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OccupyWallstreet is not a brand. Why does Occupywallstreet feel different? The network is occupied. A riff…

didn’t have time to make it shorter yet..late night riff not quite a rant but thinking while tired is always dangerous)

It is not a mistake that the #OccupyWallstreet movement has a different rhythm to other movements, street protest or campaigns. #OccupyWallStreet seems to be shaping up as a good example of an advocacy network. This movement along with the peace movement of 2004, Obama Campaign 2008, Teaparty of 2010, Arab spring, is the latest event suggesting organizers need to recalibrate the ways we think about our work.

“In fact, we are witnessing America's first true Internet-era movement, which -- unlike civil rights protests, labor marches, or even the Obama campaign -- does not take its cue from a charismatic leader, express itself in bumper-sticker-length goals and understand itself as having a particular endpoint.” --- Think Occupy Wall St. is a phase? You don't get it - CNN.com

Many organizers are trying to sort out ways to “lead” the movement and the ways to “save it”. Many traditional leaders want to “drive the occupywallstreet bus” but don’t understand what is actually going on, how to participate, what it needs, or what to expect. Their confusion is intentional.

“The exhausted political machines and their PR slicks are already seeking leaders to elevate, messages to claim, talking points to move on. They, more than anyone, will attempt to seize and shape this moment. They are racing to reach the front of the line. But how can they run out in front of something that is in front of them? They cannot. For Wall Street and Washington, the demand is not on them to give us something that isn’t theirs to give. It’s ours. It’s on us. We aren’t going anywhere. We just got here” . (from the occupywallstreet journal…)

People are wondering “what the hell is this?”, Do I drop everything and jump in?” or “is it a waste of time”? Our dreamers and skeptics, don’t know if it is a movement of crazies or will it go away after the first big news story.

Food for Thought

Occupywallstreet is not the brand. The user experience is the brand.

We are a generation that understands “brands” as an experience. Starbucks or Apple Stores the experience of engagement is changing. This is not a single logo, banner, story, camp or occupation. This is the teaparty and the peace movement, this is the new labor, the unemployed, and the artists. Occupywallstreet may or may not stick around. A general assembly may get their demands met or fade into nothing. They may get beat by police or celebrated as heroes. We don’t know.

We do know that tens of thousands of people are being “on ramped” to engagement and leadership without preconditions. We know that lots of people are paying attention and that this loose ad hoc movement is pulling off organizing that some of the best in the organizing business couldn’t imagine possible.

The experience is that the camps assume, people are informed. They are there to be served, encouraged to struggle and to be a part on their terms. People are exposed to sausage making. People are assumed to be leaders and committed. People are assumed to inspire each other without need for “professional spin and packaging”. Everyone can interact with each other. Nobody owns the movement or the people of the movement.

OccupyWallstreet like a few other internet age movements has started from a very different place than any advocacy group. No matter when I show up, or how little or much I give. This movement is “mine” not “theirs”. People own this.

Leader full movements are not leaderless.

Network-centric advocacy is intentionally resilient. Competition among leaders is a feature not a bug. Networks are designed to foster continual experimentation and the network demands adaptability as a feature. Being a “leader full” movement means that change is the only thing that satisfies the movement not co-opting the leaders or creating a few points failure. This design means that cohesion is harder to maintain but arguably less difficult than dealing with centralized leadership that not only fails but also saps the movement the passion of participation.

Movements Diversify to Grow : Focus when power is needed.

When movements are growing they should be diversifying. The open door invites a broad agenda. Many traditional organizers are both wishing that this movement would focus so as to define it. However, the occupy frame and resistance is beautiful in that it encompasses so much and invites more. The real test will not be if it stop accepting new ideas and agendas, but the capacity to deliver solidarity when the “one for all and all for one” comes to the test. In a highly communicative environment and an age of quick alignment, can this new movement deliver power?

When you come out of nowhere, there is a fear you will go back to nowhere.

Ad hoc movements scare both allies and opponents because they don’t know how long you will be around. When there are no barriers to entry, there are no barriers to exits. People can come and go and comeback again. Is occupywallstreet the new Sierra Club or are they the peace movement of 2004? People are afraid to invest in the early days, because they don’t want to be the “fools” that dumped lots of time and energy into a movement that disappeared in the first snow storm. But they also fear being irrelevant if they don’t join. Those fears can be combated with hope and faith in the people they get to know as a part of the network.

In the new age, these old organizing fears can also be combated by knowing that “nowhere is not gone.” Networks have a very low life support cost when they are not active. Do people think the anti-war movement is gone because it didn’t build a new corporate headquarters? Are the resistance in Iran gone? Does it surprise people that after 2008 election progressives experienced a big lull? The failure is not in keeping people engaged when it is dangerous, expensive and not productive. the new challenge is to train and set up operating procedures, and leaders that are geared to support a movement that fosters rapid “out of nowhere” growth, successful rapid organization and also rapidly dissolving with the process and assumption that the movement will reconstitute again and again in new configurations, with new causes to do new actions. Driven by new leaders each time.

Advocacy will always be a high risk business.

