Monday, October 24, 2011

Re:volution Notebook

New takes on the political impact of social media:

* Vlad Teichberg, a 39-year-old former derivatives trader, is in charge of Occupy Wall Street's livestream video feed of He says in this week's New Yorker that he has been working for months to help build, from New York, what he calls "camera Kalashnikovs" to help seed and sustain the movement, which he characterizes as having its roots not on Wall Street, but in the rise of the Arab Spring. Teichberg had been operating from under a tarp in Zuccotti Square but now manages the movement's livestream feed from a small, second-floor space in Manhattan's NoHo neighborhood donated by the A.J. Muste Memorial Institute, a pacifist organization that bought the building in 1974. He told New Yorker writer Andrew Marantz that live video, distributed via social media, can limit police brutality. "If everyone is watching, the state can't just crush people," he told Marantz. "That's what kept Tahrir Square from turning into Tiananmen -- they knew people were paying attention."

* Iceland President Olafur Regnar Grimsson (photo, above) speaking at the annual PopTech thought festival in Camden, Maine, noted the increasingly important role of social media in empowering people to challenge institutions. Grimsson said those now in political power around the world have a choice: use this moment in history to force citizens to bear responsibility for the actions of private institutions, or implement comprehensive political and social reforms. [Grimsson, himself, chose the latter following his nation's 2008 economic collapse. Fighting immense global political pressure, he refused to force Icelanders to bear responsibility for the actions of private banks in the meltdown.] He told PopTech conferees Thursday that Occupy Wall Street protesters have global resonance because "social media is people power in its purest form." Grimsson also sat down with PopTech's Emily Spivack to talk about how social media are destabilizing traditional institutions. Here's an excerpt from that interview:

"I have concluded, which is a strange conclusion for me to make because I have spent most of my life within the traditional institutions of a democratic political system, that the democratic power of this movement that technology has enabled and brought about, is now so strong and so fast that the operations of the traditional institutions have almost become a sideshow.

You see it happening in my country in the last three years, you saw it happening in Cairo, you've seen it happen in Athens, and you've seen it last week, in over a thousand cities, where you've got coordinated demonstrations initiated by Occupy Wall Street. Before, in history, it would have been impossible to coordinate these demonstrations at a relatively short notice.

Secondly, we are seeing a shift from the predominance of the financial and the market institution, over to the re-emergence of democracy, and what we have classically called the "public will," to use a philosophical term. But we are in the middle of that shift; we don't know where it will take us, or what will be the implications.

But the third shift, which is implied in all of this, is the shift in time. These changes are now so fast, helped by social media, that they are of historic proportions. We have nothing comparable in world history as a guideline."

* Kambiz Hosseini and Saman Arbabi, Iranian expatriates living in Washington, D.C., are the cofounders of Parazit [meaning "static" in Arabic]. It is a weekly half-hour TV satire show that pokes fun at Iranian politics and culture, and which grew out of Iran's so-called "Green Revolution" in 2009. "When they kicked foreign journalists out of Iran, citizen journalism because huge, and YouTube, Twitter and Facebook became the platform for communication," Hossesini says. "Seventy percent of Iranians are under 30 years of age, they live in media oppression and we set a new tone for them and a new voice with our show." When authorities jammed the show's satellite signals, Arbabi said last week, "we went guerilla-style, posting the show in online forums everywhere." Parazit is broadcast on Voice of America's Persian service. It also has been featured by John Stewart on The Daily Show and still lives broadly on YouTube. Speaking at PopTech's annual thought-fest Friday, Arbabi said of social media:

"It has changed the world and that's why dictators are afraid of it. It's the only source of information that some people have. ...Trying to stop social media is like trying to stop car theft. You can't. Thieves are always two steps ahead. Except that these protesters [in Iran and around the world] are not thieves. They're fighting for their freedom."

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photo, top, of "calligraffiti" by eL Seed, a Tunisian graffiti artist featured at this year's PopTech conference, who uses Arabic script to convey messages of peace and justice, online and off. Photo of Iceland President Olafur Regnar Grimsson by Kris Krug.]

