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|
*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.