Tuesday, September 20, 2011

An open letter to #occupywallstreet

Dear protesters,

Thank you for standing up for the majority, for the oppressed, and for the future of our country.

Can we talk for a moment about what to do next?  See, I'm here at home and having trouble following plot.

I can see the organic rage rising in this country.  You're giving voice to that.  But what next?

Okay, so there were some basic organizing problems.  The first problem was that you didn't plan this well enough.  You didn't scout location, check how it was all going to go down, or have an particular unifying message people could get behind.  Rage is not a message, it's an effect of a message.   We'll get back to that in a future post if this movement builds and sustains.  First, let's talk about what you are not doing RIGHT NOW that could change this game.

Build out your pyramid

Visible high-level protest is not in and of itself a movement.  Protest is the tip of the iceberg.  At the base of the pyramid should be a huge groundswell of people who believe the same things you do.  This ground floor exists, and you've tried to tap into it through social media, but that's not sufficient because there's not a message to get across and the people don't yet understand how it relates to them.  You have to tap people on the shoulder personally.  Here are some things you can do right now, today:

1.  Have every single protester at the site sit down and send a heartfelt email, at least two paragraphs plus a photo that represents their time there.  TODAY.  RIGHT NOW.  They should say why they are there, what they have seen while they are there, and ask for everyone receiving the email to support them.  That could be through forwarding the email, copying the email into their own blog or online account, or by talking to a few other people they know in New York and asking them to join the protest, even if it's just for an hour, or a day.

Some ideas of who to send the email to: family or friends who may be supportive, any groups they are a member of (campus groups, church, softball team) who may be receptive, or, for some, maybe their entire address book.

The idea is that for every protester on-site there is a team of people behind them.  The protesters will need that emotional (and perhaps financial) support if this goes on as intended, and the people who support them will have a direct contact, with open communication lines, so that they can know WHY the protest is happening and WHAT is happening at the protest site, firsthand and without rumors.  Your Aunt Ethel in Iowa might support you and you don't even know it!  And she can brag about you to her book club.  Your chiropractor's brother may work for a major news outlet!  Maybe he's heard of the protests but didn't have enough confidence in the news out of Twitter to pitch a story.

2. Get more people like this: http://twitpic.com/6ncd9t.   

Right now, the protesters appear to be a homogeneous group.  Students, anarchists, and professional protesters is how you're being described.   There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't represent the entire country.  In fact, places like Fox News will always use this to write you off.  And so will people who have forgotten what it was like to be students or who have apprehension about non-two-party political beliefs.  The entire country is who you are protesting FOR - get the entire country in on this.  Soccer moms from the suburbs, goths from Minnesota, grandparents on a fixed income.  Use the email in #1 to invite people to stop by.  Show your priest/pastor around Liberty Square - or your neighbor on her way home from work.

BE diverse, and COMMUNICATE your diversity. If you see that there's no one like you there, you're less likely to come on down.  Make it warm and open to everyone from all walks of life.

3. Get your central message and several non-binding ancillary messages onto a main resource page.  It should be clear, concise, do-able, and support the main message without alienating large swaths of the country.  It should have several concrete action items people can take to participate, and it should be updated hourly with new information, removing old information.

Here is an example of now NOT to do it: http://coupmedia.org/occupywallstreet/occupy-wall-street-official-demands-2009. (Link found passed around on Twitter today)

Why is this an example of how not to do it?  The very first thing at the top: "Repeal the Patriot Act".  Sure, it's a good message, but what does that have to do with Wall Street?  If you want to repeal the Patriot Act, lobby congress, don't camp out on Wall Street.

Number three is "Forced Acquisition of the Federal Reserve for $1Billion USD by the US Congress".  The problem with this message is that it's long, complicated, and requires reading a huge wall of text to decide if one wants to get behind it.  This point doesn't appeal to the 99% - how does it affect their daily lives?  How would it improve our country or our lifestyles if it were to happen?  How does this relate to Wall Street and the people protesting?  It doesn't.

One message, one or two sentences at the most, should unify people.  After that, each small breakout group or existing supporting group should be able to create a platform that is for them, but is non-binding to the entire movement.  If Code Pink wants to talk about tax dollars going for war, they should have that place in the movement.  But your average person at home shouldn't have to buy into that message to feel included in this movement.

