Category: Digital Strategy

sinking-ship

The Justine Tunney Debacle & OccupyWallSt.org

Over the last few days, the world of #Occupy has been reinvigorated. Not for any particular achievement, mind you, but for the public meltdown of a dedicated OWS activist named Justine Tunney, who just happened to be the woman who founded (or co-founded) some of the movement’s core assets, including fb.me/occupywallst, @occupywallst, and occupywallst.org. (The last often referred to simply as STORG.)

As detailed in various places including, heaven help us, Buzzfeed, Ms. Tunney asserted control over the Twitter handle she created, and essentially told her story. Part of that story is that she has felt unappreciated and disrespected from the very beginning. I’ve felt that way at times. It’s a common experience in activism.

A main thread emerging from the backlash to Ms. Tunney and STORG is that these digital assets were movement resources regardless of who founded them or when. They wouldn’t exist as important communication tools were it not for all the others who made OWS possible in New York City, or the others who expanded it nationally and internationally, and all those who wrote, commented, retweeted, followed, liked, shared, and gave a damn. The Occupy brand is being defended by those who feel they are stakeholders, as happened when STORG began to sell Occupy themed merchandise.

STORG is like Facebook in that it generates value from the unpaid labor and creativity of others. But, at least with Facebook, the deal is understood by both sides from the outset. With STORG, it wasn’t as clear. Had all stakeholders understood that these were Justine’s personal accounts from the get-go, maybe they wouldn’t have added all that value. Had Justine and STORG committed to those assets being controlled by something other than a small group of individuals, maybe those accounts wouldn’t be susceptible to these kinds of shenanigans.

The Problem of Accountability in OWS

There was a time when this lack of clarity was treated as a serious concern by the Tech Ops Working Group, which founded this blog and created NYCGA.net as a tool explicitly owned by OWS. Unlike STORG, it was constructed by and for the OWS General Assembly – something we treated as our governing infrastructure. For better or worse, Tech Ops cared deeply about being accountable to something larger than itself. Not accountable in the sense that we care what other people think, but in an operational way. We were enthusiastic about working on behalf of General Assembly decisions and we paid for things (in part) with funds funneled by the GA from donors who wanted to support its work.

In late October or early November of 2011, Tech Ops pushed for a General Assembly resolution that would have asserted symbolically that STORG was – or was not – a movement resource. We wanted to enter negotiations with STORG over their use of the domain occupywallst.org. Our take was that a website seen as the de-facto voice of OWS should strive to become the de-jure voice as well. And if not, then maybe there could be an official statement that it shouldn’t be our collective platform.

We believed that successful movements need to build and own their own infrastructure. Absent that, we are dependent on the goodwill of others who might not be there for us down the road. This is one reason why so many of us were FLOSS fanatics. (aka Open source and free software.)

Alas, the General Assembly process failed us. Despite their statements rejecting the authority of the GA to make any decisions regarding STORG, their supporters felt comfortable showing up and ‘blocking’ any decision on the topic. But I’m not bitter. In retrospect, maybe it was the best outcome.

The inability of the GA to take a position on movement infrastructure was in keeping with an Occupy culture that had real trouble with planning and coordination. Efforts to engage a wider circle of volunteers, address racial justice issues, establish proper email lists, engage in community organizing, manage office space, honor commitments with other movements and organizations, and handle money competently were also features of OWS, both before and after the Zuccotti Park occupation. Sort of like The Little Rascals Start a Revolution.

Against that background, the decision of actors like Justine and STORG to absolutely refuse to give up the resources they had created so that they could be managed accountably makes perfect sense. Their relative success and longevity compare quite well against many other pieces of online movement infrastructure including NYCGA.net, occupywallstreet.net, Interocc and the Occupy Network. (Which doesn’t mean those other efforts are failures – I’m part of the Occupy Network which puts out an excellent newsletter that still covers much of the New York Occupy movement.)

