engagement-pyramid

Three Complaints About OWS

What can we say about a movement whose first public action was successfully hijacked by the Workers World Party? A lot of things to be sure. But we can’t accuse ourselves of being well organized. And this lack of organization, championed by so many as a key ingredient of Occupy Wall Street’s success, continues to trip us up.

In this (overly long and badly in need of more editing) article, three key problems are identified:

  • The rate at which interested people (veteran activists and newcomers alike) interact with OWS but walk away without finding a place is too high and higher than it should be.
  • Newcomers and participants in a movement need to find their place. Unfortunately, our ladder of engagement offers too few footholds.
  • The combination of a high bounce rate and the lack of a well-designed ladder of engagement form an activist filter that attracts too few of the right kind of people.

A number of colleagues at Occupy Wall Street from the Tech Ops and Outreach Working Groups read a draft of this and encouraged me to post it. (Thank you!) If attracting, engaging and developing more leaders in our movement is important to you, please read on and comment below.

The Bounce Rate Is Too Damn High
On September 17th after a hard day’s marching around, I stood on Broadway and looked down into Zuccotti Park. The protesters were arranged in circles and holding conversations. This meant that passerby interested in the protest were looking at people absorbed in their own, difficult to hear conversations. What an excellent visual metaphor. Hey hey, ho ho, turning your backs on the people has got to go!

In the coming weeks and months, this pattern remained somewhat consistent, with a surprising twist. More and more people came down to the park to check it out, attracted because it felt important. They wanted to be part of it all. And the vast majority of them bounced.

Systems did emerge to engage newcomers. But those systems (the info tables and Info Working Group, for example) were not nearly as effective as the moment demanded. I’ve learned that some of the email addresses floated around as a primary point of contact were left unchecked, accumulating more than 11,000 unanswered emails. There is still no general OWS email list. Meetings would be announced at a particular location and then held somewhere else. Newcomers would show up for working group meetings, add their name to a list passed around for future contact, and never hear from anyone again. It’s nearly four months since the occupation and there still isn’t a clearly labeled sign up page. Hell, there isn’t even an official public facing website that represents OWS.

That said, many did find the OWS compelling enough to overcome the obstacles and stick around. Or perhaps the obstacles were part of what made the experience compelling. Either way, what we can call the ‘user experience’ for many of the activists drawn into the movement wasn’t very positive. Large numbers came for a meeting or two, never to return. Our collective strategy for attracting people worked wonderfully; the second part, keeping them around and meaningfully engaged, did not. It still doesn’t.

Just to give one example of how poorly we dealt with the ‘user experience,’ let’s look at the drummer’s circle. It was the subject of many complaints from an overwhelming majority of the active participants in the movement, generating bad press, ill-will from otherwise friendly neighbors, and complaints from OWS organizers suffering from the near constant elevated decibel levels. My impression was that in the competition for attention, newly recruited supporters got the least when they should have been getting the most.

How strong would we be if the bounce rate had been lower? The NYCGA website has around 8k registered users. Perhaps 15% show up to a meeting in a normal week, and roughly 200 form the backbone of our working groups system. What if we had 500 of those people? Or 1000? Well we don’t. Blame the bounce rate. At the peak of OWS popularity, thousands of well-meaning citizens reached out to us and then walked away, disappointed. Most of them will not be back. Thousands more might show up in the spring. Are we ready?

Our Ladder of Engagement Is Often a Snake
A ladder of engagement (you probably knew this) is a metaphor for how an organization or cause provides a path way for greater commitment over time. This is what a ladder of engagement for OWS might have looked like:

  • Heard about OWS
  • Visited Zuccotti Park
  • Attended a General Assembly
  • Attended a meeting of a specific working group or cause
  • Owned a recurring responsibility within a working group
  • Represents OWS to non-OWS communities
  • Joins the core group of insiders with social capital

An organizer asks: what will move people up the ladder? What training, mentoring or resources can help? How does OWS transition from a place of weakness (dealing with whoever shows up) to a place of strength (recruiting for well-defined needs and roles)?

But OWS isn’t organized. We still have a ladder of engagement though. A crappy one. I’ve looked, but not found any working group, caucus or affinity group that consciously creates roles at each rung of the ladder or that strategizes about moving people from one rung to another. Since the ladder isn’t articulated, no one takes responsibility, and problems ensue:

  • Meetings scheduled or cancelled on short notice, or moved to a new location at the last minute.
  • Assumptions about the boundaries of OWS left unaddressed – resulting in firmly held but contradictory ideas about “who gets to be OWS.”
  • No recourse to ‘the person in charge’ on matters of great import.
  • Confusion and uncertainty about what is or isn’t happening.
  • Bizarre and destructive behavior tolerated .
  • Off putting rituals that clearly demarcate insiders from outsiders, to the detriment of absorbing newcomers.

Of course these obstacles only drive away MOST wannabe occupiers. Not all of them. In other words, we’ve constructed an activist filter better at attracting certain kinds of people while driving others away.

A Filter For Disruptive Newcomers and Empowered Insiders
The absence of anyone minding the bounce rate or implementing a coherent ladder of engagement are structural weaknesses. Looking at them together, it’s possible to identify a filter at work. What kind of person is most likely to survive and thrive in a movement that is so hard to join? Or that ofers such a high noise to signal ratio?

It would have to be someone very committed, with a lot of self-confidence, and a willingness to tolerate or relish the absence of structure and institutions. Two types of activists seem to do especially well. The first I call the ‘empowered insiders.’ These are movement veterans who come to the table with strong skills, powerful networks, and enough time to navigate the many working groups, subcommittees, conference calls and protests of the movement. Most of the groups that get anything done have a few of these folks, but I’ve come across many who aren’t strongly attached to any specific working group. They don’t need to be – the social capital of their networks extends to unions, funding sources, nonprofits, consulting firms and each other. They work inside – but mostly outside – the OWS infrastructure.

At the other extreme we find the disruptive outsider. These are folks with a high tolerance for chaos, interpersonal conflict, unproductive meetings, and the narcissism of small differences. Many of this type are quite open about valuing OWS insofar as it meets some other, more important goal. Because the ethos of OWS values transparency, horizontalism and diversity, it’s easy for these individuals to manipulate or disrupt group process. That’s not to say that most of them aren’t hardworking and sincere.

In large numbers (a handful at a time) the disruptive insider drives away people with higher and more normative standards of activism – or public behavior. Addressing their needs consumes a great deal of energy from other activists. These outsiders might be perfectly normative in other settings, especially those built around more extreme sets of ideas or insular communities. (To the disruptive outsider, those extreme sensibilities represent a strongly desired norm for the OWS community.)

It’s as if the original invite to Occupy Wall Street said: “Calling all movement diehards and newcomers willing to give it all up in the freezing cold!” But movements needs wider circles of support representing many different kinds of people. Successful movements give many people a feeling of community – ranging from the diehards to the one hour a week volunteer. At this point, we seem to be offering a lot more community to the needy and desperate than to those able to sustain it for the long haul.

So that’s the filter in place – one that produces an over-abundance of empowered insiders and disruptive outsiders. In between are many just like you. We need more of you, and that means building a better and more deliberate filter. It should reduce the number of disruptive outsiders, increase the numbers of ‘everyone else’ at all the rungs of our engagement ladder and force the empowered insiders to be full participants in OWS institutions – the working groups, General Assembly and Spokescouncil.

Take This Medicine
So what to do? First, the mechanics of the ladder of engagement need to be in place for every working group.

  • Welcome protocols for newcomers
  • More reliance on low-traffic announcement lists instead of discussion lists
  • Strongly respected community agreements on acceptable behavior – designed to reduce the ability of disruptive outsiders to set the tone
  • Increase the use of formal titles, denoting responsibilities for which an activist will be held accountable. (This is not a call for elected representatives!)
  • Better meeting spaces, with heat, light, and fewer distractions.

Second, we need to develop metrics and leading indicators that help us measure our progress. Examples include:

  • # of donors
  • new volunteer sign ups
  • growth of email lists
  • # of attendees at meetings
  • # of canvassing raps made

None of these measures are important in and of themselves; what’s important is our frame of mind. Measuring things and evaluating our progress help create a sense of day to day, week to week progress. They force our attention on systems and infrastructure, in contrast to quick hits of adrenaline from street actions or the rush of mass attention in the media.

Third, we need sustained focus on our institutions: the GA, the Spokescouncil, the operations working groups. They are our building blocks, for better or worse. Lack attention of causes them to wither and die. But why would a rational person choose to spend time at a GA? Or a disjointed, haphazard working group meeting with no set agenda? A large proportion of our meetings are awful.