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Saturday, October 22, 2011

Rethinking Africa

Erik Hersman -- a cofounder of Ushahidi; founder of the group blog, Afrigadget; the author of the blog, White African, and the founder of iHub, Nairobi's innovation hub -- offered this week's PopTech conferees contemplating the world's geopolitical power shifts a new definition of the term, white space. "In business, it is defined as a place where rules are vague, authority is fuzzy, budgets are nonexistent and strategy is unclear," said Hersman, who was raised by missionary parents in Africa and spent his childhood traveling between Sudan and Kenya. [Hersman still lives in Africa, with his wife and three children in Nairobi.] "...Business white space is the space between the organization chart, where the real innovation happens" -- and this space right now is Africa, he says.

Hersman told conferees that 313 million people are now moving into Africa's middle class ranks -- a figure that comprises 34 percent of the continent's population. Additionally, 98 percent of Internet subscriptions in Africa are for mobile service, and five of the world's Top 10-fastest growing economies are in Africa. "Ghana has beat Qatar for pole position," Hersman said. And mobile Web innovation is at a peak. He cited three recent Web startups as examples of what he called "reverse development" -- the creation of new tech ideas that Africa is exporting to the West rather than importing from it: Ushahidi, the crisis-mapping service; M-Pesa, the mobile, peer-to-peer money transfer service that has so far conducted more than $8 billion of transactions within Kenya, and MXit, a free instant-messaging application in South Africa that has become an alternative to Facebook in that country and has some 24 million users around the globe -- some 13 million in South Africa, alone. "The mobile revolution that you hear about in Africa? It's real," Hersman said.

And Africa is also transforming itself culturally and spiritually, says Unity Dow (photo above). Young people are "beginning to question why they should mold themselves" into Western notions of what should be "normal" at home and abroad. Dow, a high court judge and human rights activist in Botswana, told conferees "there is a new generation that is not yoked to the past of colonialism" and it is "rethinking Africa. ...And they're asking, 'How can I move forward without having to be Western?'"

"...When people begin to have three meals a day and a warm bed at night, they begin to think," Dow said. "What is happening in Africa right now is that [young people] now have full bellies, cars to drive, and access to the Internet. They're beginning to look around and ask, 'What did we lose as a country in our attempt to be part of 'the Other'? What did we lose when it was un-Christian to be African and to dance the way we danced' and talk and wear our hair differently?"

Dow said this "new awakening" also is creating new diplomatic and economic friends for Africa -- chiefly China. "Africa has a right to extend its friendship across the world without people thinking it is being exploited," Dow said. Africans want to break the image of dependency on the West and rebalance its global relationships. "...When a Westerner sees a shoeless African, he thinks, 'How can I donate shoes?'" Dow said. "But when a Chinese sees a shoeless African, he thinks, 'How can I sell her cheaper shoes?'" China is catering to the continent's fast-growing middle class, she said, by offering inexpensive goods to Africa's new consumers. "It is more expensive to deal with Europe and America that it is to deal with China," she said. "...You can get a flight from Botswana to go to China, and when you land there, there will be a translator and a car waiting for you," Dow said, referring to buying trip services being offered by some Chinese companies seeking inroads into the Africa market. "For many Africans, this is their first trip outside of their country. ...You cannot afford these things in British pounds or dollars but you can if you go to China," she said.

"In the past," Dow said, "all of this would have been unimaginable. But in the last five years, we're seeing a reclaiming of what we lost when we tried to go global." The result? A new and different future for the continent. Said Dow: "The future of Africa is brown, the future of Africa is gendered, and the future of Africa is fair."

PopTech's conference, "The World Rebalancing," ended today.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photograph of Unity Dow by Kris Krug in Camden, Maine, at this week's PopTech conference]

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The Impact Economy

New White House Social Innovation Director Jonathan Greenblatt told people attending this year's annual PopTech conference in Maine today that the White House is preparing for the rise of an "impact economy" - a new approach to social problem-solving that involves impact investing and new hybrids of business and philanthropy to scale good.

Greenblatt, a co-founder of Ethos Water and former CEO of GOOD who began his new job last month, said his office is "looking to create a new infrastructure inside government" to support social innovation "that can involve technology but also seeks new thinking that will identify, then fund, solutions that are already working." Greenblatt said this effort "isn't angel capital for the social space. That is what philanthropy does. We are looking for solutions that already work, and to fund them commensurate to their impact."