High risk business with a known brand or a bunch of victims on the street is still high risk endeavor. Betting on the most trusted names in advocacy has not exactly been a winning strategy. The only difference is our people in the street will be harder to predict and probably cost a lot less to sustain.

Beyond these themes, I also wanted to take advantage of the moment to layout the network-centric advocacy framework, examples from coverage of occupywallstreet and suggestions for a network action plan and guidance on how traditional organizers can engage.

1. The Network Managers Rapid Network Assessment of OccupyWallStreet

Netcentric Advocacy Element

OcccupyWallstreet Example

Trust

  • Transparency in planning and communications
  • Listening (the General Assembly)
  • “Camps” – People feeding and caring for each other. Spending the time to connect with each other.
  • Deep respect for all the participants regardless of background.

Common Story

  • The event itself.
  • Crazy culture getting to know each other’s stories.
  • Being “ok” with lack of single demands

Communications Grid

Vision

  • Not clear yet…. will emerge from the use of the communications grid and feedback
  • Occupy

Shared Resources

  • Working Committees
    • Medical Care
    • Legal Advise
    • Arts and Culture Tents
    • Hospitality
    • Entertainment
  • Websites
  • Volunteers

Feedback

  • The size and durability of the camp.
  • the sustained participation of return campers.
  • Size of the walk in crowds.
  • Belief in the general assembly.
  • Morale in the Camps
  • Handsignals (not applause)
  • News coverage
  • Chatter on the communications grid

Network Actors

 

weavers

  • greeters
  • (don’t know how the different camps are cross pollinating ideas and weaving with traditional organizations. )

drivers

  • The many people that want to push the camps into actions and to adopt campaigns and causes.

operations

  • logistics and organizers that welcome new people and manage the volunteers.

participants

  • Walk-ins
  • People connected thru organizations.
  • supporters online and offline

My suggestions on a “Network Action Plan”

We should all be careful to realize there is a better way to support networks then to co-opt them. We also need to realize that all networks have a carrying capacity, an ability to carry “load”. Just as you assess how an organization will respond to a big grant, or an individual to a winning lottery ticket, how can a network be fed additional strength without overloading it? What are the investments that will boost the advocacy network capacity of occupywallstreet? .

My riff of organizing supports based on observations online…. suggests that the movement needs more “feedback mechanisms” that are good at showing participants what is working and drawing people toward them. (invest in a welcome and exit interviews) that are published across the network. Such regular reports will help build unity around values. Organizing a daily “morale measure” dashboard with the meetups would be good to identify places that have something powerful going on and the places that need additional support.

The communications grid is effective in camp and online, but I am not seeing enough cross camp and multi-channel communications. Netcentric-Advocacy framework suggests layering in more robust communications grid would be helpful including a clear unified additional radio coverage, live streaming, 800 call in shows and other ways of fostering camp-to-camp suggestions. This would help support the transitions of communications from web, to voice and paper and back again from paper and voice comments to the web.

Develop a process for managing shared resources including better collection, warehousing, distribution and management of resources across the camps. Develop a more robust “starter pack” process so that part of the strategy includes each new occupy effort growing to a set size and then spawning another.

Support staff and others to participate and support the folks in the camps to become part of anchor teams to coordinate trust across camps. Support the development of volunteer weavers to guide the more established organizers navigate getting involved.

What Can you Do as a Progressive Organizer that wants to “tap into” the OccupyWallStreet opportunity?

  • “Tune in” listen. Go. See what this is about. Spend time “owning” the movement to sort out how your organizing fits. Build trust and relationships with a new generation of leaders.
  • Be patient. This is only the first experiment. There will be waves with each applying new lessons, technology uses and organizing techniques. It is going to take time to develop language that works with such a diverse and changing group of participants. Until the common language and values emerge, it will be difficult for large scale coordination to take place.
  • Try to move your issue and talk about it with the people in the camps. How do you relate to their issues and stories?
  • Push more good people to go to participate, network, listen and build social ties. Figure out how they are building internal trust in the local organizing. Encourage staff to at least visit for a day to see what they can learn and to find allies they can support.
  • Blog, post to social media and write about your experience. Add to the communications grid, find ways to facilitate more conversation and communications capacity within and across camps and people within the camps that care about your issues.
  • Encourage your best story tellers and staff writers to go, blog, video and write about their experiences in a way that works to lift up the common language and values.
  • Provide more “shared resources” let your local leadership know what assets you can offer from voter lists, food, printers, communications help, volunteers, policy briefing committees, etc. Start “snowballing” with the activities on the ground building successive waves of activity for example coordinating online and phone activities to add synergistic effects to street actions.

What to expect?

  1. Expect good things.
  2. Find new activism and new leaders. Learn new skills and connect with potential allies in your own efforts.
  3. Expect to find more things to do and more issues to consider and support.
  4. Expect frustration and inspiration at the same time.
  5. It is ok. If Occupywallstreet disappears. Prepare for it. This brand of experience will grow and the mass mobilizations will become more frequent.

The new people are connecting and networking with each other. They are catching a new “bug” of civic engagement . They have a different strand of the virus then the environmentalist, civil rights, labor, organizers of the past. We all need to welcome them into our tribe of people that work and suffer so others they may never meet have better lives.

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