So let’s put on the agenda items that can and will inspire participation. To this end, I call upon our empowered insiders. There’s precedent for replacing a Spokescouncil meeting with an anti-racism training. What about a mass direct action simulation? A debate between opposing yet valid viewpoints not meant to result in consensus? A facilitated brainstorm? A 15 minute lecture by a celebrity fan/supporter? A decision on a long range plan that will require months of focus by many working groups? We can reduce much of the nonsense with meeting agendas full of meaty and attractive content.

None of these prescriptions take away from the important and worthy efforts currently underway. GA reforms, movement building conversations, inter-occupy collaborations, mediations – all great. And clearly not enough.

Note: This article started as a way of introducing the use of a constituent relationship manager (CRM) software program. CRM’s are used to manage bounce rates, ladders of engagement, and activist filters.

100 comments

  1. Jack Smith

    Nice post, though we need to be careful about creating hierarchy power structures, even if its something as simple as using ‘titles’. This would give power greater power at the cost of less power of those below them.

    I agree there is a need for a human logistics group and online system to not only guide newcomers into roles, but to advertise what roles are available and how many are currently working in those roles for each Occupy. Then a process that encourages interconnection of talent / groups.

      • Dallas

        Makes sense to me, and I thank you for posting this piece.

        I’m not sure the pyramid graphic really conveys the non-hierarchical and temporary sense you’re speaking on, however.

      • yukiko hanawa

        This is a really interesting and thoughtful post. I would like think about it more. The question of non-hierarchical working practice and practice of responsibilities and accountabilities aren’t, of course, necessarily at odds with each other, as you point out, but when there are contentious issues, I can see how it has an appearance of “accountability / as ownership”.
        May I ask a question about your post Re: “hijacked” by Workers World Party? Is that reference to David G and others on 2 August?

    • Monica McLaughlin

      There is a power structure already in place. Refusing to acknowledge it allows it to excercise its power unchecked. If you want to find those in control, follow the money.

      • Dallas

        While I certainly would like to make sure that any money donated to OWS is spent by OWS as the GA or Spokes consents, I really dislike vague innuendo.

        Where do you feel our money is, who do you feel is in power, what do you feel is wrong with that situation, how do you want to address these facts?

        Transparency FTW!

        • Monica McLaughlin

          @direkconek, The money and power are in the hands of the members of an organization called “Friends of Liberty Park GA” aka Pete Dutro and Victoria Sobel. This group does not involve itself with the day-to-day OWS stuff like attending GAs, posting online, etc. They do the upper management stuff:
          — they control the bank account (are the sole signers and the name on the checking account and so on the checks is “Friends of Liberty Park”),
          –they make contracts on behalf of OWS (like the one with the fiscal sponsor), and;
          –they will soon own trademark rights to the term “Occupy Wall Street” and its associated imagry (the application was submitted on behalf of Friends of Liberty Park GA on October 24).
          (at Amalgamated the title of the bank account is not OWS — it is Friends of Liberty Park — that is what is on the top of the checks).

          Are you a member of Friends of Liberty Park GA? If so, congratulations, you are part of the OWS upper mangement team!

  2. DrRon Suarez

    Charles, thank you for posting this. Your insights are a nice example of why I so appreciated your participation back in October. There’s is a lot to do in 2012 and no single approach addresses the problems you identify here. One of the small things I’d like to do in 2012 is to help create opportunities for people to engage in real social interaction. Tea Party members often belong to the same Church and, or interact with each other in social settings beyond their political meetings. In addition to the valuable recommendations you have made, I would suggest that OWS needs to occupy real human interaction together more to help to work through these issues. Certain problems in the group dynamics I experienced within the Internet Working Group were also apparent in other working groups.

    I’d like to see the “bounce rate” get lowered by adding informal social get togethers, where we get to know each other and welcome new comers as human beings, in addition to agenda focused meetings, which are necessary, but not sufficient.

    So, I am planning to see how much interest there is in having perhaps monthly social get togethers with food, beverages and music (low volume to enable conversation). I hope to do this in the “event space” at 412 Broadway, which can accommodate a couple of hundred people. If this works, I’d like to see a new category, e.g. “Purely Social” in the Event Manager Calendar for NYCGA.net. Then, members of any working group could use this category to post events when they meet at a restaurant, private space, etc. and wish to interact with new comers or members from other working groups in a social setting. It is easy to filter events to display just one category regardless of group. Thus, it would be an easy way to end up meeting and getting to know each other.

    I do not mean to suggest a particular level of importance for “Purely Social” events vs. all the other things that need to be done, but somehow, this should be part of the mix. So far Devon and Jack Rabbit has indicated an interest in seeing this happen. I am really busy with a client until January 13th, but hope to see who is interested in planning “Purely Social” events after that date.

    One important feature of “Purely Social” events would be to always have designated hosts and hostesses whose responsibility it is to welcome people as they arrive, learn something about them, introduce them to others, etc.

    • Dallas

      I wholeheartedly agree. Other groups I’ve worked with would do simple stuff like have lunch together once a week or have a karaoke night. The main thing is for people to see each other as humans, like you said.

      Benefits parties/concerts are a great places to do this and reach out to newcomers as well.

      • Ken

        This is a simple idea, but a deep point – to see each other as fellow humans, as opposed to mere political actors.

        This movement stands against exploitation in all its forms, most explicitly against the exploitation of the 99% by the 1%.

        Just the same, we want to avoid exploitation within our own ranks, whether that is by co-opters, disruptors, or infiltrators.

    • Jack Smith

      I agree, in a relaxed setting ideas and collaboration can flow in different ways. Would be great for newcomers who are often edged out of the conversation because they’re not at the informed level of those debating. So the idea is, newcomers can communicate better with others at their level of understanding, and guided by a group leader, the newcomer group can be naturally trained in the basics for deeper intellectual debate or be guided straight into suitable roles/groups.

  3. Pavan Vangipuram

    Charles,

    I just took a semester off to join OWS. I, too, have found it very difficult to get responsibilities in a working group, though with persistent effort, I do think it’s possible. Your post was fantastic, and I have very little to add, except that I LOVE the Direct Action working group. Even if on a small scale, we still do actions every week, and a big one every couple. DA has attracted a lot of criticism, and much of it just, but I still had to give them a shout-out.

    Thank you for the well-thought out post!

  4. @occupyofficial

    Please get that video seen – right across American tech would would a good start; Greek subs (part one) on site now – more later … etc :) Send or DM email address plz. :)

  5. Bill Buster

    Charles, great stuff. I thank you for posting this!! As a movement, many in OWS feel too often that we are here to TEACH, where we are actually here to learn, and adapt and change like every other successful human endeavor. We worry so much about lack of titles, procedure, etc, that we lose the ability often to encourage autonomous leadership within actions to get things done, tho we all must accept that not everyone is horizontal and not all initiatives, are truly by consensus of all OWS supporters and members, since the ideas originate from single minds and grow into action. This is truly how many of our better ideas and better volunteers wither and die on the vine. Too much rigidity and clinging to models of inefficiency in the name of a “horizontal structure” and procedure that suffocates action, allows disruption and chaos to rule, and diminishes strengths people bring to the OWS table. Hopefully it will spark the needed discussion to make 2012 a year of maturity and growth, not a year of stagnation and fighting the same battles daily. Myself and others have had these conversations privately and publicly since October. While many agree, it’s been dismaying that many still want to separate themselves and the movement from entire huge segments of the population, and defend ineffective operations at the expense of everything we say that we stand for, fight for, and need to accomplish. It has cost us too much support, and self satisfaction in our own processes is like walking into a firing squad. It’s capable of killing the entire movement and all people want and need us to do. The myopic vision completely ignores every successful operating method not originated within OWS. This is fatal.

    Publicly on Twitter and other sites, people who claim leadership in OWS often vilify and criticize “supporters” versus “real occujpiers” rather than viewing everyone in the US as a potential future member of OWS. The difference between “oroginal occupiers” and new occupiers, and a need for “purity” has also been shown to damage the movement and alienate so many people. It’s absurb.

    At GAs and other meetings, where a handful of people can, will and do often grind all efforts of the movement to a halt, this handful of folks are forever allowed to hold the movement hostage, however damaging and destructive the effects of the actions. I find our obsession with procedure over function and effectiveness a key problem and alienating force.

    There should be open sections of WG meetings and GAs to allow people to speak openly and contest abuse of the systems. A need for this is shown when people come in without understanding the rules of communication and try to raise issues and concerns. They are left marginalized, reproached and often alienated. **And issues of race/ gender bias are used like weapons by zealots absurdly often** to isolate and neutralize good efforts by well meaning folks. Just one example of the theatrics that we all agree are issues, but too many foolishly avoid addressing directly. There is a line between inclusive and abusive, as well as exploitive, that is crossed often at the expense of everyone, often myself included.

