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What The Hell Happened to @OccupyWallst? Or, Our New Boss, Justine Tunney

8:33 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Yesterday, the almost 200,000 followers of @OccupyWallSt — viewed by many as the original and even “official” voice of the movement — were in for a surprise.

Along with this announcement, the Twitter icon changed to an image of a creature from Doctor Who called an Adipose. An account that purported to speak for a national movement now suddenly spoke very much in first person. Access that had been shared with a select sampling of Occupy activists nationwide now dwindled to just a single voice.

A white blob-like creature with a humanoid shape known as an Adipose

The new white face of Occupy Wall Street?

As a flood of critical tweets began, Tunney justified her drastic actions by saying she’d felt excluded from the OWS conversation since the beginning and was reclaiming the account ‘for a week or so‘ to share her voice.

Tunney’s viewpoints included calling out activist philosopher David Graeber, espousing vegetarianism and non-smoking, and insisting that the movement was only anti-Wall Street, not anti-corporation. She defended her employment with Google while simultaneously calling out the liberal middle class for their moral bankruptcy.

I was the founding organizer of this movement. But prejudiced people have always tried to deny me a voice in this movement. –Justine Tunney

The movement lost the way. So I’m helping people learn about its founding principles which lead to its success. –Justine Tunney to @YourAnonNews

Tunney’s tale of exclusion stems from being a transgender woman, a class of people often oppressed and silenced in our culture. Yet she plays this card without hesitation in response to her critics. This afternoon, as nearly every activist on social media held their breath in anticipation of the NATO 3 verdict, Tunney shared a sob story of emotional abuse on her personal account. As I pleaded with her to use her new soapbox to share solidarity with three activists that face decades behind bars, she responded by calling me a transphobic bully and temporarily blocking me on Twitter.

The fiasco spawned the humorous #IFoundedOccupyWallSt hashtag, but many who invested months of their lives — or even went to jail for the movement — responded with outrage and a sense of betrayal. It’s sad to see a leaderless movement so diminished in numbers and tarnished in the media further devalued by the bizarre personal agenda of a singular egotist. On one hand, this appears to be a sudden digital coup by a self-described anarchist turned movement dictator.

But looked at another way, this seems like the sad yet inevitable result of how the Occupy media team formed. Viewed this way, it’s a problem exacerbated by technology ill-suited to horizontal movements, a problem that played out at perhaps dozens of encampments and Occupy subgroups before coming home to Zuccotti.

While I spoke at length with a former media team member, Tim Fitzgerald (@DiceyTroop) today about the early days of @OccupyWallSt, his words were supported by many communications I’ve had over the last few years with Occupy members, and documented in multiple sources which I will link to where possible. I engaged with Justine Tunney for her side of things until I was blocked. Priscilla Grim, one of the team members ousted on Thursday, told me she’d be unavailable to comment on this matter until Monday.

Occupy The Media or Occupy A Park

Yesterday’s hijack was possible because Tunney did create the @OccupyWallSt account on Twitter and obtain the original domain name OccupyWallSt.org — the about page of which is currently a hagiography of Tunney and her friends. To take over, she presumably just changed the password and shut down whatever services were allowing other activists to tweet from the account.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of the origins and structure of the Occupy movement knows it’s ludicrous to claim leadership, but I think we can learn a lot about how activist media goes wrong from her example. Nathan Schneider’s Thank You, Anarchy (previously on the FDL Book Salon) tells Tunney’s side of the origin story:

Because of the General Assembly’s early hiccups in setting up a website during the planning process, the occupation’s online presence was left to the whims of improvisation. A transgender Internet security expert, Justine Tunney, registered the OccupyWallSt.org web domain anonymously on July 14 and started assembling a team to populate it.

[...]

[Tunney:] ‘… Right now I’m trying to get more developers to help me out with this. So far I’m the only person developing it, and that’s bad. I’m a firm believer in collective responsibility, because if I get hit by a bus, people are screwed.’

Others disagree with the notion that she tried to create a collaborative atmosphere. Activist and journalist Alexa O’Brien called the takeover “three years in the making,” and implied that Tunney had acted to seize power from the start:

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Watercooler: Crossroads

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

The Occupy Wall Street movement is a global movement, connected “cells” all over North America and the world, communicating using modern technologies like social media and livestreaming.

It seems that when Occupy struggles, its problems are just as global. In recent weeks I’ve seen articles that startled me with how well they spoke to the local situation at Occupy Austin, while describing the movement as a whole at the same time.

One of those was Arun Gupta’s What happened to the Occupy movement? So today I was pleasantly surprised to see it highlighted by Adbusters as half of a Point / Counterpoint on the State of the Revolution. I’ve seen some hesitation about Adbusters among occupiers, some of whom lump them in with groups like MoveOn who seek to influence the movement while remaining separate from it. In this instance, though, they seem to have touched on a common feeling.

While occupations like Chicago seem incredibly vital, and the growing spread of the Casseroles is injecting fresh energy into some city’s activists, here on the ground the conversation is very much as described by the Canadian magazine. Some are abandoning the Occupy banner and moving into other activist communities while others are still doing hard, effective work within this particular movement. Talk of a physical reoccupation comes and goes here in Austin, with many supporting it while others just as keen on talking us out of it. Meanwhile, I was recently told of a guerrilla Occupy-inspired encampment somewhere in the city, where some of those who used to sleep on city hall steps now keep tents and have political discussions.

I feel like whatever its future, Occupy has put a new shape of activism in the 21st-century, and also shown some of the flaws of that form. For myself, I plan to go where I can find action — because that’s what activists do, right?

This is tonight’s open thread. What’s on your mind?