Maybe there is a serviceman out there who is diametrically opposed to Code Pink's anti-war message who can't find work and is about to lose his house.  Make room for him.  What message could he come together with?  Use that one as the main message and make it clear that  the sub-messages and supporting groups are all on the same side, but each also hold individual messages that you don't have to get on board with in order to participate.

4.  Get ahold of rumor control.  In real time, ASAP, correct them as hard as you can in real time and correct people still spreading the rumors later.  Empower everyone to send at least as much correct information out there as there are rumors.  No, Twitter was not censoring trending topics, and Yahoo was being honest when they stated that a link got into their spam filters.  As far as I can find, no protester is in critical condition.

Rumors take away from the more powerful message of what is actually going on.  At times today there were more rumors than fact on the #occupywallstreet Twitter feed.  Once mainstream media discovers that a huge outcry was over false information they're far less likely to put their professional names on the line to cover you.

Don't be the boy who cried wolf, and don't let those who represent you do that either.  Stop with the paranoia, it makes the entire movement look bad.  In a large, leaderless, grassroots movement, every statement on behalf of the movement is taken with the same level of trust and authority.

5.  Do a daily newscast so that we can get more information and feel connected.  Those at the scene should forget about mainstream media.  Create a channel on You Tube and we will help spread it.  Don't do it half-assed.  Get a person who is great at speaking on camera.  Have them give an update on the day's activities.  They should speak off of notes and rehearse, so there are no "um.." or "aaah.." or "I don't know where I was going with that point" nervous cross-talk.

Interview guests who stop by.  Can you get one ex-Wall Street exec, one politician, one financial expert, one media personality per day?  Give them a five to ten minute interview on air with you.  Handle those interviews with class, research, information, and appreciation and in a few days I bet you'll have people begging you to come down and be interviewed.

Follow each newscast or interview with some more in-depth blog posts or text-interviews.  Give everyone at home something to consume other than Twitter to keep us mindful of the protest every day and so that we can follow along even if we don't have time to continually refresh our computer screens and search out information.

Maybe have a confessional booth so that protesters can say why they are there, what this means to them, or tell a story about an encounter they had that day.  EDIT TOGETHER CLIPS FOR THE DAILY NEWSCAST.  Feed me information that is important, don't make me hunt through it all to find the plot.  I will bet everything that someone at the protest site right now has a friend who could do this (even someone off-site) faster than you can read this blog post.  Use the network of contacts/supporters from #1 to build out your talent pool!

Thank you for reading this, and thank you for caring about our country.  Stay safe, stay warm, and know that we want to support you.   We want you to succeed.


  1. I'll plus one everything there. It's a freaking nightmare trying to establish truth from rumour, when I'm writing my articles on this. It takes hours of searching. Thank you for putting it all so eloquently.

  2. This is good information. I hope someone in charge in NY sees it.

  3. Cosign and help spread it around!

  4. Here were the suggestions we sent last night:

    Step 13: Engage groups like @SEIU and @WorkingFamilies for support and rallying other like-minded ppl
    Step 12: Create coherent platform for what you want changed. What are your "must haves"?
    Step 11: Have ready made "elevator pitches" for foreign tourists, US tourists, WTC workers, office workers
    Step 10: Work with police, building security, NYPA, etc. in a proactive, constructive way.
    Step 9: Tell stories. Have people tell economic disenfranchisement stories. Keep pithy. Post pic & story as speakers speak
    Step 8: Do visible POSITIVE civic action each date - feed homeless, clean battery park for an hour, etc.
    Step 7: Identify a set of 3-4 spokespeople so YOU control message, not press (they will always choose the person you least want in front)
    Step 6: Identify negative (e.g., antisemitic) messengers / messages to marginalize / disassociate
    Step 5: Do not look like gentrifying Willamsburg types at #AnimalCollective show. Be neat, diverse.
    Step 4: Create publish ready press releases and HD video clips to provide "lazy" reporters
    Step 3: Settle on 1 hashtag and one primary twitter acct. Use consistent twitter naming for committees
    Step 2: Honor the dead, particularly #NYPD and #NYFD, each morning from #WTC at 8:46am each AM given proximity to WTC site. (ask NYPD if they'd like to join in)
    Step 1: Make supporting local businesses guiding principle. Do @carrotmob of biz that is union and supplies benefits. Make local bodegas, etc. want your $

  5. Those are good, but way too detailed. By next week, as long as the protest grows a bit each day, I would say those steps would all be important.