    Thanks again. If I can be a help with your ideas, I would like to be. I have been involved with OWS since late September, and have worked with Press before there was a press table or even a working group doing that. I too have felt the problems you have mentioned personally, and I’ve observed them driving away great people who started passionately but felt they kept outside. A problem now of functioning in isolated cells and some suspicion of what others do is also an issue I hope we can sort out as a movement. So much is done in secret and in private that it is not healthy. As a member of OWS I have been put off by how some Direct actions seemed poorly considered and alientating to the bulk of our supporters in the US. I also was totally blindsided by the Zucotti actions on NYE. This seems to show we are more obsessed with parks and antagonizing police than any of our other goals. I hope to see a total change in direction, and have real inclusivity be put in practice much more since we want the whole world to watch and participate with us..

    Bill Buster

    • Siobhan Ogilvie

      Thank you. I entirely agree with your alienation words. I think it has a lot to do with our growth issue. We grew when we made room for all. Once we starting accusing everyone having a takeover agenda we shrunk in NY. The DA issue is another problem that there is no easy answer to. The NYPD situation has made any public DAs an issue. I try to be understanding of that so stay hyper-aware when things go on since I can’t be arrested. We need the public back on our side and not on the side of those trying to stop us.

  6. Sally Marks

    Charles, awesome analysis. I think you are 99% (pun intended) right on. I have been nearly shoved away on several occassions but I learned to be persistant, that even a weak voice eventually gets noticed. So I stick with it.
    OWS cannot be about ‘me’, it has to be about ‘us’. ‘We’ must be heard, ‘we’ must work and be in this together.

  7. kdsteiner

    Thanks… You speak for MANY of us who want to participate, but who can’t find that “foothold.” It’s time for forceful and creative deliberation, codification and logical testing — of the sort that seems, not just filtered out, but agressively repulsed by the OWS core.

    Maybe I’m just getting old(!) but, whereas their enthusiasm is welcome and important, the “disrupters” do strike “average” people as either narcissistic, narrow-mided, arrogant, or naive… Which causes a proportional blowback of energy against the Movement overall — from people whose gut-response is confusion or fear, when it ought to be curiousity.

    (For example: I’d like to think I could present these thoughts neutrally for discussion and debate, rather than fear (as I am now lol!) that an OWS brother or sister will lock onto ‘narcissistic’ or ‘arrogant’, ascribe ill to me, and abandon all reason for the chance to shout me down!)

    Does that make sense? Anyway, thank you again. Well-stated. I’m going to file this text. It’s only a matter of time before the analysis you provide — and people like you who provide it — will begin to moderate that signal-to-noise disparity. gl.

    ks, PA

  8. Dan Chilton

    Yep good stuff even after re-reading.
    One thing you might want to add.
    In the filtering:
    Age and employment / schedule

    As an older arthritic individual, I’m not so inclined to just camp out,
    I’ve an aversion to the cold, and from time, and I have a job, sometimes, 9-5, and a home.
    This would be partial explanation of an age disparity in OWS.
    So in your terminology the outdoor lifestyle filters out older employed people with a home to go to.

    There may be some older people possibly with a history of activism and protest, civil rights, anti-war etc… that may be inclined to join, but are ‘filtered out.’

    So a remedy for un necessary filtering might identify all these filters and counteract them.
    $.02

    • Dallas

      This has bothered me since realizing I had to go back to work the Monday the morning after the Brooklyn Bridge. But without asking people to depend on GA and Spokes to feed, house and clothe them (or asking donors to facilitate said food, housing and clothing on an indefinite ongoing basis), what is to be done?

      Personally, I think it’d be a start if more of the older (wiser?) and more employed folks stopped insisting on taking themselves out of the mix every time they see someone younger maybe grabbing a barricade from a cop, or running up 6th Avenue with some misplaced kettle netting. =)

      The youth in this movement don’t agree with everything the older and more employed say and do either, but they (we? I’m 32, dunno where I fall here) don’t just get huffy and insist that we’re going to leave over it.

    • Anne T

      Helpful analysis. I am in my 50′s. I am also a parent who has some responsibility for the elders in my family. I know this movement is vital, but the meetings and events called with just a few days or hours notice, the reliance on computers and cell phones to communicate, the resistance to long term planning make it difficult to figure out how to engage. We even had people who objected to finding inside meeting space during the cold winter months, saying it betrayed the movement. I say finding inside space makes it easier for elders, parents of small children, disabled people to be involved. We have to be flexible, look a the barriers, and stop holding on to tactics so ferociously.
      Despite these issues, you could never tell me I am not part of the Occupy movement. I may not be camping, or attending many GA’s but I am organizing and in this for the long haul.
      Thanks for this incredibly helpful post. I only addressed one part of it. Lots to think about here.

  9. Artie Choke

    Thanks for the very useful analysis. Here are suggestions offered with full support of Occupy and in a postive spirit:
    1. Establish After Action Reviews with core OWS team to keep analysis pertinent and fresh to dynamic changes. These are not gripe sessions, but discussions on what worked, what didn’t, how to make what worked work better yet, and how what didn’t work improve next time. (Keep it factual – as possible – with a facilitator & time limit to speak with each facilitator)
    2. A movement can create increased receptivity by always scanning for a simultaneous and/or new area of activism.
    3. Establish a buddy system at demonstrations, with an organizational cadre to track people who are arrested, injured*, or new to the scene. A sign-in table is a good way to start. < * Injury is best avoided. Occupy Palestine has instructions for homemade gas masks. Having EMT's or Wilderness First Responders is vital)
    4. Establish a cadre of people who answer and sort the emails so people are included – as they can contribute.
    5. I find a lot of mainstream people who dont play hard on the internet are a bit behind with Occupy and don't quite 'get it'. YES, to a hub website with links. Occupy Live is very good already. Also, a section of downloadable pdf's of a brochure explaining the Occupy Amendment, mission, and ways to further contribure (list of websites for national locations). I like the pdf's of movement posters. V Cool. V useful.
    6 All of the above are meant as postive suggestions. I feel a movement must always be analyizing the situation, be operating on as many different mission- ligitimate fronts as possible, and the phrase " Act with Heart " (from IO message) is a good reminder to continue to use frequently.
    Lastly, I am very happy that Occupy is worldwide, vibrant, self-introspective as that is healthy. Since corporations and politics are based on double-speak and self-serving multi-national shenanigans, constant
    analysis and research is crucial. Thanks to OWS and Occupy cadres all over the world. Solidarity!

    • Dallas

      When I showed up at the park on 10/1, DA was telling ppl to do the buddy system thing. Are we still telling people that at intro to DA?

  10. Abe OWSOWS

    1) great ideas here. i think most importantly: we need DISCIPLINE, STRUCTURE and LEADERS. Within the structure we must have leaders who bottom-line activities like you said, they must be accountable for something. This is NOT the same as having one leader of the Movement or of a WG!! One example is thinking about our new society where there are buses and trains and stuff … the buses will still need to have a FUCKING DRIVER! does not mean that person is the leader, but without the driver the bus just doesn’t go! that is happening in so many cases in so many WG’s right now

    2) DISAGREE with the importance of focusing our efforts on welcoming newcomers. Yes, we should make it a bit easier, but we have to fix our current house before open the floodgates of newcomers, if we fix our systems, it will automatically be easier for newcomers!!!!

    3) Question: you imply Agent Provocateur and Infiltrator stuff a bunch but don’t spell it out. Why not? That is happening A LOT! With stronger systems in place it will be much more difficult and eventually impossible for these agents to destroy, weaken or co-opt the Movement.

    4) Please change the pyramid graphic and info about leaders. Make it more clear that leaders are important in a new and different way than we are used to (as i mentioned above in 1.) the leaders here are for a specific role and there IS NO HIERARCHY. *THERE IS NO PYRAMID!!* THAT IS THE WHOLE POINT!!!!

    5) I have to say I like your ideas for improve our systems and ideas for spokes and ga and wg and stuff a lot more than your stuff about focus on newcomers. we have hit a critical mass let’s get this shit straight and then bump it up … ON THE OTHER HAND WE DO NEED TO ENGAGE PEOPLE FOR MASS ACTIONS ASAP!!!

    6) Agree on metrics, that is a very cool idea … i am totally freaked out about that email thing you mentioned with thousands of emails left unread. that completely depresses me :( I hope they managed to get in touch some other way … please give me access to that account and I will do my best to respond in some meaningful way to as many emails as possible … maybe forward chunks of that inbox to different volunteers to respond to. better late than never!

    Thanks for posting –Abe

  11. Seb

    Charles,

    What an interesting post. Would like to be in touch with you somehow, to follow what you will be doing to implement your ideas and solutions.

