Power and OWS Digital Media Properties

Occupy.com is an Occupy Wall Street digital property under development. Unlike many other media projects associated with OWS, it has funding, paid staff and a 501c3 incorporated nonprofit structure before achieving public visibility. Rightly or wrongly, this situation has provoked a fair amount of controversy in OWS tech and media circles, leading to a fascinating four-hour discussion earlier this evening at 16 Beaver.

The crux of the issue is of interest beyond the specific media project (occupy.com) under discussion, and even goes past the issue that brought things to a head (paid staff and external funding). But before we go there, let’s do a short little backgrounder. A number of web sites either exist or are in fairly advanced planning stages. These include inward facing, collaboration focused efforts like this site (nycga.net) and these:

  • occupy.com – high quality content (video, photos, texts, social media) curated from various sources and presented to the general public.
  • occupywallstreet.net – New York focused news and information about Occupy Wall Street plans and goings on.
  • occupy.org – campaign site aimed loosely at online activists less likely to be deeply involved in physical occupations and working groups.
  • occupywallst.org – longstanding ‘unofficial’ public facing website, featuring curated content and conversation about the occupy movement, nationally and internationally.
  • The “Tweetboat” – @occupywallstnyc, a twitter account operated by a team whose members are generally part of nycga working groups.
  • wearethe99percent.com – a Tumblr site in existence from before the occupation, with a simple and successful formula.

Each of these projects has slightly different governance, which we might compare to one more project – the Occupy Wall Street Journal. At the start of that project in the early days of the Zuccotti Park occupation, a Kickstarter effort was initiated that successfully raised a great deal of money. To manage it properly, a 501c3 nonprofit was created. The collective behind the Journal was eager to act transparently, training new talent, but also to restrict full access to the project to those with real journalism experience.

This emphasizes one of two ways we can distinguish between projects. Is it governed, ultimately, by Occupy Wall Street in the form of the New York General Assembly, as mediated by one or more working groups, OR is it a closed, external project with its own financial management, membership, and management?

Is it perceived as authentically representative of Occupy Wall Street, the movement formerly based in Zuccotti Park, OR is it merely another side project, valid but without special movement status?

Owned by OWS in New York External Governance
Not Representative

*disagreement here is likely!

The different between occupy.com (external funding + external governance + representative status) and the Occupy Journal (external funding + external governance + representative status) is that the Journal has been around for a while, before OWS had built a strong sense of identity around how we operate. Occupywallst.org is different; the collective that runs it a) denies that the movement known as Occupy is a thing capable of governance, and b) denies that any city based component of the movement has a right to govern broad movement media. The conclusion is that Occupywallst.org is rightly governed outside the nycga framework, AND that any occupy-wide media project should NOT be governed by an nycga framework., In the discussion about this situation, the word ‘accountable‘ was used frequently in two ways. Nycga.net and the Tweetboat are ‘accountable‘ in the sense that individuals and working groups are acting under General Assembly authority. Occupywallst.org and the Occupy Journal on the other hand are ‘accountable‘ only in the sense that they make a good faith effort to respond to legitimate feedback from within the movement.

I thought Katy Davidson(sp?) did a good job of putting a finger on the dilemma that we face, especially when it comes to outward facing digital properties. It’s this: closed, externally governed efforts are gaining traction and emerging successfully despite the movement’s proclaimed adherence to open, transparent, inclusive and horizontal models of governance. This is NOT a knock on any individual or effort, but a painful observation. Given what we know about the problems with the General Assembly and Spokescouncil meetings, is anyone actually surprised?

The discussion we had was long, at times painful, but necessary, illuminating and even cathartic. It felt good finally having the chance to discussion the intersection of money, power, access, hierarchy and media projects in the movement. All this at a meeting where no decisions are made, no common conclusions drawn, and no project to work on in common – unless we count the commitment to do it again next weekend.

UPDATE: Justin of the Tweetboat shared a link to a Storify of the meeting.


  1. jillturnerart

    Thanks for your excellent coverage and commentary on the meeting yesterday.

    And thanks to Drew for getting back to me about my request for Tech ops Timebank support. He’s saying I cannot count on tech people to allocate their intellectual resources unless I can get them excited.

    My concerns are social concerns.  Everyone “doing their own thing”, as Drew said, is problematic. I’m afraid “buy in” implies tech people are primarily motivated by ownership of technology they create from scratch not by what’s for the greater good.  I’m not sure tech ops realizes the power they wield and the responsibility they share for the greater good. How do we ensure that? 

    While I understand the web site is an open source system that hypothetically anyone can contribute to,  right now the structure and content is not representative of the 99%.  OWS is a unified whole ideally and the web information flow should reflect our values for a just world. The OWS Timebank allows us to experiment with a new economic paradigm – that people’s time has equal value. 

    Social science evidence (Carkhuff – The Age Of New Capitalism) indicates 85% of productivity is dependent on the flow of information between people. So we are dependent on, ideally interdependent with Tech ops.  