    Supporting local businesses doesn't need to be a guiding principle until you know that the movement can sustain, for instance. That would come after this growing phase.

    But yeah, due to the way the general assembly works and the fact that the site is going on consensus (not appointing certain leaders to make decisions in certain areas) the message is way way way uncontrolled, if it exists at all.

    There can't be a spokesperson for a completely egalitarianism no-uniform-message group. So while I admire the ideals, it's not getting the job done. There should be a message, and it should be soon. Then there should be a spokesperson team who all knows what they can say on behalf of the group. Any other messages could be legitimate for a person, but wouldn't necessarily represent the whole movement.

    Also, the group decided not to work with police (would have no police liason, would not file permits, basically would only react as police came to them), which was a mistake, IMO. That seems to be a group ideal that ought to be changed for greatest success. Instead of making police "enemy" or "othering" them, they should be approaching to police to join the movement, personally and professionally.

    But actually having some statement or message, no matter how general, would enable many of the other steps you mention.

  6. WFP, SEIU, CWA, and an overwhelming majority of locals will be in support as soon as the unifying message is issued. There are enough organizers on the ground now to come up with a sentence. What's up, people, do we need to call Conan's writers? Or can we get on the bull and run him into the brickest wall ever built? Let's get it together and do this thing!

  7. There is a lot wrong that has been going on for some time now. And all of these things are related. Its difficult for people to get focus on the core when there is just so many symptoms of the disease in the way to distract and detour.And there are those who know this, create these symptoms and promote to hide the core.

    So lets get at the core, its really quite simple, far simpler than the complexity of the symptoms of the disease.

    We do not need money to be productive, to improve our living environment, our life style. All we need is manpower, knowledge and natural resources.

    Money is nothing more than an abstract representation of value. Its nothing more than a tool, be it paper or metal (including gold). A tool that is useful in easing the trade process. This is the fundamental, the primary purpose of money. And then there is the original intent of Stock. If you believed in a company and invested in it you would share in its profits and losses. And of course your investment was/is in the form of money, this abstraction of value representation. But today many don't really know where there money is invested and for all they know it could be with some company doing things to harm those who have invested.

    What happened? This abstraction of value began to be manipulated with higher and higher levels of abstraction. In the simplest form of interest but it gets worse, much worse. Through ever increasing levels of abstraction used in the stock market, whole economies can be destroyed as is what happened in the 90's with the thr Trillion Dollar bet - http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/transcripts/2704stockmarket.html

    Follow the money, who were some of the losers in this game? Enron, Worldcom, A Califorina Electric company, the Pentagon, etc.?

    Where did the money go with this bad economic wave that went around the world? World Trade center attacked (how many times on the timeline?) Hmmmm.... and now Bail out of Banks worldwide???

    Just how far has the Embezzlement of the peoples real value gone?

    To clairify, all these abstract manipulations of this abstract representation of value we call money has made its value worth less as a tool of trust. As such it has also made the real value of people and what they produce also worth-less.

    Its a historical fact that people working together can produce more than they need. So what is the problems here?

    We have manpower, knowledge and natural resources, plenty enough. So where is our value going?

    The people of Indonesia knew it was the Americans draining their economy but not how. They knew their own Government was corrupt, but this was beyond what their government would do. The "How?" was the Trillion dollar bet as linked above.

    To recap: though people seems to have many different points they bring up that seem unrelated, its only because they see the symptoms.... But where are they protesting?

    Wallstreet!! At the Heart of the Beast, the core of the disease. Consciously they may not all realize the core cause, But Subconsciously They DO KNOW! And so do those who have caused this problem, For why else would they be protecting the BULL idol?

  8. This is a step in the right direction; however, I am somewhat distressed by the fact that there is so little diversity amongst the protesters.

    For example, many people DO know about the protest in Upper Manhattan/Washington Heights, where the people who are most directly affected live. Yet I have not seen or heard of anyone coming here to ask us to join and hence, few, if any, are planning on joining you.