    What I have noticed in Atlanta:

    -Obsession with procedure and horizontal purism kill ideas/proposals moving forward and make GAs unbearable sometimes. But, what are the alternatives? (don’t know myself)

    -Newcomers to GA get frustrated because they do not know how to get on stack. They are full of ideas but walk away pissed off because they ignore GA rules to wait for their turn to speak. Frankly however, newcomers and their ideas often suck because they walk in with an attitude that Occupy is not doing it right and they regurgitate what the media says about Occupy’s supposed lack of clarity. They are also impatient with the process of meetings, proposals, committees and the lo-fi nature of the movement and are not willing to stick it out. This is where your suggestion for welcoming committee personnel would be beneficial.

    -More office like space for operations and meetings for Occupations across US that do not have it could yield perhaps better organization, productivity? Any NYC suggestions on how and where to seek free or low cost office space? How do you protect those office spaces from infiltrators/cops?

    -At this moment, I am not clear on how and when massive email lists should be used; to announce what….? Everything we do every week? (overload, becomes spam). Perhaps use email lists for certain key actions or use for fundraising? Also keep in mind, occupations websites+social media can offer most of the information needed.

    -Should we consider a nationwide Occupy fundraising media and phone marathon month, a la NPR? If yes, what would be do with the funds collected?

    -Should there be 2 types of Action groups? One for protesting and occupying and another one for long term strategic goals such as governor recalls, state and city reversals of corporate personhood? I have noticed that many Action groups across the country often think in terms of immediate actions within days/weeks, not months or years.

    Thank you

    S

    • Dallas

      Offering twinkles and my own personal volunteer efforts for a PBS/NPR style national fundraising drive. Thanks for posting that suggestion.

  12. waterlily

    I also want to thank Charles Lenchner for a well thought out message directed toward the future well-being of the OWS movement. There are people young, and old who have been literally waiting for this moment to become involved in creating a better existence, not just for themselves but also for others. Are we going to be the ones who muck it up? The issues that OWS is facing that Mr. Lenchner succinctly addresses are not going to iron themselves out on there own. This is not a I’m going to love you into becoming a better human being movement. Human nature is such that OWS means many different things to many people who are on the so-called front lines or otherwise. It is going to take a concerted effort through multifaceted education and an unrelenting persistence to establish and maintain certain guidelines for the smooth functioning of this organization whether anyone wants to call it that or not so that it can GROW. The unenlightened and indifferent person needs us. Personally, not only can I not stand a three-hour GA or SC bickerfest in person, I don’t even want to watch it on the livestream. It’s embarrassing. Should hierarchical situations develop then corrections can be made along the way. It will be the pity of the century if OWS falls by the wayside.

    • Dallas

      So you don’t like meetings…. doesn’t make them unneeded and doesn’t necessarily mean they need to be shorter or move faster either. Most meetings I’ve been through in my live have been kind of tedious, such is the nature of the beast IMHO. It’s a necessary evil.

  13. GLoLady

    Those who decided that just sitting was occupying, thought alcohol & drugs should be allowed and there for the party, were a distraction to those committed to change. Cleaning up after those who have no respect leaves little time for other active participation. Teaching survival skills are important rather than waiting for your next meal. Identifying problems in Society that need immediate solutions. Many people, many problems, that can be addressed, changed for the Betterment of Humanity. Giving purpose to people create miracles.

    • Dallas

      While I like to look at OWS as work, and do object to the idea of showing up to work drunk or stoned… people that lived in the camp or currently live in the camps that are still going (like Newark) probably have a different perspective…. can we expect them to act like they are working 24/7?

  14. Gina

    That period bothered me a bit too. I also did not feel comfortable with the following statements:

    “How does OWS transition from a place of weakness (dealing with whoever shows up) to a place of strength (recruiting for well-defined needs and roles)? ”
    Everyone plays a needed role. That is not weakness. It is failure to make the most of what you have.

    “At this point, we seem to be offering a lot more community to the needy and desperate than to those able to sustain it for the long haul. ”

    Helping the needy is as important as sustaining the movement.

    • Tara

      Charles said:”>

      i believe that many of these “homeless” occupiers (not all) are living in chaos because of substance abuse or mental illnesses (both going untreated) or survivors of abuse. Right before the raid, i was trying to organize interventions with the MSWs/counselors/Chaplains who were volunteering and with resources that they had, to get these people HELP.
      Gina said:
      I agree that we as a society must lead by example in all that we do if we are going to change the system. However, i liken it to this: when you are flying with a child on an airplane, you are always told that in case of an emergency you put your oxygen mask on first, then your child’s.
      We, as a Movement do NOT have our shit together, especially now w/o our “home base” when people were coming to us offering help, support, money, clothing, supplies,etc…. We are still sorting through the bumps in the road from being raided and we don’t have a solid foundation. should we continue to support our homeless population without putting in a structure for them to formally give back to the cause? I”m not saying none of them don’t already do that. I’m saying most are struggling too hard to survive.
      Is this a problem now mostly b/c it’s winter? Maybe. Maybe we need to tough it out but I love Mr. Lenchner’s ideas. Bring it on!
      I love ALL of you who are hanging in there. Please don’t give up, we have incredible thinkers, fierce warriors and TONS of Heart!
      Thank you!
      In Solidarity,
      Tara

  15. Frymaster

    *waving hands like a revival meeting*

    I’m so old, I actually remember back in 1989 when the Germans held those weekly, Monday night protests on either side of the Berlin wall. Couldn’t have been simpler to participate – just show up. Also, the atmosphere was more festival than protest, even though the situation was serious…deadly serious for those on the east.

    Once the weather breaks, I think that a more open, more friendly Occupy would do well to focus on expansion at the entry-level rungs of engagement with regularly scheduled, low-consequence events. And, for the love of Pete, throttle back on the need to publish demands.

    “Join us” is all the demand we need. The Action is the Demand!

    PS. Blog in link is down for a re-hab. We’re launching again on Wednesday when the advance team for Netroots is in PVD to brief us on this summer’s conference. Hope to see you all up here then!

  16. naomi

    Charles,
    I read myself and many of my experiences in OWS in this email and I thank you for both witnessing the experience and putting forward some great suggestions.

    I have felt that it’s all or nothing myself.

    I’ve been “out of the inner loop” for almost 2 months now, basically serving as a lurker on a couple of working group emails as well as forwarding/tweeting/sharing on the social media distro channels.

    I had time at the beginning of the year to give truly in person and consistently, and now, because of work, etc, my time is more limited. But I’m your middle-ground person who doesn’t have time to go consistently to meetings or bottom line anymore. But I still want to be involved, consider myself active and be of help.

    Heck, I haven’t even been to the offices – where are they now?

    So when you or whomever figures out the role of this mid-group between the two far ends of the spectrum, I will BE THERE and can’t wait.

  17. Marianne Manilov

    Thanks Charles for thinking about this and posting it. I’m on OWS Movement Building Working Group but also do engagement (and ladders) for a living. Happy to support the effort of building an engagement circle/ideas/brainstorm within multiple places in OWS and as part of outreach to help spread it to other Occupy efforts. DM me @MSQRD

  18. Binh

    This is a really important article because of its no-nonsense honesty about what we are doing right and wrong and mirrors what I have written elsewhere (http://links.org.au/node/2657) based on my own experiences with OWS since Sept. 19 when I joined up on my lunch break (I work near Liberty Park). As an experienced activist I was not put off by things that frustrated a lot of other people about OWS and have been mainly involved with Direct Action, although I built relationships with people in the POC caucus, sanitation, and comfort and what you write about our shortcomings really rings true across all the groups.

    One thing that I think would help is adopting a schedule for the G.A. which would provide focus and empower more people because people eventually get frustrated and vote with their feet (not show up) after they invest a lot of time and energy without a lot of concrete results. My suggestion would be to adapt what Occupy Portland has done: http://interoccupy.org/occga-structures-and-process-proposal-passed-portland/

    A second thing is I would add time to your list of metrics. How many people are involved in X working group over time? Without the longer view we tend to just get caught up in day-to-day/week-to-week actions and planning without the kind of systematic approach you are advocating and that is badly needed. If your working group grows from 5 to 10 in a week and then shrinks to 3 then you might be doing something wrong for example.

