Where’s the Marketing Department?
Deploying dozens of technical solutions at Occupy.net has been much easier than getting activists to use the tools. When Occupy Wall Street first started, I assumed, like many techies did, that Outreach, Info and various other working groups would want to build email lists so they could develop deeper relationships with people who were inspired by the Occupation. To my surprise, I found it extremely difficult to find anyone interested in taking responsibility for collecting email addresses and producing a newsletter. By the 2nd month of the occupation, we had a CRM solution together for use by “Outreach”– but it took them another 3 months to begin to use it.
To what could we attribute this failure in community adoption, observable not just in the CRM but in the Occupy wiki, the mapping application, and the other dozen or so tools made available through the Occupy.net project? First of all, the very nature of Occupy’s decentralized, autonomous organizing is that few groups exist to serve the others. The corollary of this truth is that groups quickly began to assume that they would have to rely on their own [communications] tools and resources to meet all of their organizing needs. When TechOps came forward with the tools that we saw a need for and were in some instances even requested to produce, few came to us as a resource, and fewer still followed through with our recommendations.
This speaks to a problem familiar to those in the technology world: highly useful tools are produced but users don’t adopt them. It was one thing for us to produce the tools that were necessary—it was an entirely different challenge to actually communicate these services outward, a task people within the media community are more qualified to tackle than those in the technology one.
Ideally, this would have been a function performed by the Media Working Group—a group which specialized in the production and promotion of documentary content. Unfortunately, instead of documenting how activists can use tools to enhance their work, their attention was more focused on conflicts between “protesters and police” —known inside the movement as “riot porn.” This isn’t surprising as mainstream media outlets would often evaluate whether or not to cover an “action” by asking the self-identified occupy PR people how many arrests they thought would be taking place. Violence gets views, and media people produce content so people can view it, so it’s not surprising they gravitate towards the sensational instead of the functional, brutality instead of kindness, actions over mutual aid. This highlights, once again, the conflicting interests of those who create crisis through disruptive actions and those who develop solutions through sharing productivity tools and techniques. Activist movements have traditionally found it difficult bringing these groups to the same table where they can align their interests around a single vision and set of strategies. It helps if that table has lots of delicious, regionally appropriate, organic food grown by mutual friends.