Saturday, June 2, 2012

Occupy Wall Street Explained

Occupy Wall Street Explained

A work in progress: Over the months too many people have asked me to explain how Occupy Wall Street (OWS) works and too many times I have confused them all by trying to explain. Time for the infographic. To be clear, this is an example of Occupy Wall Street in New York only. It does not necessarily represent all Occupy organizations or all factions of the movement at large, but since OWS was born in New York, the model here tends to be a prototype and focus of the movement's organization itself. So with that said, on with the detail.

To be absolutely clear OWS needs to be viewed as both a movement and an organization - sometimes together and sometimes independently. The movement represents philosophical, spiritual, political, conceptual, theoretical and intellectual concepts while the organization: elements of manpower, budgets and schedules are what is necessary to actualize concepts embraced by the movement at large. Distinguishing the movement from the organization is an important first step to understanding how OWS may or may not work in specific instances.

The Big Picture: The large red-outlined circle above (more properly regarded as a sphere) represents the entire organization in New York City. Inside that sphere reside both organizational and movement oriented elements. For example Finance is an organizational tool and Vision & Goals would be more movement oriented. In any case the three sub-spheres of Physical Occupation, Planning/Organization and Affinity Groups all work in various states of harmony and sometimes discord to articulate the organism that is Occupy Wall Street.

Physical Occupation: At the start of OWS on September 17th, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, the physical occupation involved a standing army of over 500 persons at most times with possibly 200 - 300 sleeping onsite. Groups such as town planning, sanitation and housing were active and necessary. But today in Union Square, or any other city park of choice, sleeping is not allowed so the functions associated with maintaining a physical 24 hr community are made redundant.

Nevertheless, a dedicated community still mans and womans the park, deciding instead to sleep on streets nearby as a form of public expression as allowed by New York State Supreme Court in a 2000 order. It is this group that enables OWS to maintain a united front to the public through outreach information tables and group scheduled events - for instance, the Direct Action working group may decide to hold a march that begins or culminates at Union Square. For this a permanent occupation is both helpful and convenient.

Far from the days of Zuccotti where the GA, Spokes Council and individual working groups were able to appropriate monies to be used in the park, this new Occupation is totally self sufficient. As such the information tables also serve as a source of incoming donations. Manpower, finance and food are all reliant on donations as an army runs on its stomach. Currently food is on a much smaller scale than the 1500 meals served at che Zuccotti and reserved for Occupiers and supporters only but still served daily as much as possible if donations are sufficient to permit.

Planning/Organization:  Affectionately referred to by one Occupier as the "People Who Like To Go To Meetings Group", OWS has relied on GAs (General Assemblies/NYCGA) and Spokes Councils for consensus decision making and budget resolutions since its inception. These meetings could range in attendance from the hundreds to just a handful, the GA serving all members and the Spokes Council being more of a group head meeting of the Working Groups. However, over the winter and spring, both the GA and Spokes Council were dissolved as the fluctuating non-registered membership, lack of a quorum for proper consensus and dwindling funds caused both bodies to become ineffective. Today, all that remains of the planning and management arm of OWS are the individual Working Groups of which there are still over 90 (the graphic is incorrect). Each group remains autonomous and is self financed to whatever degree they are able to raise their own funds or attract capital from individual Affinity Groups.

In short, if you see a march, flash encampment, pop-up occupation or other direct action or outreach activity, these activities are now marshaled by the Working Groups or the Physical Occupation only. Whilst there has been some interest in reviving both the GA and Spokes Council functions, the lack of cash and control of any incoming finance makes most efforts moot; passing resolutions without the money to execute or enforce is just not productive for anyone. 

Affinity Groups: Non-affectionately referred to by some Occupiers as the "1% Occupiers" the Affinity groups represent the bulk of the finance aimed at Occupation activities. Affinity Groups such as MRG (Movement Resource Group) refer to themselves as "a friend of  the Movement but NOT the Movement" and are involved in recruiting high income donors who support Occupy but may not be able to do so in a corporate or public persona. Names said to be associated with Affinity Group initiatives range from Ben & Jerry's to George Soros but specific delineation or claims of ownership is not the goal of this explanation here - the point more being that "angel investors" in the Movement exist and function through Affinity Groups to provide financing to the movement whilst promoting agendas friendly to their own interests  .

Described by one Occupier as "About Occupy but not of Occupy", the Occupied Wall Street Journal has been one of the higher profile publications associated with the movement but is not at all a product of OWS itself but more a representation of its editors and financiers, none of which whom ever actually lived in Zuccotti Park or held decision making positions in OWS itself. was launched in the spring of 012 with some Occupiers on staff and claims to be a non-profit but has yet to attain 501(c)3 status so any contributions are not yet be tax deductible.  Tim Pool of Timcast heads a long list of live streamers on Ustream and other channels and is independently funded. Michael Moore has publicly supported both the Movement and Tim and has also contributed his voice and performance to OccupyThisAlbum, a collection of 99 songs for the 99%. Occupy This Album producer Jason Samel has been involved with the movement from the early days in Zuccotti and runs Music For Occupy as a 501(c)3 through the Alliance For Global Justice in Washington, D.C.

In Solidarity: And so, in solidarity runs the organism that is OWS, part volunteer, part friendly finance yet all dedicated to the idea that a world of more equal, equitable distribution of resources is at hand. For more information on OWS activities, contact me or any of the organizations listed here. Peace.

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