Post-eviction, Occupy Wall Street movement stays engaged

McClatchy NewspapersDecember 7, 2011 

NEW YORK — Since police evicted Occupy Wall Street activists from Zuccotti Park on Nov. 15, one new place has become increasingly important to organizing their daily operations: an office 12 floors above the sidewalks of Manhattan's financial district a short walk from the New York Stock Exchange.

The gray-carpeted office could pass for any other Manhattan workspace, but the decor, with colorful "We are the 99%" posters, makes clear that this is no corporate entity. Occupy working groups meet regularly in its large communal work spaces, and a handful have private rooms within the office, including com hub, short for communications hub.

"We sort of live here," joked John Cipriano, who's 38.

Com hub essentially was born in the office space on the day of the eviction. It works to fill the communication gaps that were created once Zuccotti Park stopped being the central meeting space of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. People didn't know where to turn for basic information.

"People were like, 'Where do we stay? What do we eat? Where do we go? What are the events?' " said Evangelina Jimenez, who's 33. She said that a lot of what com hub did was to publish information that people used to be able to get by stopping by the Zuccotti Park encampment.

"We're constantly trying to gather accurate information and send it out," Cipriano said. However, Occupy protesters refused to answer several queries about how much they're paying for these Manhattan office quarters or whether the space was donated.

Cipriano usually comes in around 7 a.m. and stays into the evening. Other com hub members say they regularly stay past midnight or pull all-nighters. No Occupiers sleep in the office — Cipriano said they wanted to be "good neighbors" to the other tenants in the building — but some do have 24-hour access.

At 10 a.m. the Com Hub workday was well under way. Cipriano and two colleagues chatted as they answered emails and organized spreadsheets on their laptops. Through regular calls to and from various Occupy groups — including housing, kitchen, finance, legal, media and direct action — the com hub team assembles a daily schedule of activity. Before anything is published, it's carefully vetted.

"We try to triple confirm everything," Jimenez said.

Events are posted to the com hub Twitter account (@OWScom) and are distributed through a mass text-messaging service called Celly.

Text messages sent out last Thursday included "Spokes Council tonight at 56 Walker Street 7pm" and "Third Eye Blind is playing at Liberty Plaza @ 12pm today! And Jackson Browne @ 1!"

Com hub members say their group is still growing and defining its role along the way. A Web page is in the works, and the group recently merged with the info team, a working group that ran three information tables in Zuccotti.

Info team activists are experimenting with new, more mobile ways of distributing information about the Occupy movement. Kevin Sheneberger, 28, said he thought that the raid on Zuccotti was pushing the info team to think creatively.

Before the raid, he said, "We took the park for granted, and maybe didn't think beyond the park."

The com hub team is just one piece of a complicated network of Occupy Wall Street organizing efforts. Occupy working groups also meet in a large public atrium at 60 Wall St., a building owned by Deutsche Bank.

General assemblies, the meetings intended to bring all Occupy activists together for consensus-based decision-making, are in the atrium or in Zuccotti Park, depending on the day. Other large Occupy meetings are at other indoor sites around Manhattan.

Organizing also is done by phone and online via Listservs, Twitter and message boards on www.nycga.net, the official Occupy Wall Street website. And of course, there's email.

"My inbox has been occupied at this point," said Michael Badger, 38. Badger, who receives hundreds of Occupy-related emails daily, said the number had increased since the eviction from Zuccotti.

Badger works on InterOccupy, a group that's devoted to opening lines of communication between Occupy groups in different cities. Much of this work is done through conference phone calls, which also have increased since the raid.

"There's pretty much at least a call a day at this point," Badger said.

Other Occupiers, including Devin Balkind, 25, think that technology will be a crucial part of the movement now. Balkind is working with a group of computer-savvy protesters to develop tech tools. Among the most important, he said, will be CiviCRM, a web-based relationship management system that could help the protesters contact and keep track of the thousands of people who are involved or interested in the movement.

"It's all firming up because we're beginning to get the tools," he said.

Despite her 12-hour days fielding phone calls and sending emails for the com hub group, Jimenez maintains that in-person interactions remain the most important part of building the movement.

"Face to face interaction, actual contact with human beings, is a lot more important than mass text messaging," she said. "You just can't replace it."

(Palmer is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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