Category: Projects

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.

Research by and for Occupy Activists Challenges Received Wisdom about the Movement, Urges Alliance with Poor Peoples Movements

Months after the NYPD eviction from Zuccotti Park, NY Occupy activists conducted over 120 political projects allying hundreds of organizations – even as media coverage of the movement declined.

NY Movement Most Often Sought to Expand Public Communication, But Low and Middle Income Allies More Often Fought For Basic Rights and Subsistence

A new study released today (http://bit.ly/1futsoY) by and for Occupy activists finds the movement built alliances among newly politically active people and hundreds of diverse organizations in the New York area alone in the first half of 2012. The findings challenge common media narratives that Occupy simply ‘faded away’ after the Nov. 2011 raids at ZuccottiPark and that the movement primarily involved affluent whites.

“The movement was more far reaching than previously documented or as suggested by declining levels of press coverage in 2012,” said James Owens, the study author. The study found Occupy organizing in NYC enabled a pluralistic network of alliances connecting over 200 non-profits, emerging grassroots groups, religious organizations, and incorporated businesses with over 120 Occupy groups. Occupy united allies across social divisions based in identity, professional and non-professional status, and racial and economic background. “The NYC Occupy movement connected people taking political action for the first time to a highly diverse network bridging divides reinforced by ruling elites,” said Owens.

The purposes advanced by NYC Occupy projects also contradict common characterizations that the movement was mostly engaged in prefigurative politics, that is, creating alternative systems of government and distribution. The study found 5 times as many projects sought to reform existing systems than to create alternate systems and less than 2% of projects sought to create or revive deliberative assemblies such as the New York City General Assembly.

The most common purpose pursued by Occupy projects in the sample was to create new means for public political communication. About 43% of projects sought to expand public political communication, with most advancing face-to-face rather than print or online interaction. Occupy activists may have given higher priority to public political communication than issue campaigns or even mass protests, the next most common purposes pursued by 36% of projects.

According to the study, competition over movement purposes may have developed along lines of established social privilege/exclusion. According to the report, “Projects seeking to create spaces of communication and wage issue campaigns for healthcare and financial reform tended to emerge from alliances of wealthier, whiter, professional identified partners.” In contrast, partners from communities of color and low-income struggled for human rights, subsistence issues, and against foreclosures. Mass protests, the study reports, may have emerged from alliances of white, mixed, and non-white low and middle income communities but with little participation from upper-income or professional partners.

The study recommends Occupy activists should rally behind poor people’s struggles against the common opponents of the poor and the relatively affluent: banks, corporations, corrupt officials, oppressive police systems, and the 1%. “If recognized through poverty and mass incarceration, the injustice of the ruling order demands more than a fight for improved financial regulation,” said Owens.

The study itself fulfills a long term goal of The NYC Occupy Project List, a publication (and ancestor of OccupyNetwork) that gathered and shared information to help people participate in and shape the actions of the movement in 2012. The NYC Occupy Project List produced the data used in this study and enjoyed the support and authorization of the OWS TechOps and InfoHub working groups.

For more information contact: projects@occupywallstreet.net

Past issues of The NYC Occupy Project List are available here:
Issue 1, Issue 2Issue 3

 

#OccupySandy, technology, and relief

Julio lost his home, and church but not his community.
Julio lost his home, and church but not his community.

Nearly a month ago “Super Storm Sandy” ravaged communities from Cuba to Long Island. The aftermath has seen communities leading the relief and rebuilding effort. One group is said to stand out, a surprise according to the media, #OccupySandy.

While it may seem like #OCCUPYWALLSTREET has “changed,” it hasn’t. Anyone who was present at Liberty Plaza (Zuccotti Park) last year knows that OWS has always been a network with mutual aid at it’s core. Just beyond the characters surrounding the park was a show room floor of how a better world might work. Food for anyone who is hungry, clothing for anyone who is cold, and community open to all.

#OccupySandy is simply the realization of a major aspect of #OCCUPYWALLSTREET, mutual aid.

Some are asking how did a group with no disaster relief experience out perform the Red Cross, NYC disaster response, and FEMA? But this is a much more complex question. Community groups can’t repair subways or bridges while the establishment clearly cannot provide comfort and aid to the people who most need it. The community is like water filling in the cracks in between these massive bureaucracies.

Our response was swift and powerful because we had a strong infrastructure in place. Both human and technological, this post will focus on the latter.

#OccupySandy

The basic structure of #OccupySandy consists of distributions centrals that take donations and volunteers then send them out to front line locations in affected areas. Here are some Occupy and non-occupy projects currently in use or development.