Many of the very best Occupy media resources also fall short of any kind of ‘movement accountability ethic.’ Occupy.com, Waging Nonviolence, Global Rev, the Occupy Wall Street Journal and Tidal are all examples of that. When push comes to shove, every one of those online media properties could be taken off the deep end as the STORG twitter account was – and there’s not a thing anyone could do about it.

Where Does That Leave Us

Ms. Tunney is a person and a friend. She has contributed a great deal to the Occupy movement. It’s funny how we became friendly over time, given that I was part of the effort to shame her group into giving up control of her digital properties. It’s also relevant that we aren’t particularly close politically or organizationally.

Watching her be savaged by the online version of a mob with pitchforks fills me with sadness and more than a little shame. This target of online toxic rage has a narrative that makes her recent actions quite understandable. No, I don’t agree with them – but I have empathy with the person who did those things. I can put myself in her shoes. There’s a coherent logic at work.

In my humble opinion, what happened to Ms. Tunney and the STORG twitter handle was the result of years of pressure building up. Years of feeling unappreciated and under attack. The lack of folks working to establish closer relationships and one-on-one solidarity across whatever lines divide us from each other. And yet that doesn’t go far enough. Justine is fairly young, a cancer survivor, an out transgendered woman and nerd with a lifetime of shit to deal with. I’m sad and ashamed that 2.5 years in the Occupy movement did nothing to heal her; instead, it just added more layers of shit.

If you were paying attention, as so few of us are, you’d see that Justine is having a public meltdown. A crisis. I can’t see her recent pronouncements as a political conversation about which one might have a firm opinion. For me, it’s a moment of weakness, maybe far overdue. She’s earned the right to have it. I wish that the movement folks wielding online torches and pitchforks could be persuaded to walk away instead of fanning the fames. That wouldn’t just make us look better, as the Occupy diaspora. It would actually make us better.

My last point is that the Occupy movement really screwed up by not insisting on accountable infrastructure. The General Assemblies were terrible, the horizontalist impulse ended up as a self-defeating cultish behavior few survivors would care to repeat. We changed the conversation and blew ourselves up. Let’s own that and leave STORG – and every other Occupy splinter – the hell alone. Focus on what’s next, not what’s past.

I sure hope what comes next involves more compassion. And infrastructure.

Tech Ops Thursday Training – Social Media

Join us for Occupy Tech Ops Training on advanced social media tricks and techniques.

Learn some simple tips and trick to seriously increase your effectiveness on social media.

We’ll have a training and discussion. Meet other activists and chat about social media and how to kick ass on it!

Register Online! »

Feel free to bring food, drinks, or snacks.

When

August 30th, 2012 – 6-9pm

Location

33 Flatbush
Brooklyn, NY
United States

Lists of Interest for OWS Communicators

This post is in part an effort to preserve some of the conversation from the occu-communicators meeting described in the following post.

Who gets to speak on behalf of OWS?

  • nycga.net
  • occupywallst.org
  • occupy.com
  • occupy.net
  • OccupyTogether.org
  • wearethe99percent.tumblr.com
  • Occupy Wall Street Journal
  • Livestreamers
  • Tweetboat
  • ComHub – sms messaging
  • Archives
  • OccupyWallStreet.net
  • Tidal (theory journal)
  • Occupy Stories
  • Various Facebook Pages
  • Regional Occupy Sites
  • The Project Project
  • Your Inbox: Occupied
  • InterOcc
  • Adbusters

Who else? Who shouldn’t be on this list?

How are Occupiers communicating?

  • Email listservs
  • Mass emails
  • Online forums
  • Facebook comment threads
  • Twitter
  • Youtube videos
  • Livestream videos
  • Feature length films and documentaries
  • Dead trees
  • T-shirts
  • Waves of light bounced off buildings
  • Postering
  • Stickers
  • RSS feeds
  • Brochure websites
  • Text messaging lists
  • Placing stories in mass media (=public relations)
  • Placing stories in alternative media (=easier but less effective public relations)
  • Self produced television shows in public access
  • Micro-radio broadcasting
  • Live music, songwriting
  • Poetry
  • Puppetry
  • Theater
  • Individual and group blogging

 What else?