    • Dallas

      I’m not going to name names because I like to let people speak for themselves, but it’s been expressed to me by several members of Tech Ops that they feel their plates are full at the moment. I suspect it’s a question of avoiding burnout more so than ‘ownership’.

  2. Urbaned

    Rather than approaching technology from the inside out for starters, let’s do a ‘quick and dirty,’ as they say in tech. Let’s create OWS approved badges – a list of sites, people, institutions that adhere to our Principles of Solidarity (usually pretty easy to vet) and give them a badge. Then, we can use them. For example, meetup, craigslist, freecycle, twitter, etc. It’s a way for “us” to connect quickly. For example, let’s say I add an event to craigslist. I can say that it’s an OWS event – if I’m vetted on one or all of the many websites above. Making a list of approved sites, people, etc., is also a time-consuming administrative task, but someone might be very interested in doing it.

    Additionally, while this is happening, core developers can continue to work on Timebank, Permabank, voting systems, etc.

  3. Evan Wagner

    This is not an accurate statement- “Occupy.com is an Occupy Wall Street digital property”, as we are an independent group not directly affiliated with “OWS” (the unincorporated association).

    I also don’t agree that it is “not representative”, but that is more in the realm of opinion than of fact, as in the first case.

    • Charles Lenchner

      Thank you Evan for clarifying! But let me ask: is there an intention that Occupy.com play a widely recognized role? Something close to a sanctioned and publicly affirmed role within the OWS media eco-system? Thanks!

      • Evan Wagner

        Yes. I think there is an inevitability to it playing a significant role, and there remains a valid question as to the existence of a *qualified* “sanctioning” body (if that’s even desired), so we are hoping we can rely on public affirmation coming in a more directly democratic way through the website itself (once it launches) and as it evolves in relation to that input. For the present, we are actively sourcing both curators and content from existing groups producing media relating to and emanating from occupations across the country and beyond, so at a certain point “OWS” might not be the best way to describe the eco-system, but that last part’s just my opinion. But for the short answer: yes, I thought the idea all along has been that the .net .org and .com would work in cooperation and solidarity (if not necessarily agreement now as to what constitutes legitimacy or accountability) with each other and the ‘movement’, all with a commitment to radical transparency, such as with this very post.

        • Evan Wagner

          I should also like to point out that I’m not convinced that “OWS [has] built a strong sense of how it operates” and clarify that believing that the GA is not the only “authority” is not necessarily to deny its legitimacy outright.

          • Evan Wagner

            Last, regarding your summary description of occupy.com, it’s important to note that the number of participants in curation will increase, (from known and entrusted individuals, to small consensus groups, on up to ‘crowd curation’), as infrastructure allows, so that provides some detail on how public affirmation happens.

  4. soothsayer

    let’s also be clear that the photographers, writers, bloggers, and videographers are the ones who ultimately own their own content. they can license it for use on all these other “digital properties”, but these websites do not own it.

  5. grimwomyn

    There should be as many different “Occupy” sites as there are people who use the internet. The long tail of online media needs to reflect the very long tail of varied experiences and demographics found within the 99%. The key is for us all to help promote each other’s content, which is a much more democratic way to “validate” sites working under the “Occupy” auspice.

    I am very skeptical of a system in which sites are “approved.” Who would be the board making those decisions? #OWS started as an open source/crowdsourced movement. To place an entity in place to police which online destinations are “approved” and which are not is in direct contradiction to how we got here.

    Here is a great article about how crowdsourcing works and why it is one of the most democratizing forces in recent history: http://www.ssireview.org/blog/entry/interview_from_crowdsourcing_to_couchsurfing

    I also recommend this great book about the “new curation of crowdsourcing”: http://www.amazon.com/Here-Comes-Everybody-Organizing-Organizations/dp/0143114948/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1329844024&sr=8-1

  6. michael

    I’m one of those with ‘external governance’, though I appreciate all who are supporting and keeping up with the Occupy movement. Keep it up! My on-line paper — ‘Occupy Wall Street News and Videos’ — supporting OWS is a daily, here: http://paper.li/f-1319837259 . I know, bad URL. But it’s free to post a paper at paper.li. Besides the ‘Editor’s Notes’ section, which has links to some of the more interesting OWS-related stories on the site (if I say so myself since I put them there), the paper is made up of stories from RSS feeds from:
    1. TruthDig.org
    2. DemocracyNow!
    3. NYCGA.net — which I just added today as an RSS source for OWS news.
    4. RT.com
    5. AlterNet.org
    6. HuffingtonPost — just to get some of the more mainstream stories out there about OWS movement and not be in too much of a bubble. It was a hard decision.
    7. DailyKos.com
    8. TheNation.com
    and a Twitter feed from AnonyOps_ .

    If anyone has some other suggestions that would be awesome. I’ve experimented with other sources, some from great sites, but stories are too scant. ‘Occupy Wall Street News and Videos’ posted today with two stories from NYCGA.net on the first day I used it as an RSS source, so I was happy with that.

    Also, check out my YouTube channel — ‘Supporting Occupy Wall St.’ — here:
    http://www.youtube.com/user/munderlarkst?feature=mhee .