    Another thing that bothers me about our process is that there is no real way for people to speak out against an idea/action that they think is not a good one without elevating it to the level of a block which is supposed to be reserved for security/ethical considerations. There are also strategic and tactical considerations we need to take into account, not just security/ethical ones. For example, someone wants direct action to ask the G.A. for $3,000 to create a bunch of instructional kits for how to set up tents. These kits and some mock tents would be distributed around the city. I am not fond of this idea in general but I would not oppose it in a meeting; it’s not my cup of tea but it’s not harmful to OWS either. However, because the G.A. is running low on funds, I think it is not the time to spend our declining funds on this project. This judgement on my part does not rise to the level of a security/ethical concern, so we need to find a way to deal with this type of disagreement. I don’t want to stand aside either, because I don’t want the proposal to be approved, but it feels like I’m abusing the process if I elevate my disagreement to a block. I want to have a debate for/against the proposal and vote and let the votes be counted. This is why I support Lenchner’s idea of debating things without confining the discussion to the necessity to come to consensus beforehand.

    I really appreciate the honest and positive approach of this piece. Maybe we can print it up and circulate it as well to get discussion going?

    • Monica McLaughlin

      I like the article you wrote; however the “alleged leaderless” link is broken. The OWS movement needs to be examined in the post-Zuccotti Park era. The new leaders– those with signing rights to the bank account (Victoria Sobel, Bre Lembitz & Pete Dutro) are also most of the same few (Sobel & Dutro) who have applied for legal trademark rights to the OWS name and imagry. The OWS leaders are completely silent — appear at NO GAs or WG meetings. They will step forward once they have legal title of the trademark.

      • Dallas

        1) Why don’t you try just hitting Pete up on Twitter at @petedutro?

        2) I bet a lot of the reason you don’t see him much around 60 Wall or the park is because so many in OWS actually bought into that slanderous BS printed about him in the Post. He’s probably worried about being keelhauled.

        3) Bre (as far as I know) went back to school out of state and actually was reaching out to people trying to find someone to take her place as a signer. You might want to get in touch with her and ask about this.

  19. Deborah Martin

    Liked your post however it leaves out one important point regarding why you see people disappear: Unemployment. You write this post from the perspective of someone in a nice toasty warm environment with electricity to charge up laptops, cellphones, printers, lamps, refrigerators and you can afford to pay a gas bill.

    Some of the people who helped organize events for OWS are no longer around because they have no home thanks to no job which for quite a few means everything falls apart. For many, this isn’t an ideological fight this is an economic crisis that’s very personal and somehow, folks with access to $2000 laptops and android phones aren’t quite understanding that people whom you don’t see around anymore are gone because they are probably living by a relative, friend, at a shelter or on the street or worse. You aren’t going to see them in the spring. They can’t afford to get to the atrium, or the park or any of the many spokes councilis that require subway travel they cannot afford. They know that they are entirely forgotten by OWS and if not, however would they know it?

    There are certain segments of the population that are getting hit worse than others in this economic crisis. After a certain point in time when many out of work folks in dire straits see their lives falling apart and it’s ignored by the folks who brag about how their expensive smartphones are their lives they realize that the people they’re dealing with are not in touch with the very raw experiences of people who have lost everything.

    Lastly, and I know it will be a controversial one but I have seen GA’s where certain groups have tried to present the idea of making a statement about fighting for all including those people who are here illegally. While I am for jobs for all do realize that there are people in this nation who are not in favor of putting themselves on the line to fight for employment for people who didn’t sign the book at the door especially when they have lost jobs due to the underhanded use of illegal labor. There are many in this movement for open borders, etc. however I doubt that they’re the ones who have lost their livelihood to this underhanded practice. It is a sore issue and many don’t speak about it there but some are really angry. Do what you will but watch your backs.

    Just as a question to everyone in the tech group: How would you get along if suddenly you didn’t have access to smartphones, ipads, apple computers, etc.? How would you organize?

    Unemployment is going to grow. Poverty is going to grow. You’re not confronting this issue. The media lies about the reality in the hopes that if you ignore the situation, it will just go away. This isn’t the case. So I ask, what will you do?

    • Dallas

      To answer your question to TechOps:

      If I didn’t have access to IT equipment in NYC, the first thing I’d do is get access to IT equipment. Just because one is broke and/or without permanent housing doesn’t mean they are in the Sahara. There are 2 NYPL libraries with computer access within easy walking distance of the park/60 Wall.

      If you see me in the park/atrium and need to check email/Twitter/FB/whatever chances are I will lend you my own phone/laptop for a few minutes or get you access some other way. I personally don’t hoard my access and I don’t think anyone else in in TechOps would do so either.

    • David Judd

      I think unemployment is actually one of the central issues OWS has been confronting. I know the Demands Working Group hasn’t and won’t get consensus for their demands, but it’s still telling that when a bunch of occupiers who wanted the movement to have a demand sat down to come up with one, they came up with a jobs program. I’m curious what your impression of the focus is.

      Also, re “people who didn’t sign the book at the door”, two things. First, let’s be clear about what immigration crackdowns actually do. They don’t prevent people from coming to the US without documents. They don’t remove all, or a substantial proportion, of the people who are here illegally. They do create a climate of fear such that undocumented immigrants have a much harder time organizing unions or even demanding that employers respect basic rights and minimum wage laws. If US citizens can’t get jobs because employers would rather hire a non-citizen for cheaper, ICE makes that problem worse (which is actually its purpose, as capitalists like the situation and the state repressive apparatus is generally a tool of the 1%).

      Second, if you’re from Latin America and you’re not rich/educated and you don’t have family in the US, the only way you’re getting here is illegally, period. The waiting period for unskilled immigrants without immediate family who are citizens from most countries that aren’t primarily inhabited by white people is, for practical purposes, forever. When people get outraged at undocumented immigrants on behalf of immigrants who ‘waited their turn’ (I don’t know if you’re doing this or not), there’s a very specific class content to who they think of as ‘good’ vs ‘bad’ immigrants.

  20. michaelblack17

    How do I, here, in Asia, [wondering when is the next time (after a nearly-complete-crash of properties and stocks, and with several family members, still, relying upon me) I can afford a plane ticket to get back to my house in Burbank, in order to participate, live] stay connected and involved? If anyone has waded through that run-on sentence-question, and has any bright ideas, please feel free to post them here, or at my Facebook page. BY THE WAY, THIS ARTICLE IS, REALLY, GOOD — INTERESTING, ENTERTAINING AND INFORMATIVE.

  21. davidwinters

    Are you concerned at all that using what appears to be a pretty standard organizational structure might undermine the creativity and inclusivity of this movement? While I agree that there is an issue with keeping people tied together and engaged, is it wise to apply an organizational technology that historically does no better than accomplishing easily reversible reforms after generations of effort while alienating the vast majority of the non-activist population?

    I fear that rather than taking this opportunity to leave behind corporate organizational models as well as communications and recruitment efforts modeled on marketing logic, this article indicates a turn away from the radical criticism of capitalist social organization that got OWS so much negative attention from the ruling class and so much support from everyone else in the first place. It seems that OWS is an opportunity to challenge assumptions about social ‘capital’ and the effectivity of viewing potential allies as targets for ‘raps’ yet this article uncritically posits these concepts as self-evident.

    If OWS can articulate, through its organization and mass communications, a coherent path away from corporate and military control over the lived experience of everyday life it will generate massive and active support inside and outside the cities. But, if OWS is spoken for by a handful of self-righteous liberal activists committed to worn out models of self-congratulatory protest, then the best any of us can hope for is that the ruling class, in recognition of OWS’s existence, will institute an ever so slightly less severe austerity package while the midwest academy alumnus organizers of OWS receive a pat on the back and a photo op from a brutally neoliberal and militarist Democratic administration for a job well done.

    The critical supporters in the suburbs won’t be shocked by this turn as we pretty well expected corporate liberals, professional activists and their offspring to task themselves with filtering out people who are untrained in formal debate or unfamiliar with movement politics. The issues identified in the article are real and important, it’s simply a question of whether this is a solution that makes sense to commit to or whether it’s just a well written and well intentioned recommendation that we change almost nothing about how politics is lived in the US.

  22. Thiago

    Here’s my reply from the Techops list (havent had a chance to review all the responses above, but look forward to it).

    Although I don’t come from an organizing background I understand the frustrations, with some of the cumbersomeness, disorganization and the urge to try and get shit done.

    I my well be a ‘disruption tolerant newcomer’ but it seems to me that in earnest and well meaning desire to ‘get things done’ people—and especially people with lots of organizing experience and background—are displaying a growing impatience that threatens to ‘throw the baby out with the bath water.’

    In three months OWS while stumbling all over itself has managed to change the public discourse of the country, perhaps even catalyze a cultural shift towards civic participation (an absurd notion not very long ago)… there is still a long long way to go.

    Efficiency and maximizing returns is part of culture (not explicitly american culture, or capitalist culture but present within those), in my opinion those aspects of ‘our’ culture have directly contributed to the kinds of problems we are looking to address… note that that doesn’t equate to ‘embracing inefficiency’ but rather reducing the focus on efficiency and maximalism, looking to ‘grow/nurture’ something rather than pushing forward at all costs.

