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November 30, 2011
WePay the Revolutionaries?

After being up til 4 AM last night watching and tweeting about the evictions of Occupy LA and Occupy Philly, and then getting up at 5 AM to cover this morning’s actions, I woke up from an offset half-night’s sleep this afternoon to find that Rosie Gray had blogged my WePay page for the Village Voice, and John Del Signore had written it up in Gothamist as well.

Oh my, where to begin?

Well, first, I have a duty to point out that I am not nearly the first OWS participant, nor social media contributor, to start a WePay account to fund continued coverage of Occupy Wall Street. My fellow occupier and PR Working Group member, and media wonk Jeff Smith has had a WePay fund for awhile, and the much-lauded, much-covered-by-mainstream-media TheOther99 team have raised a ton of money while straddling a line between being independent media and participators in the movement. I’m not exactly sure how I became the story here, but the fact is, I’m not alone.

Secondly, I want to own up to the fact that this attention makes me nervous, because this is a leaderful, horizontal movement. I created this role on my own so that I could contribute to the movement, not to be a loud voice. What got me involved in OWS in the first place was the mind-blowing experience of seeing direct democracy used by large groups of people in public spaces. My primary goal remains to bring people into that experience, because its potential and beauty are undertold stories.

Since I showed up on October 12th, and began informally livetweeting General Assembly, I’ve developed a small but very interested Twitter following, and since we started the@LibertySqGA team and moved the livetweeting of GAs (and now Spokescouncils) over there, it’s blown up way beyond my own followership, exactly as I’d hoped it would.

We’re a collectivist movement. So, why am I raising funds as an individual? Am I trying to profit off the movement, as someone from Gothamist leadingly asked me in an email? (Trap accepted!)

Answer: No! I’m raising funds as an individual because the other members of the group with which I’m in closest collaboration, the @LibertySqGA team, @jopauca and @heratylaw, are in completely different situations than I’m in, in terms of financial stability and levels of time commitment. While they both offered to work with whatever I felt was best for me, I ultimately felt uncomfortable asking them to get behind what still would have mostly been an effort to raise funds for me.

Also importantly, the @LibertySqGA team is a subgroup of the Liberty Square General Assembly’s PR Working Group, and for us to raise funds for personal expenses, rather than request them from the General Assembly, might have changed our relationship to the movement. I decided that owning this as a personal situation is ultimately more accountable to the movement as a whole.

But I’d prefer a collectivist effort. Accountability and collaborative outcomes are two huge benefits of collectivist models. Occupy Wall Street’s General Assembly recently consensed to spin off its first worker-owner co-operative, which is insanely exciting to me as potentially the start of a scaleable alternative economic model. But, unlike printing, which is the first co-op’s focus, the services I provide are free (with ‘net access), and they always will be, so the challenges in making that work as an independent, fair-wage-paying co-operative would be many of the same challenges I’m now experimenting with ways to overcome.

And, not to be super defensive, but to those focused on the money, this isn’t exactly a trade-up in terms of compensation. I left my full-time job, but I’ve got other freelance options that I enjoy and don’t find to be burdensome at all. I’m not into this for the money, and I honestly think that if you follow me on Twitter that’ll be more or less clear. It’s also not very different from other jobs I’ve had being paid to fundraise for traditional electoral political organizations, where my paycheck came from the money given to whoever was hiring the company I worked for.

After all, If Barack Obama can raise millions and millions from small donors like myself, and then work for the big guys anyway, crowd-sourcing a bare minimum of funds to hold my life together while I throw myself into the most promising movement of my lifetime seems likely to be a much better deal for all involved.

Finally, to zoom out: I think it’s awesome that this conversation, about compensation and the OWS movement, is being advanced. OWS has an economic message, and it also has economic solutions to offer. But Occupy is a laboratory, and we are working to perfect these and other new ideas. This is the story I hope we can tell next.

I spent a lot of time before setting up the WePay campaign thinking about what it meant to ask folks to fund my work, given that the movement is volunteer-driven, and that many, many hours of hard work, including professional services, are being donated by many committed people. I spoke to a lot of OWSers, too: a bunch of people on the ground here, the other members of the @LibertySqGA team, and those who responded to my musings about it on Twitter. So, I’ve got some ground to stand on here, I think.

OWS is a 24/7 movement driven by social media and on the ground physical presence. It’s a huge opportunity to work together towards change. But these strengths are also challenges for many — including, as one poignant example, sympathetic police officers — who feel, or just are, trapped in their financial situations and cannot participate full-time.

This can be a pretty big accessibility issue. After all, we, the ones with 9-to-5 jobs, leases, mortgages, overdue loan payments and frustratedly limited options, are a big portion of the 99%. Occupy Wall Street events, like actions, working group meetings, General Assemblies, and Spokescouncils, are constant, and together they represent a movement “narrative” that it can be tough to stay with unless you can give it a lot of focus. Many 9-to-5ers I meet in Liberty Square express frustration that it can be such a challenge to feel plugged into OWS at the working groups level, and to really participate in building that larger narrative.

That was my situation. I worked 9-to-6 5 days a week, with the occasional 24/7 on-call stint, providing professional services to the 1%. After two weeks of juggling my full-time job and allocating nearly 100% of all other time to OWS, I felt compelled to follow my heart, leave my job, and throw myself into Occupy Wall Street.

Money wasn’t on my mind, for the first time in years. To some who have totally internalized the wake-work-sleep ideal, this may seem like just absolute folly, but to me, it was a blissful, freeing moment that went hand-in-hand with firing on all cylinders for the first time since I was in my early 20s.

I embraced this and quit my job because I wanted to be able to be present during the day, to participate in the occupation’s organizational dynamics, and to lend a fuller portion of my abilities to the movement.

Finding ways for those of us in similar situations to join the movement, or sustain our commitment to it in the longer term, is something that can benefit many. If folks like myself, Jeff Smith, and TheOther99 team can find ways to sustain our commitments to the movement, without reneging on our financial obligations to those we love that depend on us to uphold our commitments, maybe we can help others find ways to do so, too.

Many will sneeringly disagree, but we occupiers are putting in a lot of work to try and improve the world we live in and solve some of the heartbreaking problems that our existing politics have failed to address. The more hands we have on deck, and the more folks who can actively lend their voices, ideas, and consent, the better.