Categories of Online Tools that Tech Ops (and others) Create, Manage, and/or Fantasize About

  1. Collaborative (foster internal OWS collaboration or collaboration for any purpose)
  2. Tactical (used for direct actions or to implement a real world project)
  3. Broadcasting (carry our voice further)
  4. Administrative (record keeping, lists)
  5. Alternatives (ways of creating non-capitalist options for consuming, producing, living)

Bonus Questions

  1. How is messaging being tested for impact, refined, and tested again?
  2. Does anyone keep record of what messaging works best, using A/B testing?
  3. Is there any functional method of keeping multiple voices (voluntarily) coordinated?
  4. If you wanted to ‘conform’ to OWS messaging priorities, where could you find out what they were on any given day?

Discuss.

The Interplay of Tech, Communications and Occupy

On Saturday, May 12, Tech Ops and Your Inbox: Occupied hosted a community meeting / training. This is a report-back covering the material presented and subsequent discussion.

The initial conversations about this meeting had to do with the intersection of Tech Ops with Occupy in general. Concerns included:

  • How do we ‘serve’ other parts of OWS more explicitly, as service providers?
  • What is stopping or slowing down the adoption of powerful tools such as CiviCRM?
  • Why is it hard to generate overall ‘digital strategy’ at the intersection of different working groups and committees?

Some of the initial conclusions were that:

  • Occupy Communicators often lack a shared language to talk about specific parts of the overall work, and how different groups can coordinate better.
  • Many communicators are eager to understand how Tech Ops works and be in better coordination.
  • There is a widespread consensus that ‘we have to improve our game.’

To this end, myself and Drew, in consultation with various occu-communicators, came up with a combination training and discussion that would seek to address these issues while generating important feedback.

Developing a Shared Vocabulary

Our first step was to define some terms. For our purposes, a Broadcaster is anyone distributing messages for, from, or about Occupy. These are our semi-official voices: The Tweetboat, Your Inbox: Occupied, the Occupy Wall Street Journal, Occupy.com, Occupy.net, Occupywallstreet.net, Occupywallst.org, OccupyTogether.org and many more. Each of these Broadcasters plays a role; but we can analyze each one of them and ask: who are they reaching?

Audiences are the various slices of people that Broadcasters are reaching, with greater or lesser impact. We discussed the ways that one could classify an audience – by geography, race/class/gender, psychographics, and more. But there was broad agreement that the most useful way of slicing was by steps on a ladder of engagement. This is because, if and when we are evaluating the success of a Broadcaster, what would we want the most? For Audience members to move up a rung on the ladder, to become more active in the fight against the 1%.

Together, we came up with a ladder of the following rungs:

  • Hasn’t heard of Occupy, or enough about it to form an opinion
  • Has heard of Occupy but is not a supporter
  • Supports Occupy, but has not engaged
  • Supports Occupy, has engaged virtually, online
  • Has shown up on person for an Occupy event or meeting
  • Shows up routinely, but is not part of a group or committee
  • Is a committed part of an Occupy group or project
  • Full fledged, sleepless organizer with Occupy

People recognized that a large proportion of our communications are directed at the lower rungs – at supporters with a record of strong engagement. Unlike in the early days, when social media and then mass media fueled outreach to millions who were just learning about us, today we are often talking to ourselves – but without healthy and consistent movement of Audience members to higher levels of engagement.

The point of course, isn’t just to map what is going on, but to do something about it. That thing is: help our Broadcasters to be more successful with specific Audiences. But this, a we discovered, can be a problem.

Expressive Vs. Instrumental Communications

I stole this from Matt Smucker’s Beyond the Choir. He writes about expressive and instrumental actions. (The following are my own words, not a quote.)