    I applaud your effort to address and come up with ways to engage the larger OWS community towards handling some very real, and immediate issues that confront it.
    And I wholeheartedly agree that we need to address these issues (particularly anti-social/disruptive forces and public-face/intake), or we’re going to miss out on more good talent, dedicated enthusiaststs, and further devolve into comic disfunction.

    At the same time some of the barriers to entry have also meant that people with tenacity and conviction have pushed their way in and contributed something… the difference between engagement and ‘mobilizing masses’ matters a whole lot when you consider that this is a nascent movement and not a campaign. Most often ‘organizations’ (i don’t think we really are one) don’t need inexperienced contributions coming in and mucking up the works, they have a core staff who take care of operations… and need bodies/clickers/taskcompleters… they need ‘numbers.’ Their job as an organization is to give inactive, unengaged people a simple way to ‘participate’—We need something else entirely.

    There a lot of novices, and getting people up to speed, and I’m sure that waiting for the pieces to click, educating people and seeing efforts stumble may indeed be frustrating. But also a lot of exchange and learning going on, people are figuring out how to best coordinate efforts, where their contributions fit best, and getting turned on to some higher level organizing ideas… this takes time, it may be inefficient, but if you consider the long-term lifespan of the movement, and what happens once this ponderous self-organization starts to coalesce, then there maybe value to this ‘incubation period’. The idea that with patience effort and nurturing (I know its sounding a little touchy-feely) the movement can make organizers of us all, through think tanking, documentation and knowledge sharing/retention we can ‘grow’ a movement where ad-hoc/emergent initiatives can come into being almost effortlessly even efficiently. But that takes patience, and perhaps some painful plodding moments, and teaching/learning.

    • David Judd

      I basically agree with both you and Charles; you’ve both made great points.

      I think you get at something key when you say that we need a movement where everybody is, or is becoming, a leader/organizer. We can’t just adopt corporate models of organization – it’s not just that corporations aren’t democratic, but that they actually operate under an imperative to de-skill and disempower workers which is intimately tied in with their division of labor. Nor can we adopt NGO grant-funding/paid-staff/passively-mobilized-members forms of organizing. I get worried sometimes when I see people lifting concepts straight from ‘industry’ project management – or even, from that matter, from the Alinskyite community organizing tradition, a lot of whose principles are premised on the idea that organizers are special and different.

      All that said, I don’t think there’s any contradiction between structure, as such, and a movement of leaders/organizers. In fact, if we want a movement of the 99% taking control over their own lives and emancipating themselves, we absolutely need to have a serious strategic focus and an organized process for recruiting and integrating people. There’s nothing revolutionary about being insular. And I think all Charles’ concrete suggestions fit very well within that framework.

      • Dallas

        Back when I first started coming down to Liberty Plaza a couple of months ago, I was still getting a lot of the “who are they/what do they want/how will the facilitate those goals?” stuff. My answer then and now:

        OWS functions as an activist organization in its own right, but also as an incubator. As more and more of us because empowered and informed, we’ll keep spinning off WGs and sub-projects and inter-occupy coalitions, etc. that may even because fully autonomous after some time.

        The question that brings to mind is: if people buy into the principles and work well within a particular WG or project team, how much should we want or expect anyone to commit to constant participation in GA, Spokes, etc. if they find it too stressful etc.?

        I like the idea of participatory direct democracy very much, but I don’t think everyone should feel required to participate if 3 hour meetings and sometimes less than rigorous attention to process aren’t their cup of tea either. However, I’d prefer to have people skipping this part of OWS because they don’t like the format/process/amount of time invested, and not because they don’t feel they will be heard or properly respected by the group.

        • David Judd

          I haven’t been to a GA since the one the night after we lost the park, and I don’t feel like I’m missing much or that it’s been any barrier to my participation in the movement.

  23. Gary Horvitz

    Ladder of engagement” is an unfortunate metaphor. It implies, of course, a hierarchy. Also, what is the “right” kind of people that are not being attracted?

    On one level, the lament here is that there wasn’t enough forethought on how to engage potential participants in productive activity. It’s also an unrealistic expectation that a completely non-traditional protest/movement would somehow be able to entertain-let alone integrate–completely traditional movement organizing functions from the outset to harvest and direct interested people—hold their hands, as it were—when the movement itself is not ultimately about hand-holding at all.

    It’s disturbing to see that core participant making remarks here that belie a comprehension of the vital chaordic meme of OWS. This is a yearning for structure –and virtually all of the laundry list of complaints and remedies listed here are about structure–in a movement that has largely resisted being put into any box that, comforting though it may be, tends to shut down the living edge of its emergent nature. In other words, forget the safety of familiar structures, tend the process and they will come. And if “they” are not ready to understand the anarchic nature of the process, perhaps they will in time. Or not. But the fact that thousands emails were not harvested does not in itself justify altering the process or diluting the message to meet the demands of traditional movement organizing methodologies or any stadard reformist view.

    The pyramid is another unfortunate metaphor, as it indicates and implies a select group of leaders with many followers/observers. May I suggest a set of concentric circles—beginning with “Observing” at the outermost circle and working inward to “Leadership” at the center? Everyone is a leader. And in the world we envision, everyone is an owner of the direct process of civic engagement who is also responsible for the one and the many. Coming into one’s own leadership capacities is also the essence of what is meant by Occupy, is it not? Therefore, the engagement process that is envisioned here might be seen as a journey into leadership.

    There is also a somewhat parochial nature to these comments…a narrow New York view of what OWS is and what it “should” be. New York is a symbolic center, yes, but the definition of the meme long ago left the confines of Zucotti park. It is beyond the control of any one location, working group or person. And that’s as it should be as well.

  24. NaiveTea

    I think there are great things here. I would urge that we accept a certain amount of disorganization (democracy is messy, democracy is exhausting, democracy is still worth it) but wherever there is a concrete solution that can address a concrete problem (like addressing the problem of meeting times that change, for example) we should do everything we can to make that solution available. Love and good faith.

  25. Dan Chilton

    OWS has been evolving.
    I know a guy who started last spring protesting at South Ferry for:
    Social Economic justice and the end to wars.
    This lead to a meeting at bowling green, then
    Z. Park and then
    to create a name ‘OWS.’
    Each step was a transformation.
    The idea of a filter is helpful to understand both who is and is Not to enter the circle, or climb the ladder, and become a core member of OWS.
    I’m unlikely to inhabit a tent, even when the weather is nice.
    So this winter is a time to reflect and perhaps plan for spring and to move forward.
    Which way is that? I’m okay with going with the flow,spontaneous, and not letting over-analysis spoil a good time.
    On the other hand this may be a good time to identify irrational and bad ideas, and consider things that may be genuinely helpful.
    The GA solidarity statement welcomes those that democratically want a peaceful redress of grievances. But at the same time, some ‘deep in’ the movement want revolution and say thats what OWS is about.
    They want direct democracy to run the country. Some of that is contradictory or just will not work.
    Charle’s post is rather like a system scientist looking at how OWS operates.
    Counting people interactions, steps, processes, filters.
    This kind of thinking is a bit like a doctor looking at a body and trying to diagnose it and keep it well. Talking about it is never quite the same as being in it.

    I don’t want OWS to fail. I want it to keep its organic amoeba -like charm.
    But it needs to benefit from some rational analysis.
    Its not about ‘ aximum efficiency’ so much as, do the systems work well enough?
    Cant we strive for -trying to avoid mistakes-, and fixing whats broken?

    There will never be a 300,000,000 member GA.
    Direct democracy isn’t going to ‘scale up’ well at all.
    People speaking for OWS seem to have a diverse set of beliefs about it.
    ‘Revolution’ is incompatible with asking government to redress grievances.

    I think that as long as GAs exist, and there are some well run sub groups that perform a set of functions well, the right set of sub groups will be resources that the GAs will call on. And we’ll be better off.
    I’ve been thinking of a warm spring and OWS emerging from winter renewed.
    One of the most amazing things OWS has accomplished is creating memes that have changed policy and political debate.
    I’m hoping that OWS will use winter to prepare for spring.
    I’m wondering who will be at it’s core. Will we be bogged down and blocked by incoherent ideas?
    Come spring, I hope OWS’s messages and actions will be as enticing as ever.
    A renewing refreshing evolutionary step wouldn’t be a bad thing…

  26. Charles Lenchner

    I’m so grateful to everyone who thoughtfully posted comments. Please forgive me for not jumping in; I feel like, maybe I said my piece in the post, let everyone else have a say. But I’m reading it all and thinking of next steps.