InterOccupy.net

The InterOccupy team spans the globe and closely collaborates with Occupy Tech Ops and Occupy.net. Their system is based on HUBs, each HUB relates to a project within Occupy. As the hurricane made it’s way up the east coast an InterOccupy HUB was created: interoccupy.net/occupysandy. This provided a platform to organize local Occupy networks together. Currently the HUB acts as a central clearing house of information. Erica Heinz, member of Tech Ops, details the five day redesign of the Occupy Sandy HUB.

Fusion Table

InterOccupy is also managing a Google Fusion table that provides a way to track changes of locations and place them on a map. This map pushes data to Google’s Crisis map.

Volunteer Intake with CiviCRM

InterOccupy (IO) also manages nearly all volunteer intake. Using the OWS CiviCRM IO can create forms and lists of volunteers. Special lists are being put together for rebuilding efforts along with other needs. Mass e-mails are sent to volunteers or segments of that list. This service is provided by MayFirst/People Link

“Social Media”

I’ve come to loathe the term social media. It’s a silly way of saying “the internet”. Though it is good short hand for when you want to say Twitter and Facebook but don’t want to spell them both out.

Facebook

There is currently a sophisticated operation going on via Facebook. A Facebook group and accompanying chat is used to manage the administration of Occupy Sandy’s Facebook page. With a mix of information and opinion the Facebook page keeps people up-to-date on the dire situation our neighbors are still in while also fielding questions and sharing stories of hope.

Twitter

Like facebook the main Occupy Sandy twitter account (among many) @occupysandy also spreads the news and answers questions. The account is also used to promote very important information to a feed on the InterOccupy Hub. This allows coordinators to tweet to @occupysandy who can then re-tweet that message on to the home page.

Mobile Applications

When power goes out, so too do cell towers. Connectivity is very difficult in disaster areas which makes technology less effective. Here are some apps that use SMS and mobile networking to provide information and relief.

OccupySMS

OccupySMS uses peer to peer matching to connect needs with relief. Using simple SMS gateway provided by Mobile Commons NYC area users can text SANDY to 69866 to post personal needs while people seeking to help can text MUTUAL AID to 69866 and be connected with someone directly. This system allows needs and offers to be crowd managed with little admin overhead.

Contact OccupySMS: occupysms@gmail.com

Mobile Disaster Relief App

Said to be created in just five days the Mobile Disaster Relief App provides a powerful iOS (Android coming soon) app to record pictures and audio for first responders and canvassers. It has mapping and peer to peer need/fulfillment. I haven’t personally been able to use this application.

iPhone download

Maps Maps Maps!

At a recent hack-a-thon put on by #HurricaneHackers there was a general sentiment that we sure have made a lot of maps but aren’t connecting the data dots. Most of these tools and ventures aren’t talking to each other, more on that later. Here are some notable maps:

Google Crisis Map

Many of the maps are ending up here. From InterOccupy’s map of relief locations, to Senior Services map, and a Gas map. Here is a great example of centralizing data into a highly useful map.

SparkRelief

Another powerful map that covers many relief topics. SparkRelief.org provides a great user interface and allows for clear and simple peer to peer relief.

Other maps:

The Human Story

When far removed from a disaster it can be easy to lose touch. When we deal with data, points on a map, we can forget that those points of data are all embedded with a human story. The story of tremendous loss, courage, and solidarity.

The People Who Were Killed By Hurricane Sandy

Artur Kasprzak, 28, NYPD officer, drowned after saving his family, South Beach. Lester Kaplan, 73, lawyer, hypothermia, Brigantine, N.J. Edith Wright, 52, teacher’s aide, swept out to sea, Montauk. Read more about this.

Kimberly Smrkovsky, 25
Michael Robson, 13
Herminia St. John, 75
Jessie Streich-Kest, 24 and Jacob Vogelman, 24

Story Line

StoryLine is a collaborative documentary for us to share experiences of Hurricane Sandy and relief efforts. Using any phone or mobile device, you can create a story by calling or sending a text or picture message. StoryLine is a project of HousingisaHumanRight.orgInteroccupy.net and the MIT Center for Civic Media (civic.mit.edu)

CowBird - There are some stories on CowBird too.

Getting things done

Sandy has proven that given access to the right tool people can extremely effective.  There have been a number of tools used and developed around Sandy.  Within #OccupySandy Google’s integrated apps have been put to heavy use. In the first few days Gmail addresses were set up, Google Docs shared, Google Voice, and Google Groups.