Expressive: Satisfies the urge to self-express,perhaps at the cost of achieving some impact in the world.

Instrumental: Designed for achieving a specific outcome, even when this means less authentic expression of our individuality or collective spirit.

Participants reflected that with Occupy Wall Street, the very personal, authentic and expressive nature of our actions and communications were a defining part of the culture that built this movement in the first place. Positioning ‘expressive’ and ‘instrumental’ at opposite poles feels uncomfortable because it suggests that being expressive is indulgent and that being effective is a prize worth suppressing who we are.

But at the same time, we heard that often our actions or communications can be both: designed for utmost impact AND highly expressive. The initial burst of enthusiasm for the Zuccotti Park occupation demonstrates that this is possible. What we need to do now is examine our communications, the measurable impact of our Broadcasters on our Audiences and bravely ask the question: what is working? What is achieving our goals as a movement?

Currently, it feels like these questions are not being consciously addressed. The concentration of our communications to inward facing efforts comes at the expense of effective vehicles that spread our message and expand the pool of activists. We talk more and more to ourselves in ways that please each other, even if the real world impact is declining. A shift towards communications that are built around the delivery of outcomes – instrumentality – doesn’t require the wholesale rejection of who we are, but rather the deliberate adoption of additional tools that are mostly within reach.

What Technology Has To Do With It

The technology resources of our movement include databases capable of delivering mass email blasts. Despite the large numbers of people using social media these days, what’s obscured is that we don’t have ‘an audience’ that is reachable via ‘social media’, instead we have multiple audiences that are impacted to a greater or lesser degree based on all kinds of choices: who is speaking, what medium is using, the news cycle, and so on. Email is still seen as crucial to any engagement effort in the real world, but Occupy has done a poor job of taking email communications seriously.

Fortunately, OWS has many resources for helping activists use email more effectively, especially CRM tools, meaning Constituent Relationship Management tools like CiviCRM and Salsa. CRM’s help us evaluate in real time whether or not particular communications are having the sought-for impact. They are excellent for learning what movements actually care about, in contrast to what they say they care about.

Websites are also tools, and at various times groups or actions have struggled with them. But the kinds of questions about this tool are often not asked during the planning stages: should it collect data, like event RSVP’s? What would it be stored? Who is it aimed at? What audiences are unlikely to respond, and therefore need an alternative outreach tool?

One of the questions to the audience was about the parent site of this blog: NYCGA.net. I asked folks who was on it, and whether or not they were still using it as a collaboration tool for working groups. A number of people stated that they used to use it a lot more than they do now, and that one of the main reasons was the proliferation of mean-spirited personal attacks. This is an example of how a tool widely used and praised can have it’s impact reduced as a result of built-in weaknesses. Our ability to manage tools appropriately demands a great deal of shepherding resources, creating effective feedback loops, including strong, non-technical voices, advance planning and of course support for developers who perform specialized work.

In everyone of these areas, the Occupy movement in general, including Tech Ops, has struggled, and this is a reflection of widespread issues in the movement. One of the exercises we carried out illustrates this well. Towards the end of the day, we asked teams of 4-5 to come up with plans that include a Broadcaster, an Audience, at least one online communication tools, and a call to action.

Five ideas were presented (see below). I asked the group, who agrees that we should definitely do at least one of these? Everyone I could see was in agreement. Then I asked, how many of you would agree to work on one of these ideas even if it wasn’t one of the ones you supported? Most of the hands dropped. The clear implication is that Occupy as a movement has excellent mechanisms for proposing and initiating projects. But we don’t do a good job of ensuring that projects have sufficient support to be done effectively. This is how the culture of ‘expressiveness’ trumps ‘instrumentality’.

It felt to me, that most people agreed that our communications needed to do a better job of achieving specific impacts, namely moving people up the ladder of engagement (or through the funnel). But even if we were to agree on projects designed to do that better, it isn’t clear how many of us would step our of our comfort zones to learn new tools, commit to greater coordination, more advance planning, and hammer out agreed upon definitions of success.