  27. Dr. T Rojas

    Last September I got crazy trying to prevent these issues, we had the same problems in Occupy Spain and I sent emails to all US Occupations offering help to deal with this. I am one of those 11,000 people who were “ignored” when trying to help. At the same time I think that I should have tried harder (even Harder) and those people who bounced and left also should try again, because we are not doing this for NYGA, we are doing this for ourselves. You can count on me, I never left :)

  28. zadie

    you have articulated all of my frustrations with the movement. what a trailblazer! i wonder how many people let out a sigh of relief after reading this? i think it has to be acknowledged that our collective implied memory triggers an emotional pinch in regards to ‘structure’, ‘order’, and ‘leadership’ within the movement. we are so shell shocked by our government and the decades of corruption within it, that any model or prototype that reminds us of that same government or structure ignites resistance. the problem isnt the structure of our government per se, its that our government is bought. with that said, im all about direct democracy, but im also about efficiency. we live in a culture where egos are allowed to run amuck, and opinions become facts if we’re losing an argument. im curious as to why some people are unwilling to acknowledge that we could do better? i would love to know what ideas you have for the future, and i look forward to continuing this kind of Socratic analysis as the movement develops. we should never be satisfied with how we’re creating a better world for the future generations of human beings all over the world.

    • davidwinters

      It’s interesting to me that you feel relief upon reading this article and you are someone who beleives the structure of our governemnt is just fine but needs a little tune up or something. I think that it is very likely that anyone who believes there is nothing wrong with the structure of our government per se would also feel relieved upon reading this article, mostly because the article essentially recommends that a potentially revolutionary movement step back from its possibilities and simply recapitulate the systems already in place. It’s a great soothing comfort to know that you can be credited and recognized on the basis of a performance of radical criticism without actually attempting to change anything about social organization and everyday life. Trash the corporate models and build anew. This will take time and patience. It’s a big job.

      • zadie

        i never said ‘there is nothing wrong with the structure of our government’, my exact words were “the problem isnt the structure of our government per se, its that our government is bought.” my point is, we dont even know what our government would look like without lobbyists and corruption. am i wrong? do you know what our laws and politicians would be without corporate influence? neither do i. i welcome the new ideas for how people become directly involved in our democracy, and i look forward to continuing to evaluate our process. the examination of the movement is just as democratic as the process in which it is held. and furthermore, do you really think his article is not ‘attempting to change anything about social organization and everyday life’? its hard to take that accusation seriously.

  29. Siobhan Ogilvie

    There are some really perfect suggestions here that shouldn’t even be a question. The fact that it is something that has to be debated, and argued, and blocked and brought back…common sense protocols are a big part of why people step back. This in NY – we have a trillion things to do at every minute. We are an impatient, aggressive (that does not mean violent), fast talking and fast moving by nature in this city. No one is going to sit around while common sense issues are debated by obvious disruptive arguments. I am in the “elder” sect at 46 and I can tell you people in my circle (35 – 60) wouldn’t last 5 minutes at GA. I love that this is coming up in tech because I think tech holds the solutions. We have already established no one can be silenced in true democracy so let the arguments be posted online. If someone has clarifying questions or concerns let them submit by email so when you present to GA a proposal you can include those answers. In fact to streamline, I would like the proposer to answer the question by email first in case that leads to another question. Then when speaking at GA, proposer states proposal along with friendly amendments accepted, lists questions, & these are how I answered them, then states concerns and here was my replies. Finally lists amendments not deemed friendly and blocks. Asks if any block still stand, please get on stack and explain and vote. The process is still in place but can knock off a lot of time.

    Maybe someone can clean that up even further. New Yorkers have short attention spans. Maybe other states too – idk but I am a life long New Yorker and no one I know could last with the drawn out GAs now.

    Please let me state for the record though this is NOT a criticism of anyone’s efforts. In fact the reason it is so lengthy is because you are all going out of your way to make time for everyone which is great for them, but not momentum. I know those who usually look to disrupt will say I am not good on computers, I don’t know how to email etc etc etc. Well then it is time to learn. Everyone needs to know how to write an email. We aren’t asking people to put things in javascript. Just an email.

    We do need a reboot – and a defrag! We have made things so complicated for ourselves in so many ways. We need to keep it simple, broad on issues the entire 99% can get behind, and clear.

    • Dallas

      IMHO most of the people that are being sincere about their shortcomings and apprehension re: using computers to GSD are just A) somewhat visually impaired and need to figure out how to get their computer to compensate for that and/or B) afraid to break stuff.

      Computers and websites usually have some user accessibility options that address having hard time reading what’s on the screen and the like. And it’s REALLY hard to break most things permanently in IT without having physical contact with the equipment, so don’t worry! Do stuff wrong a few times, it won’t end the world. How do you think we in TechOps learned????

  30. kaustisk

    It sounds to me like the author is advocating replicating the hierarchies that Occupy Wall Street was created to transform.

    ” Hierarchy and ‘the normalizing judgment’ are essential parts of systems of discipline. The authoritative gaze or the hierarchal gaze becomes necessary to ensure that individuals are conforming to the ideal of how a soldier, a pupil, a prisoner or a factory worker should behave. ” Michel Foucault

    This applies to Occupiers as much as soldiers or factory workers.

    Frankly, if this is the direction OWS is going its time to tear it down and start anew.

    -

    • Dan Chilton

      I think I see a ‘conservative’ element in OWS emerging. Hierarchy is just a word. Its not (necessarily) a heirarchy of humans over others. Its used in Data analysis, organizational structure etc …
      Understanding the analogy, and the pyramid graphic doesn’t take too much effort, but It requires some.
      It could be easily re-drawn as a circle.
      It doesn’t take a genius to point out that sometimes people invoke their credentials, “I have been here from day one” to bolster their credibility and opinion about what OWS ‘really’ is.

      So, here’s a philosophical question: Is OWS done? Must we either join it as is, or leave? Can we join and influence its direction?
      Is discussing or advocating change, disloyal to the ‘true meaning’ of OWS?

  31. stephan geras

    point of information….structure, facilitation and several other working groups are diligently working to change structure which will make it more accessible…meeting (infohub) in the Atrium at 12:00 today, everyone welcome for input. As to circles v pyramids, circles have bad rep too…inside circles control flow of information and power to outside ones. In my limited experience with OWS so far I see there are individuals who, through effort and action, know more and have more developed thinking but who practice inclusion in every meeting, workgroup and personal encounter…they are admirable and exemplary. On the other hand there are equally involved individuals who practice exclusion and insider “originator” stuff. There’ll always be individuals who know more about some things and share, and those who know more and horde. But even the hoarders have incredible things to offer. Learning how to navigate is on the ground training for activism.

  32. populist

    I consider myself an occupier even though I live in NJ and I can’t afford to commute to Manhattan for OWS events on a regular basis. I think this post is very insightful in acknowledging the problem that I have faced as an “irregular.” It isn’t some sort of vague power structure that is limiting my participation in OWS. My problem is that I don’t know how I can play an important role in OWS when I’m unaware of the needs of each working group. I have attended the major actions as well as some GAs and I don’t know where I am needed because I don’t know where to reach out. I am an engaging student organizer with an interest in the labor movement and an education in economics and I can be a valuable asset.

    Why isn’t there someone who can tell me where and how I am needed in this movement? Maybe this is the role of a currently non-existent working group, but I just want to help where I can.

    • populist

      There should be someone to reach out and engage with people like me at any major event. I don’t want to come and freeze my ass off at another GA if the only thing I can contribute are my spirit fingers.

    • Binh

      I suggest looking at all the working group forums if you want to get a sense of which ones are struggling and which are doing OK. I know that’s not the answer you need or want but we are at a low point right now and there’s not as much activity to get plugged into at this moment.

  33. Urbaned

    There is nothing wrong with the ladder of engagement diagram. In fact, it could be used to help people feel more included. I envision OWS as something more akin to girl scouts/boy scouts (sorry – but there does have to be a model) than the corporate, “your fired” one. I also believe it’s a perfect forum for badges – badges of ALL types, a la, mozilla’s open badge project: https://wiki.mozilla.org/Badges Here’s an example: you are a newcomer, and observe a GA for the first time. You get a newcomer’s badge (of course, if getting a badge is your thing). You follow a group in an action, you get a follower’s badge. You endorse a group or program, endorser’s badge, contribute, likewise, lead, likewise. The people with more badges would naturally be leaders because they have put in more time.

    There can also be badges for disruptive people, like you get in high school – most rambunctious, most creative, most persuasive. Some people might like that, and everyone could be included.

    I also want to diverge here and say that this structure and technology would necessarily be created by people with more means than others. That does not make them better. It makes them better able to serve. This is a strong belief of mine: we are very privileged in the U.S. and need to share, first of all, with our own fellow citizens.

