pointed the group's vision statement. Its initial priorities are split between access and balance: It seeks to provide a public space to tackle the topics of money in politics and economic sustainability and create a practical starting point for volunteers to confront them.
The 99% Foundation's website.
Most of the possibilities for doing this lie in its website, where Preston has created infrastructures and programs dedicated to facilitation and organization. Those involved can communicate through an internal portal on the website, where they research and prioritize topics such as corporate personhood, the first issue on the foundation's agenda. Server space and unrestricted e-mail capabilities are provided by ECI Networks, removing the brunt of start-up costs from the group itself. Between the building, the group's legal status and the capabilities of its website, its organizers hope to create an easy introduction to action for those dedicated to the movement.
"One of the criticisms we've seen for the Occupy movement is that people have become apathetic," says supporter Jeannie Hartley, who argues that weather, transportation and financial restraints contribute to the appearance of apathy. "I beg to differ. I think it's logistics. Right now I've got less than a quarter tank of gas in my car and $16 in my account."
Last month, the 99 Percent Foundation tested its potential by facilitating the Colorado People's Assembly, a political conference in Boulder that attracted Occupy representatives from across the state and country. Through its website, the group organized the structure, events and turnout of the conference and collected feedback and brainstorming. The goal is not to replace Occupy Denver or its website, but to supplement and expand it.
"Fundamentally, this provides a stable outlet," says Preston, who stresses the ability to stay "legal and legitimate and to operate in that context."
In the meantime, the foundation must prove its sustainability and mission statement through the first months of operation in order to cement its continued status as a nonprofit. As it develops to host additional events, Bennion and Preston hope to create ties with other nonprofits and small businesses to increase the foundation's focus on networking. But until then, the space is a step in itself.
"We don't know what all the answers are," Hartley says. "We know what the problems are."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: Police evict protesters from Civic Center Park, fence it off."