While I’d rather see stronger use of Free & Open solutions, Google products do perform quite well and illustrates how strongly integrated tools can increase effectiveness. Being able to share and collaborate on a spreadsheet between two locations is very remarkable.

When we look at the problem that people had to solve after Sandy it’s fairly simple: report needs, fulfill needs, and let others know a need has been fulfilled.

One of the now many spreadsheets used within “the” Occupy Sandy shared Google Drive folder is an unassuming document named OS Requests. This document currently tracks all the requests and dispatches to and from locations on Long Island to Staten Island. It is used between both of Occupy Sandy’s main distribution hubs 520 Clinton and Jacobi Church.

I was asked to come into Occupy Sandy to make a task management system. It became clear that something much more powerful was needed. As it turns out around that same time Mark Prutsalis (@Globaliist) was doing the same thing. Mark is the CEO of Sahana Software Foundation.

Sahana

Sahana is a disaster relief software that came out of the 2005 Earthquake and Tsunami in Sri Lanka.

Mark and developers Fran (@franboon) are currently working on site to get Sahana configured for Occupy Sandy. Mark wrote a blog post about setting up a kitchen in Bay Ridge where most of Occupy Sandy’s food prep is moving to.

Sahana looks very promising and I will surely write more about it soon. It is currently being adopted by the Occupy Sandy team both here in New York and in New Jersey. Adoption is tough in a decentralized network like Occupy Sandy. Sahana is mostly in use at the higher level dispatch locations rather than “front line” locations.

Each location, from Staten Island to Red Hook to the many locations in the Rockaway are finding their own tech solutions. As we expand Sahana’s use will work to integrate into existing systems rather than trying to replace them.

I was also able to catch a bit of a lesson on a FEMA system being put in place for VOADs or Voluntary Organizations Active in a Disaster. I will share more on that soon as well.

Get Involved

If you are interested in working on these technologies I highly suggest attending the #NYTechResponds Sandy Benefit Weekend: Hackathon & Relief Agency Conference. December 1st and 2nd.

If you would like to get directly involved with Occupy Sandy Tech work please contact me at drew@nycga.net

monopoly money

Proposal On OWS and Fundraising Using Our Tools

How should Tech Ops, Occupy.net folks, Action Resource Fund (ARF) and other interested parties think about using our collective resources and legitimacy for fundraising?

Below is a set of theses, arguments and proposals that might constitute a framework. The need for it comes from a year of trying to advance efforts to become self-sustaining as a movement, and meeting various obstacles. We actually have a wonderful infrastructure that enables fundraising (= covering the costs of your work with help from supporters who love you) but it’s not being utilized very well. An example is the repeated use of WePay and fiscal sponsorship from 501c3 nonprofits when not actually necessary.

Please do chime in with your comments and suggestions.

  1. Our online resources should be used for fundraising by as many occupy related entities as we can support.
  2. It is important that folks raising money for personal reasons, or primarily to benefit themselves without a comparable benefit for OWS, should not use our resources.
  3. We can divide fundraising projects into some useful categories. All of them are ‘legitimate’ as long as we are careful about representing them accurately:
    1. OWS or NYCGA wide efforts or entities that enjoy a high level of legitimacy. This includes May First, S17, and the remnants of the NYCGA money that we use for bail. ARF and Accounting.
    2. Well known, long standing, and relatively accountable structures like InterOcc, Tech Ops, Farms that have attempted to operate within the (fluid and hard to navigate) boundaries of OWS.
    3. Affinity groups, campaigns, and special project. Examples: student debt strike, Freedom School, Tidal, livestreaming groups.
  4. Fiscal sponsorship is OPTIONAL. In some cases it feels essential, to provide for a higher level of accountability for large sums of money. In other cases it is a wasteful expense, as in the case of a small sum for a specific project. Fiscal sponsorship should be an option for all and a requirement for none.
  5. We affirm that c3 status for fiscal sponsorship is relevant when you need to promise a tax deduction to the donor or to receive funds from an institutional donor. It is not ‘necessary’ beyond that, though it may be desired for the appearance of legitimacy..
  6. Groups wanting fiscal sponsorship via ARF should have a way of asking for it, with clear conditions on who is eligible. Any group or individual with fiscal sponsorship of their own can use that as well.
  7. Using Civi or Salsa, any group can provide data for the merchant account and donation gateway of their choosing. We discourage the use of services like WePay and PayPal. IF you are using WePay or PayPal, then processing will likely cost you more, and you don’t need Civi or Salsa to do it.
  8. Anyone using our Civi or Salsa for fundraising needs to supply a roadmap for how the funds will be collected, transferred, spent, and accounted for. This is a task we can and should help with, according to our capacity.
  9. The existence of one mechanism for raising funds will never be a reason to prevent, prohibit or discourage the use of another mechanism.
  10. Blocking power over using Tech Ops/Occupy.net tools and resources does not exist. That said, many things simply cannot be done without expertise and access that is distributed among many people. In the case of serious concerns, blocking can take place if 50% +1 of Tool Managers support it.
  11. Tool Managers list is meant to comprise those using Civi and Salsa, working to update it, have access to the backend, and/or are key users. The only purpose of a Tools Managers list is to address blocks. Proposed initial list includes Drew, Ravi, Ingrid, Devin, Charles, Andrew, Dana, Patricia, Badger, Leah, Tom and Dan. (this post will be the first they heard of it….)

