Occupy Wall Street’s technology contingent have dedicated themselves to reorganizing the movement on the Internet in recent weeks, in part to combat the splintering of its public presence across New York City.
“It’s interconnected, but there’s just no center anymore,” said Drew Hornbein, web expert and member of the movement’s Tech Ops working group.
On the six-month anniversary of the Occupy movement, protestors were unable to reclaim Zuccotti Park. Soon after, they went for Union Square — a plaza rich in protest history — but that also failed, as NYPD enforced a curfew on the protestors for the first time in the park’s existence. Now, dozens of occupiers are oscillating between attempts to hold on to a wide portion of concrete on Wall Street across from the New York Stock Exchange and demonstrating just a few feet to the east, on the steps of Federal Hall.
Adding to their organizational woes, the movement’s central community governing apparatus, the General Assembly, has lost much of its thrust. No one takes minutes any longer, and members of the Facilitation working group — the people who work to keep the assemblies moving — have stopped facilitating.
But things are not as bad for occupiers as they may seem to outsiders. Hornbein said that the movement’s working groups continue to be highly functional. The only difference today is that “they’re now completely autonomous, essentially.”
That being the case, Occupy Wall Street’s New York contingent finds itself bereft of a central nervous system. Hornbein and the Tech Ops group are working to combat this with their greatest asset: online organization.
“We have to glue all these things together,” said Hornbein, launching into an explanation of Tech Ops’ main site, occupy.net.
Occupy.net is an open-source toolkit created by Occupy Wall Street so that occupations across the globe can develop their own web presence. Included in the toolkit are a Wiki, a map, a directory, a schedule, an ideas section and a forum. Tech Ops members are working to incorporate other social media functions such as chat, a listserve and even a fully-functional social network.
The Tech Ops team seems to be a principled group, focused on the importance of communication and open-source material, as well as on the dangers of trusting corporate social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook.
Despite having a Twitter following of almost 22,000 on her @blogdiva handle, Tech Ops member and online communications and community consultant Liza Sabater articulated plans to move the movement’s microblogging to an open-source Twitter alternative called status.net.
She also warned about the risks of using Facebook in a movement such as Occupy Wall Street, pointing out that Facebook is a private enterprise that has proven repeatedly that it is willing to sell users’ information to external entities.
“I would use Facebook to announce, but not to organize,” said Sabater.
This is perhaps another core reason for the Tech Ops group to increase interactivity on occupy.net. They’re not just trying to develop a central online location for Occupy’s working groups to take part in an active dialogue and planning, they’re also looking to create a safe space that is reflective of the occupation’s principles.
With the May 1 General Strike fast approaching, Occupy Wall Street will continue to try and organize both in the streets and on the web.
According to Hornbein, organization means getting the movement’s thought-leaders on the same page. He believes this will come in the form of a revitalization of the Spokes Council — a governing body which includes representatives from each working group — as well as in pulling the movement back together in the online universe.