New York City police and financial institutions are bracing themselves for a citywide protest Tuesday that many see as a test of whether Occupy Wall Street’s strength and popular appeal will reignite after a dormant winter.
Occupy organizers say they plan to “shut the city down” with pickets throughout Midtown and a union-backed march that is expected to draw thousands. But the group’s ambition comes with a risk: a fizzled event could signal the end of its ability to draw mainstream support.
The loosely organized group has called for a popular strike, a goal that isn’t supported by its allies in labor, which must comply with a host of laws and internal rules governing walkouts. New York unions have marched for the past several years on May Day.
“What happens is anyone’s guess,” said Occupy organizer Drew Hornbain, 25 years old. He said many insiders are galvanized by a popular perception that “Occupy has been a series of failures.”
“The movement is operating under a start-up model: fail quickly and iterate often,” Mr. Hornbain said.
Even still, organizers concede May Day marks their most stepped-up effort since the group captured the public’s attention in the fall with an encampment for over two months in a lower Manhattan plaza. More
So, now some geeks have jumped on the bandwagon. According to Wired:
“I don’t want to say we’re making our own Facebook. But, we’re making our own Facebook,” said Ed Knutson, a web and mobile app developer who joined a team of activist-geeks redesigning social networking for the era of global protest.
They hope the technology they are developing can go well beyond Occupy Wall Street to help establish more distributed social networks, better online business collaboration and perhaps even add to the long-dreamed-of semantic web — an internet made not of messy text, but one unified by underlying meta-data that computers can easily parse.
The impetus is understandable. Social media helped pull together protesters around the globe in 2010 and 2011. Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak so feared Twitter and Facebook that he shut down Egypt’s internet service. A YouTube video posted in the name of Anonymous propelled Occupy Wall Street from an insider meme to national news. And top-trending Twitter hashtags turned Occupy from a ho-hum rally on Sept. 17 into a national and even international movement.
Now it’s time for activists to move beyond other people’s social networks and build their own, according to Knutson.
“We don’t want to trust Facebook with private messages among activists,” he said.
The same thinking applies to Twitter and other social networks — and the reasoning became clear last week, when a Massachusetts district attorney subpoenaed Twitter for information about the account @OccupyBoston and other accounts connected to the Boston movement. (To its credit, Twitter has a policy of fighting such orders.)
“Those networks will be perfectly fine — until they are not. And it will be a one-day-to-the-next thing,” said Sam Boyer, an activist turned web developer, turned activist again, who works with the New York City occupation’s tech team.
A move away from mainstream social networks is already happening on several levels within the Occupy movements — from the local networks already set up for each occupation to an in-progress, overarching, international network project called Global Square, that Knutson is helping to build. Those networks are likely to be key to Occupy’s future, since nearly all of the largest encampments in the United States have been evicted — taking with them the physical spaces where activists communicated via the radically democratic General Assemblies.
The idea of an open alternative to corporate-owned social networking sites isn’t novel — efforts to build less centralized, open source alternatives to Facebook and Twitter have been in the works for years, with the best known examples being Diaspora and Identica.
But those developments aren’t specifically focused on protest movements. And the Occupy movement’s surprising rise in the U.S. has added new impetus to the desire for open source versions of the software that is playing an increasingly important role in mobilizing and connecting social movements, as well as broadcasting their efforts to the world.
One challenge that all of the new efforts face is a very difficult one for non-centralized services: ensuring that members are trustworthy. That’s critical for activists who risk injury and arrest in all countries and even death in some. To build trust, local and international networks will use a friend-of-a-friend model in Knutson and Boyer’s projects. People can’t become full members on their own as they can with social networks like Twitter, Facebook and Google+.
“You have to know someone in real life who sponsors you,” said Knutson.
To Boyer, it’s more important to identify someone as trustworthy than to ensure that their online name matches a passport or birth certificate.
“I respect pseudonyms as long as they treat them as pseudonyms and not as masks,” said Boyer. In other words, someone shouldn’t hide behind a fake name to get away with bad behavior — in an extreme case, infiltrating the movement to spy on or sabotage it.
Thirty-six-year-old Knutson, who lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, started the year as an observer of politics before evolving into a committed OWS activist. His metamorphosis started during public-employee strikes in February against proposed policies of Governor Scott Walker that would affect their benefits and collective-bargaining rights.
“Before this year we had the idea that things maybe were starting to improve a little,” he said. “But when things stared happening in February we were like, ‘No, no. Things are getting worse.’”
While organizing a “Walkerville” protest camp in June, Knutson met, over Twitter, members of Spanish protest movement M15. They had just built a web site, Take the Square, to track occupations around the world, from Tunisia to Madrid. He also met Alexa O’Brien – founder of campaign-finance-reform organization US Day of Rage and a co-founder of Occupy Wall Street. After OWS kicked off, Knutson came to the East Coast for a while, visiting New York, Boston and Philadelphia and joining with other techies in those cities. More
Cross-Posted: TobyToons.com (Conservative Political Cartoons)
Cross-Posted: TobyToons.com (Conservative Political Cartoons)