Tech Training in CRM and S17 Work Sprint

OCCUPY TECH OPS EVENTS FOR FIRST WEEK OF AUGUST, 2012

8/2 – 6pm Occupy Tech Training in CiviCRM and Salsa
8/5 – S17 Work Sprint 

Download Flyer Here

Occupy Tech Training in CiviCRM and Salsa

Facebook

NYCGA.net

Thursday, August 2nd 6-8PM
Located at 33 Flatbush, downtown Brooklyn, near Nevins subway stop

We had a great training last week and we are doing it again so more can participate.

Using our constituent management database, both strategy and software, it will be an open source CiviCRM and Progressive Proprietary Salsa CRM.

If you do not RSVP, we might not open the door for you! (Because we will think everyone has arrived, etc.)

Please RSVP on Facebook or send an email RSVP to tech@nycga.net

If this is your first Occupy event, please introduce yourself by email before
attending the meeting.  (tech@nycga.net)

Also feel free bring food and/or beverages! (snacks, beer, etc.)

S17 Work Sprint

Facebook

NYCGA.net

Sunday, Aug. 5th, noon-4pm
33 Flatbush, downtown Brooklyn, near Nevins subway stop

We are getting together to work on S17 related projects: the website, social media, graphics, mapping, emails, database and more. Plenty of space for making art if you bring the supplies. Community. Prepping for Monday meetings. Join us! Hours may be extended depending on demand. Open only to folks who are part on an S17 working group or by prior arrangement.

Questions? services@s17nyc.org

 

 

Training Twofer: Learn CiviCRM and Wiki (7/25)

Tech training is back!
When: Wednesday, July 25, 6-8 PM
What: Learn the basics of wikis OR using Civi, an open source program can manage data, send email blasts, accept donations and more.

Wikis are a type of website that is easy for a large and decentralized group of people to use together. Information is managed so that things are easy to find and new items can be added easily. For many kinds of projects within OWS, wikis offer a way of preserving the information necessary for working together across groups and time zones.

Civi is a Constituent Relationship Manager (CRM). Occupiers are using Civi to send emails, sign up volunteers, and offer online tools to more and more groups.

Come to this Tech-Ops/Occupy training in wiki or Civi use, meet other movement techies, and have a beer with us.

Training will begin promptly at 6:15. Please RSVP on our Facebook event page or by emailing tech@nycga.net.

Tech-Ops at the Occupy National Gathering in Philadelphia

Tech-Ops, in coordination with #NatGat and others, is happy to announce that we’re bottom-lining a number of trainings and events. While the schedule is set, and we have trainers, we are very interested in connecting with anyone who wants to help out. (Link to National Gathering.)

Everyone gets that our social media and online tools played a crucial role in OWS. What is less clear: how to ramp up our online game. Join us in figuring it out!

UPDATE: On Monday morning, NatGat folks announced that all indoor sessions will be moved back to Franklin Park. We might decide to move back indoors on the spot, after gathering and doing a head count.

Sunday, July 1st

10:00-12:00 Technology Meetup
If you build and operate websites, manage social media accounts, build tactical apps, code, program or sysadmin for #Occupy, then let’s hang out together! We can do so much more if we can share resources, and tools.
Location: Washington Square. The specific location will be given at the table near 5th and Market.

1:45-2:45 Technical Support Work
Providing Technical Support Work for Resistance Movements
Location:  IL2 – Bread and Roses Community Fund, 1315 Walnut St.