Tech Ops, Occupy.net and other movement innovators have a fantastic record of supporting the movement. But mixed in with that are what some might call flaws:

  • Large scale efforts that take so much resources and time that they can scarcely be called OWS efforts. OWS might not exist as a coherent movement by the time they are launched.
  • Tools are introduced that don’t have a high level of use. In other words, we have invested energy in tools for which demand is weak, there is little or no marketing of the tools, and in any case they weren’t part of an answer to a problem presented elsewhere in the movement.
  • Important tools that are essential and in productive use suffer from weak post launch development. This isn’t the fault of the developers who stick around trying to address those weaknesses; but as a system, we aren’t able to focus resources where they are most needed in a timely fashion.
  • Projects advance not because of widespread agreement that they deserve priority, but because a small number of key players move ahead. In contrast, larger scale efforts that are widely seen as urgent and necessary might languish because they require widespread agreement on the details. (Fundraising tools come to mind.)

Five Projects Presented

The teams presented five projects:

  • A direct action performance project that a live action MEGA BALL BINGO gambling game. It would be played on Wall Street, with the goal of having folks arrested specifically for the crime of gambling. (Irony alert!)
  • A call for camping out in Chantilly, VA to protest the annual Bilderburg gathering of the global 1%. A proposed site could facilitate a mass gathering with travel arrangements, information, and coordination. Would include a component similar to Operation Paperstorm.
  • Building an Occupy crowd-funding service that allows us to deliver funding to our projects more effectively.
  • Preparing a campaign site for the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street (Sep. 17) with event listings and personal stories.
  • An ‘incumbent-be-gone’ campaign that calls on people to vote out all politicians on election day, and helps aggregate resources to that end from like-minded people.

The value of the exercise isn’t in the creativity of the actionable projects presented, but the work of connecting a mission oriented, real world effort to the tech tools necessary to implement it well. This could have been done a lot better – but it drove home the point that conversations specifically about tools should happen more often.

Evaluation and Next Steps

Attendees who stayed until the bitter end said that they were happy to learn more about Tech Ops, both our tools and mind-set. Folks seemed to like the chance to discuss strategy in the abstract, as part of a training, without being wedded to a specific project or effort. In particular, people liked the shared creation of a funnel or engagement ladder demonstrating some of the work we need to improve.

Comments were made about the training being somewhat disorganized, the moderation was too heavy and too dominated by myself, and it seemed at times that I was driving a specific point of view as opposed to laying out information or teaching skills. (All of this is sadly true.)

One idea floated on the Tech Ops discussion list is a ‘Tech Ops Assembly’ that would be larger and more inclusive, and less agenda driven. Many of us feel that more trainings would be great for all kinds of skills and tools. Stay tuned.

Mapping the NYCGA

User Jack Smith has been hard at work trying to figure out how best to categorize groups on NYCGA.net to help people find groups in their area of interest. Recently Jack created this mock up of groups and their potential categories.

Group categorization has been a big challenge for Tech, we have generally stayed away from it because there are many issues with trying to put groups in categories.

Goals:

  • Keep it simple, use as few categories as possible.
  • Don’t put a group where a group doesn’t feel it belongs.
  • Make sure categories are clear and easy to understand.

If you are interested in moving this project along please join the discussion on the Tech forums.

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
Representative
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.

Remote Participation in General Assemblies

For months there has been a call to bring the General Assembly into people’s homes. Direct Democracy doesn’t work for people who can’t make it out to directly participate.

Please join the discussion on this topic on the Tech Ops forums.

Portland is working on a proposal to allow people to vote over livestream while Boston is working on live blogging using a service called Cover it live. Here in NYC we are working on digital polling of GA’s using radio “clickers” as well as recording live tweets. Our live stream will soon be getting a high def boost to make sharing of our meetings all the more clear.

Let’s look at some of the pro’s and con’s of off site participation. Continue reading

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. Continue reading