    I've read a lot of vitriol directed at the NYPD at the protest but again, I feel that too is misdirected. The NYPD is probably the most sophisticated police force in the USA by the sheer fact that this is a diverse, multicultural city. Do not think for a moment that the average investment banker or trader knows or cares about the rank and file NYPD. The average police officer knows this; in fact, they most likely agree that Wall Street is out of control.

    You have much in common with the poor and working class of this city. You must connect with them or your protest is doomed to failure.

    Please stop being so self-absorbed and look around-there is no need for reinforcements from outside the city. Everyone you seek is literally right in front of you. All you have to do is seek common ground.

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  10. I'm pretty sure they're doing all of these things to some degree. The reason you even know about the occupation is because they are doing such an amazing job of reaching out. Sure, they can do better but really the world would be a better place if everyone who said "they can do better" would say "I can do better" and step up. Don't just write critiques, DO THE THINGS YOU ARE SUGGESTING. There is no one in charge of this occupation, no leaders to beseech. Just us.

  11. @dw I knew about #OccupyWallStreet because Anonps and the like is on my Twitter feed; otherwise, I would have only heard about this via the media.

    The problem is there SHOULD be someone or something in charge, even if it's a group decision by consensus. The general public has no idea what you all want to accomplish-how and why do you expect them to join you?

    Don't take critique personally, don't try to stifle honest discussion because if you do, you will only end up becoming that which you are protesting against.

    I'm listening to the live feed right now and frankly, whomever is antagonizing and provoking the police is not being helpful to those participating in this protest. If I was a cop? I'd be pissed.

    My advice is free so do whatever you want with it but I am a good deal older, more traveled and far more experienced that you kids at Wall Street and despite being in complete agreement with you, not really interested in joining this free-for-all.

    That should tell you something right there.

  12. Like dw said, stop the armchair quarterbacking ya'll. The world has enough philosophers and professionals directing people who are doing the work. We need your skills and access in service of the movement for change. We don't need you to direct us from afar.

    This country is about to execute another innocent Black man. Occupy Wall Street is just one tip of a very big iceberg. We should be finding ways of bringing together different sectors in struggle.

  13. WFP (Working Families Party) reached out to me today... just wish I had someone definitive to put them in contact with.

    Some of us who folks may think are "direct(ing) from afar" are actually visiting the site every day (e.g., me) and seeing things first hand (I witnessed the 2 arrests first hand that happened midday). But for different reasons, some of us need to work in the background a bit. I am the sole breadwinner for my family and can't lose my job by taking the day off - nor can I risk my job by taking a visible role (and, no, I don't work for a bank). But given my experience in marketing, PR, and media, I figure one way I can help is to make some suggestions on tactics and strategy (along with bringing supplies). Perhaps not "pure" or "ideal" but better than doing nothing.


  14. This innovative first step of "Occupying Wall Street" is really just 'a first step' in "The Coming Insurrection" [Negri] or the global revolution "Against Empire" [Parenti]:

    Naturally, there is little media coverage by the ruling global corporate/financial/militarist Empire which now controls our former country by hiding behind the facade of its 'bought and owned' TWO-Party modernized "Vichy" sham of faux-democratic government --- just as the Nazi Empire when it controlled Europe installed its crude, first-generation, single-party "Vichy" facade of government in Vichy France c. 1940.

    What is starting to happen today in this initial 'Occupy Wall Street' protest in the US, which is the nominal and temporary headquarters of this entirely new scale of post-nation-state global Empire, is the beginning of what could quickly become a Second American (and world) Revolution "Against Empire" [Michael Parenti]

    This initial popular and progressive counter measure naturally scares the hidden, well disguised, and generally undiagnosed global corporate/financial/militarist EMPIRE to death --- and thus they (the global Empire) will use all power in their hands; political, media, money, and ultimately military, to crush this nascent, if improperly named revolution "Against Empire"

    Alan MacDonald
    Sanford, Maine

    Liberty & democracy

    New America People's Party 2012 -- our last chance "Against Empire"

  15. This info is useful. Especially for those of us who are just getting started on our own Occupations in our own little (conservative) towns. Bring it!