    Now, here’s my creative idea about meetings and assemblies: every one should end with an agreement or final vote upon the stated goal of the meeting. For example, “will we march to Times Square?” The first third of the meeting is spent talking about the action (definition). The second part is for discussion of the issue (analysis). The third part of the meeting is spent preparing for and actually voting on the issue. There could be simple meeting templates created (I love making them) and they could be flexible for different types of meetings. I think we have become too focused on the GA and Spokes model, and although ideologically pure, may not be as effective as other formats (note, different types of meetings can have different formats, too).

    If the meeting is 1.5 hours long, and the discussion part goes on for more than 1/2 hour, then maybe the meeting should be 3 hours next time. I’m reflecting Siobhan’s ideas above. But, sometimes toes are going to have to be stepped on in order to accomplish a goal.

    Very early on in OWS, I had a vision of the badges (new educational system) and a place where restorative justice could be experienced. If someone is cut off due to time limits, a person might feel their ego is wounded, but in the big picture, and maybe not for some time, they will begin realizing that their ego is less important than getting to consensus. Our society lacks the value of respect and that’s one of the reasons we have so many problems. It’s almost a joy to see how all of that hatred is biting back at the Republicans now.

    I wish I could be a little more articulate (I’m a bit tired while writing this). I think this whole conversation contains the seeds of positive new directions for us. Let’s keep dialoguing on and offline, and hanging in there.

  34. I am the 99, i am not the one.

    Greeting ows,
    I live in California, Brentwood (northern). I am not college educated. I am currently unemployed (laid off last Feb.). I am not affiliated with any occupy location but I wanted to start something for occupy the delta. I think that article hit the nail on the head. I believe the movement needs to branch out and get the mainstream people involved. This area is predominantly white and Republican. These people know they are the 99, know they are having tough economic times, know the government is screwing them royally but don’t know what to do about it. I have been waging my own information war out here. Everywhere I go, I talk about the 99%. I talk about the insanity in this country. Every person I encounter completely supports the idea behind the movement. They want change. They want accountability of government officials. They want a government for the people, by the people. The ows brought something to this country that we had not had in a long time, HOPE. This is not about Democrat or Republican. This is about everyone having an equal voice. This is about people coming together to make a positive change. My suggestion is that we start a campaign of reaching out to the 99% by holding town hall meetings across the United States. Every State. Every Capitol. Every Major City. I know we have contact people in every state. This should not be a general assembly at all. This should be a town hall meeting where we invite city council members, county, state, congressional representatives to come and listen to us. We would run it similar to a general assembly in that you would need to get on stack to speak, there would have to be time limits enforced, but no one there is more important than anybody else. Actually it would probably be a good idea to not just hold one of these meetings, hold many of these meetings. Give everyone a chance to be heard. Give it a chance to spread word of mouth. This is an election year. The representatives would automatically come because they don’t want to appear like they are not listening to the people they are suppose to represent. The 99 would come because they are tired of being unrepresented by their representatives. If we simply state that it was inspired by the ows movement but maybe down play the whole occupation thing and move this inside, in large town halls everywhere, they will come. At these town hall meetings we could begin to network people together, city by city, state by state, by the issue they feel most passionate about, whether it is Small Business, Amending the Constitution, Wall Street Fraud, Foreclosure, etc. This is an evolving movement. If you want everyone involved, then give everyone a chance to be involved. As I stated earlier, I am not a college graduate but I am a human being person. I matter. I count. You matter. You count. Together We Matter. Together We Count. Thank you. Agent99ows

    • Binh

      You should go to the Occupy Together website and see if there are others in your area doing things already. Welcome!

  35. xeryle

    The following comment is from someone named Bill Buster. The asterisks are
    his. It gave me pause. Overall, this comment has the feel of a thinly
    veiled attempt to silence those voices regarding race and gender issues.
    Who makes the decision as to whether or not an issue is weaponized or
    relevant? That he specified issues of race and gender is significant. This
    system like others has the potential for empowerment and for oppression.
    Best to be aware.

    “A need for this is shown when people come in without understanding the
    rules of communication and try to raise issues and concerns. They are left
    marginalized, reproached and often alienated. **And issues of race/ gender
    bias are used like weapons by zealots absurdly often** to isolate and
    neutralize good efforts by well meaning folks. Just one example of the
    theatrics that we all agree are issues, but too many foolishly avoid
    addressing directly. There is a line between inclusive and abusive, as
    well as exploitative, that is crossed often at the expense of everyone,
    often myself included.”

  36. Dallas

    When I came to Liberty Park at the beginning of October, Pete regularly represented Accounting at GA reportbacks and none of what you’ve mentioned was what you’d call a secret.

    Also, the TM was to some degree a reaction to Rocawear and Jay-Z beating us to the punch on OccupyAllStreets.

    Sqm from Wylie’s firm was roundly chewed out for autonomously acting on our behalf and then asking for $1350 reimbursement. I sincerely think that the TM was a matter of Sam expecting all of us to be on board with trademarking anything and eating $1350 for his mistake.

    PS consider the alternative of have having the GA as a body handle the acct and vote for a different person to sign each bill and doc and check…

  37. Hermes C Liberty (Abu)

    Insightful article. Some of highlighted issues give me opportunity to call for a much much more conscious analysis of many happenings. This could lead to the realization that many subtle entities are interested in controlling OWS, and do so through suggestions (in its spiritual meaning: the act of sending mental orders into individuals’ souls so to have them apply what the operator needed to achieve!).
    Two fighting Camps from this subtle World are much interested in OWS in the sense of controlling it because they know its real noble objectives. The Woman of the Bible-a real entity that is not Obama, OCCUPIES actually the White-House. With her teams, she is responsible of many evils happenings in this country, including the Healthcare Bill (under her spells Nancy Peloci lached:we have to pass the Bill so that we can know what’s in it…) the NDAA is not far from her Team, who also SUGGESTED the 911. They are also responsible of Katrina and Irene (Man made! I have verified it, having been subjected to an unsuccessful kind of instrument of hazard).
    Michel, of this same spiritual world, but from the opposite Camp, is behind our Eviction and rejoices that after it, we have adopted the Churches (whose members are as uninformed as we); places where he can safely develop our progressive integration (or at any case) attachment to him and his people, so to realize many things against OWS.
    We all like Horizontality! For those Spiritual Beings, it means Women they can act upon, at the height of their Verticality. Think about it.
    It is advisable also to start thinking critically about many happenings, including the behavior of some disrupters. They might not be totally conscious.
    Another source of conscious critical thinking might be: the pace at which our Funds, whose origin the real donors must be made public, dries up. Meaning, what pushes people in this compulsive endeavor of requesting Funds for each and every occasion? Remember that the 1% of the 1% of the 1% are Spiritual Beings, direcly responsible in some cases, of the wealth of some. Those also are the Framers of the Bull that must be killed or devoured.

  38. arj

    These are really great points.

    Back in the early days of the occupation, I was a tour guide. I would bring people down to the park, show them around and explain to them what the movement was about. After a while, as the park started to get more and more crowded and “crazy”, I had to stop doing that. The park did not reflect what the movement was about, it reflected the problems of the park. Additionally, I did not know that there was a “60 Wall Street” until early October.

    I feel the same way about allot of what goes on in the meetings. I am 100% interested in what happens at nycga & nycsc but I do not participate. I do not participate for a few reasons. 1) I work full time. I am unable to contribute in any meaningful way to any working group since the majority of them meet in the day time. 2) Violence at the meetings and obstruction that make the commute pointless. 3) A small sub group of people have made a clear distinction between “real” occupiers and the rest of us and have made me feel unwelcome. This has been true since mid-October.

    Having said all of that, I want to say that as a photographer and as a participant, I love direct action. I think that direct action is the best damned thing about OWS. I bring people to direct action and it never fails to engage and energize them. I love the social events. I love the people that I meet at these events. Massive events like Oct 15th at Foley Square can be utilized by working groups and coalitions to recruit people. Outreach & follow through might make people feel welcome.

    Lastly, can I suggest that if a stranger shows up at a meeting, perhaps you welcome them and introduce yourself. Perhaps you take the time to talk to them and answer questions. I recall a couple of times that I would be in the park on a Saturday or a Sunday, after the tents went up and the population exploded, and would find myself speaking to visitors even though I was not a “real occupier” and frequently did not have the answers to their questions. There were more than a couple of times that I saw a gentleman at the information table on Broadway being unbelievably rude & dismissive to people who came to ask questions. That in itself would be enough to turn people away. I would like to see people stop mocking newcomers for not wearing the right shoes and for never having slept in the park.