Tagged: open source

#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.


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.


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.


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.


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 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.


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 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

"Pass me the David Graeber, bitte!"

Copyright, Expertise, and Book Burning

I’ve been involved with Occupy Wall Street and the NYCGA since before there was an occupation on wall street. I remember going to a General Assembly in Tompkin’s Square Park one Saturday and being very delighted by the gentleman facilitating that meeting. He, along with his co-facilitator, did a really outstanding job.

It wasn’t until months later that I saw the same man on Democracy Now! that I was made aware that he was David Graeber, famed anthropologist and anarchist. Apparently a very big deal. To me he was just another organizer.

So why am I bringing this up on the Tech blog? Well as silliness would have it a video has been passed to me of some activists in Germany burning David Graeber’s book. The “manifesto” of sorts cites Graeber’s celebrity, lack of true involvement in OWS, and the copyright notice printed on (allegedly) every page of his book Inside Occupy.

I have a highly technical term for this kind of activity: Dumb fucking bullshit. I also try to use every instance of DFBS as a learning experience, so lets break it down:

Information wants to be free

The obvious way to go with this activity is to point out that a bunch of German “human rights” activists are burning a book by a Jewish author, though it looks bad on paper, I doubt these people have any concern for Graeber’s background. What worries me is the celebration of the destruction of information.

One of their key arguments against the book was that it wasn’t open source. I think that falls very flat. First of all, the publisher is the one who copyrights the book. Yes they are locking away the content and they would be, arguably, better off with a copy left or Creative Commons license but this is the way publishing works, but why?

Copyright isn’t a naturally evil thing. At it’s most basic level it is there to protect the little guy. If David didn’t copy right his book and it became very popular, what is going to stop Mega Evil Printing inc. from making a copy of his book and using their superior logistics infrastructure (and team of lawyers) to out sell David with his own book? This means David’s profits for his work go to someone else, that doesn’t seem fair does it?

What we need to focus on is not copyright in and of itself, but the copyright of that which should belong to the commons. What if Mega Evil Printing inc. purchased the copyright to a specific book binding technique and began to sue all the little mom and pop book binding stores? We must focus on taking back the technology that allows us to compete with these mega industries, rather than compete with each other (or burn each other’s books).

Celebrity and Expertise

I’ve been told that David is “one of the most celebrated living anthropologists“. One might say he is a rock star of anthropology (those must be fun parties). This get confused in OWS often as celebrity. A celebrity is Paris Hilton, someone who’s only claim to fame is their claim to fame. David is an expert. Think about it, if you want to get an expert opinion on why Occupy Wall Street is happening wouldn’t you ask one of the greatest living anthropologists who has literally been involved since day 1 (and I’m not talking September 17th, I mean the “real” day one). I’ve seen this guy at many meetings and evidence would suggest that he is involved in some manner.

Expertise needs to be celebrated! Here in the U.S. there is a general disdain for educated people, or those with experience greater than our own. This isn’t to say that a college grad is more experienced than a high school drop out (like me). No, this is a matter of respect to people who know their shit. I would be perturbed if an anthropologist was talking about network technology or if a arm chair activist (like me) was talking about what it was like to sleep in Zuccotti Park.

In summation, this movement needs to stop attacking itself and stop pretending it knows everything. This guilty until proven innocent nonsense needs to stop. Most of us don’t have the full story. Be it around copyright law, anthropology, any individuals intentions or commitment, or the level of someone’s expertise. A little humility would go a long way.

I could have looked at David facilitating in that park so many months ago and said “who the hell is they guy, why does HE think HE can be up there leading this meeting? What does he know about people, society, or anarchy?” Wouldn’t I have looked stupid…

Tech Training in CRM and S17 Work Sprint


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



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



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.

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

Occupy, FLOSS, and a new world business model

Michel Bauwens: ‘Occupy’ as a business model: The emerging open-source civilisation

In the title of this editorial, I describe Occupy as a business model and link it to the possibility of a new civilisational model. We can do this by expanding from the already-existing institutional logic of peer production in knowledge, software and hardware, to a vision of the macro-economy.

Today, we assume that value is created by for-profit companies and conceive of civil society as a “remainder” category: it’s what we do when we come home, exhausted after our paid work. This is reflected in the language we use to describe civil society, when we call them non-profits or non-governmental.

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.

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.

Proposed Amendment to the OWS Principles of Solidarity

The Technology Operations working group is proposing the following to the NYC General Assembly:


Part 1

An amendment to one point on the Principles of Solidarity.

We propose replacing the following point of unity:

  • “Endeavoring to practice and support wide application of open source.”

… with this text:

  • “Making technologies, knowledge, and culture open to all to freely access, create, modify, and distribute.”

Part 2

To host the authoritative copy of our official documents on a version control system. Version control will allow us to maintain the documents in a more transparent way, with every edit tracked. It will also allow other occupations to use, modify, and alter the New York City General Assembly’s documents to fit their own unique needs, while maintaining a clear path back to the source document.


We wish to put forward a wider vision of how openness relates to the “new socio-political and economic alternative” described in the Principles of Solidarity. It’s not only that the source code for software should be public and transparent, but also that it should be available for sharing, modification, and re-use. And this spirit of freedom should extend beyond software, to hardware designs, digitized media including images, audio, and video, data, research papers, and other forms of information that we haven’t yet imagined. Consumers should never have any artificial restrictions placed on their ability to tweak, to remix, to become makers.

As with the original wording, there is no mandate to use only free software, or to make every video occupiers record immediately public. Rather, we want to make it clear that we value freedom and openness in technologies, knowledge, and culture, and that we work towards a world where this freedom can be complete.


We were prompted by an email from the tireless free software pioneer Richard Stallman, who wrote that he was disappointed in the current wording “because ‘open source’ is a right-wing campaign to disconnect our software from our freedom-based philosophy. It was launched in 1998 with the explicit goal of being corporate-friendly. It is ironic that Occupy Wall Street, of all things, advocates open source rather than the free software movement.”

After some discussion, we agreed to propose to the GA a change to the wording to include both “free” and “open”. We aren’t doing this because we want to ally ourselves with one side of an old dispute about terminology, but rather because we want to put forward a wider vision of openness than the Principles of Solidarity currently offer.

Tech Ops reached consensus on this proposal Sunday, February 5th, 2012.