Monday, July 2nd

3:00-5:30 pm Workshop: Digital Strategy
Digital Strategy for #Occupy Direct Actions

3:00-4:00 pm Hackathon
(At this time, we don’t know who is organizing this or what the content is – but it sounds interesting!)

Tuesday, July 3rd

1:45-2:45 pm Training in WordPress – Build A Website
Learn how to build your own website! Get started in WordPress, one of the most popular web development tools out there. (OWS Tech Ops)

3:00-4:00 pm Training: Advanced Social Media Tips and Tricks for Occupy
What does it mean to manage social media accounts? Move from self expression to organizing.  Learn more about the possibilities and limitations of Facebook, Twitter, online video and more. (OWS Tech Ops)

4:15-5:15 pm Training: CiviCRM, Salsa, Databases, Email/Advocacy Software
Most of us use email. But is our movement really using it? Despite the rise of social media, email is still the ‘killer app.’ Learn about tools that manage large lists, why you should be using them, and get your first lesson in CiviCRM or Salsa. (OWS Tech Ops)

Our team of crack movement techies really want to share our tools and skills. If you can’t attend one of these sessions, we just might meet with you anyway, one-on-one, and give you a private lesson. We’re also interested in talking to occupies, projects and groups about services, tools and resources we have available for you.

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.

Calling all iPhone/Android users at May Day

May Day, May Day!

We are recruiting an army of citizen reporters to post anonymous status updates during May Day that’ll be projected on screens in Bryant Park and other public locations.  You can also post private updates for Tech Ops and other organizing groups.  All messages are secure.

If you are attending May Day events in New York or other cities (rallies, teach-ins, pickets, parties, etc.), we want to hear from you:

  1. Download the Vibe app for iPhone and Android on (Link will become available midnight Friday 4/27).  There’s no registration or login.
  2. Post a status update every 30-60 minutes during May Day:
  • a) Use single hashtag #MayDay in your messages and they’ll be projected on the public screens.
  • b) Use double hashtag ##_______ in your messages and they’ll be secret – only visible to those who know its ## name.  The particular double ## tags for Tech Ops and other May Day organizers will be given out to people on the street on May Day (or ask your particular working group).

Republished: http://maydayvibe.tumblr.com/post/21800884573/calling-all-iphone-android-users-at-may-day

Support the OWS Project List TODAY!

!PLEASE FORWARD!

 The Occupy Wall Street Project List Needs Your Help to Continue Promoting Occupy Projects and Actions Across New York City!

 Show your support for media that builds our movement: become one of our publishers!

Make a small donation through our WePay page TODAY: https://www.wepay.com/donations/91581

 The Occupy Wall Street Project List is a unique printed publication produced by Occupy Wall Street activists from several working groups. It reports on the active projects created by NYC area Occupy groups and provides direct contact information enabling readers to get involved and join the fight for their own lives and communities.

The Occupy Wall Street Project List is about to produce issue #2 and take another step in building communication and organizing across the NYC metro area. Please help us produce media that helps struggles for economic and social justice to grow and drive social change.

Donate $10 TODAY so we can publish the next issue on time! https://www.wepay.com/donations/91581  

Over the last few weeks we distributed over 1,000 free copies of our first issue (http://bit.ly/wonW4J) across New York City and met an overwhelmingly positive response. In fact, when we ran out of copies at Union Square people spontaneously printed and distributed hundreds more. But it still was not enough.

To meet this overwhelming demand, The Occupy Wall Street Project List will print 10,000 copies of issue #2. We are also working with allies on an ambitious plan to distribute these copies across the metro area – creating a conversation between concerned people and activists who otherwise are divided by mainstream media markets.

The Occupy Wall Street Project List is funded only through the collective power of small donations. Won’t you be one of our publishers?

$10 from two hundred people will allow us to distribute 10,000 free copies of this important movement building resource across NYC!

We are always looking for new participants to help produce and distribute and raise funds for The Occupy Wall Street Project List. Contact us at OccupyProjects@gmail.com so we can build this together.

Thank you for your help and support!!!!

The Occupy Wall Street Projects List team

How Tech Ops manages e-mails

Mail servers are a challenging thing, or so I’ve been told. While Tech Ops strives to use FLOSS (Free/Libre/Open Source Software) mail has been one of the major hurdles. Early on we tried to use Zimbra to manage mail but the adoption wasn’t there. As a “stop gap” we decided to occupy Google Apps. There are a few (dis)advantages with Google. Here are the facts about @nycga.net accounts, along with @occupywallstreet.net and @occupy.net, all managed through Google Apps.

Google hosts our mail. The industry term for someone else hosting your data is called putting it in the “cloud”. Under normal circumstances this provides better security for the end user. It’s better to have Google nerds looking after your mail server’s security than some over worked IT person in house. However this means that all our mail data is housed in Google’s servers. So if the NSA wants the data they will probably get it, though Google is (apparently) very transparent about it.

This movement works on Google. Most of our groups who connect online use Google Groups. Tech offers lists.occupy.net and there is also riseup as an alternative, though people seem to prefer Google. Also, if you get many e-mails from occupy members you’ll notice in the cc field of that many of the addresses, sometimes wrongly opened for public viewing, end with @gmail.com. This was one of the major contributing factors that led to us “bending” our rules.

It’s free. We have a free Google Apps account which allows us to host unlimited e-mails. However, we currently don’t have the person power to manage giving out many e-mails. We have been hosting group accounts @nycga.net and are discussing how to provide as many people as possible with @occupy.net accounts. Keep up with our forums for agenda items pertaining to the @occupy.net accounts.

Moving forward. We want to own our data. We want to use FLOSS. We want our own mail server. If you are interested in helping out please e-mail tech@nycga.net

A powerful new outreach & organizing tool for working groups

Tech Ops is now ready to offer trainings on the use of CiviCRM, an open-source “constituent relationship management” tool. We are running an instance at contribute.occupywallstreet.net.

Civi can do a lot of things. The simplest, and easiest to get started with, is broadcast email lists. We highly encourage all New York-based OWS working groups to move their email announcements into Civi. Unlike a Google Group, Civi lists: don’t require contacts to accept an invitation; support templates for mailings; support scheduled mailings; support sub-lists based on a project or interest without requiring a separate signup; can have a signup form easily embedded on any website; allow you to track how many people receive each email, open it, or click on a link; and integrate with a lot of other outreach functionality. It’s also easy to import your contacts from any spreadsheet or text file. And if you import your contacts into the Civi managed by Tech Ops, we can also offer them a weekly newsletter with events and updates from around the movement (the first of these went out today, using Civi).

Civi also supports, out of the box, events with RSVPs, and keeping track of information about people you’re in touch with including email, phone number, skills, and interests, in a searchable way.

Tech Ops will be hosting a training next Tuesday evening, March 13, at 6pm, in Brooklyn, with more to follow. You can RSVP (using Civi), and we’ll give you the location details.

The training will cover:

  • How to create a newsletter for a mailing list
  • How to import contacts & dedup
  • How to create multiple newsletter/mailing lists
  • How to create profiles for newsletter subscription and contact management
  • How to create events and track RSVPs
  • How to create campaigns
  • How to track/review contact engagement and follow-up

We do ask that, before we give you admin access to Civi, you attend a training, and can demonstrate that you have been trusted with this task by your working group.

Monday Training

Monday Training
2/6/12
12pm – 6pm
Please fill out the Dudle

I’m going to try something new for the training this week. If you’ve come to previous training sessions at the occupied office you’ll know how much of a pain it is to get in there. I’ve decided to hold this weeks training all day (12pm – 6pm) at Charlotte’s place.
Here’s how it works. There are five sessions, one each hour with some time left over for breaks and overflow.
noon – 1pm : Learn General computer security - Learn about common security issues and how to protect yourself from identity theft and other malicious things.
1pm – 2pm : Learn to be an nycga.net power user! - Get some tips and tricks on using the nycga.net
2pm – 3pm : Learn how to set up and use nycga.net blog - Setup and use your nycga.net group blog! We’ll review some group blogs already in use and go over some general wordpress blogging instructions
4pm – 5pm : Learn how to wiki - Learn how to use MediaWiki, the super powerful system behind sites like Wikipedia. Learn how to use basic wiki markup. By the end of the hour you should know enough to edit and add to wiki.occupy.net (as well as Wikipedia)
We will also go over the use of 1-855-NYCGA 411 phone service!
Each session should be very open and flexible. This is only a general outline of the day and is subject to change. Continue reading

Map.occupy.net Face Lift

Browser shot of map.occupy.net design refresh

One of our powerful – yet under utilized – tools is #OccupyMap. This Ushahidi based platform allows anyone in the world to submit time and space based events on a crowd sourced map in a variety of ways, including via Twitter using the #occupymap hash tag. I’ve taken on the task of giving our product a little face lift.

Starting with the theme “Unicorn” by Caleb Bell I hacked out the main page to be full screen and set the navigation menus to flow across the top. I also added the occupy.net global nav.

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