Since its founding two years ago, Greenblatt said, the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation has expanded the Americorps program and is using competitions and prizes to help identify new, entrepreneurial solutions to social problems. It also has created the $200 million Social Innovation Fund to scale what works through dozens of community organizations already on the ground. Earlier this year, the Office also added a line item to the President's budget to create Social Impact Bonds, a new way to pay for public services. [The plan would use private, profit-motivated investment money to fund public services up front. The government would only pay if the services deliver as promised, and only out of government cost-savings. The idea: to avoid the waste of tax dollars on failed programs.]

But more is needed amid great challenges, Greenblatt said. "We remain in a very difficult set of economic and social circumstances, with a housing problem that has bedeviled the experts" and a national unemployment rate of 9.1 percent that gets worse in communities of color. "We also have companies that often don't abide by the letter or the spirit of the law" and "a political system where some of the actors remain committed not necessarily to governance, but to opposition in a way that I just don't think is constructive." The result, he said, is that the nonprofit sector is now often taking "the brunt of the blow." At a time when government has less resources, he said, more is being asked of nonprofit organizations. "We need them to deliver more in a moment when they actually have less," Greenblatt said.

A new and expanded definition of the social sector will help, he said. The nonprofit sector, he said, "isn't just a collection of soup kitchens" but a sector that "helps to cohere the whole population" with over $300 billion in aggregate wages. It represents 5 percent of the country's GDP and 11 percent of its work force. "Nonprofits are like small businesses," he added, with nearly all of them operating on budgets of $1 million or less. But there is something "even more profound afoot," Greenblatt added. "Business can be a force for change, too." When we look at businesses that have an explicit social dimension to their mission, he added, "the opportunity for the social sector is even larger. It is even more important," Greenblatt said. New start-up social enterprises, coupled with many large-scale corporations that are helping to create new models of shared value, working to service shareholders "but also thinking intelligently and in integrated ways about supporting their stakeholders" also are important players in the social sector. "Ensuring the health and vitality of the entire sector is critical," Greenblatt added, "and essential to our national health."

Greenblatt said the White House is preparing for two trends in social innovation -- first, the advent of an impact economy, which refers to changes in today's business community such as the emergence of impact-investing. "These are conventional capitalists who are identifying opportunities to invest in the social sector, to drive economic return and social good," Greenblatt said. He said the Monitor Institute has described this as a category that could be worth more than $100 billion by the end of the decade.

Second, Greenblatt said, he and the White House are also very focused on the idea of a civic engagement continuum. "The idea that you need to don a red jacket to serve seems important but we think there's a bigger opportunity at hand that is enabled by technology," Greenblatt said. He cited citizen advocacy efforts like Data Without Borders and Code for America as being important initiatives that "marry technology talent to need." And he cited Meetup and the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, as being "extraordinary" new ways ordinary people are convening to work for social change. "This is not 800 million people on Facebook who may or may never connect," Greenblatt said. "We at the White House are eager to help these phenomenon grow because we believe they represent the gears of a healthy society -- the foundation of a social sector that is vibrant."

Greenblatt concluded his remarks to the PopTech crowd by asking conferees for their help to "bring more financial capital into the field to scale the social sector" and to "boost the number of human capitalists" working in it. Said Greenblatt: "This work matters now more than ever."

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photo of Jonathan Greenblatt addressing 2011 PopTech conference by Kris Krug for PopTech]

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Between Kansas and Oz

The annual PopTech thought-fest got underway today in Camden, Maine, bringing together nearly 300 journalists, scientists, inventors, technologists, and others working at the forefront of social change for a three-day conversation about these volatile times and how the world is "rebalancing" into a new equilibrium. "We are," Curator Andrew Zolli told conferees, "in the midst of a great realignment - a series of connected and converging revolutions in technology, economics, ecology, energy, geopolitics and culture that mark the end of one global era and the beginning of another."

The status quo on all levels is being challenged at high speeds "from far away, from below and from within," Zolli told conferees, while new powers are rising in the form of new kinds of networks, leaders and influencers. "The very nature of power, itself, is evolving," Zolli added, and the changes are re-making relationships between individuals; re-framing society's notions of governance, and re-drawing the geography of innovation. This massive rebalancing also is driving "entirely new kinds of business opportunities, introducing new voices into global culture, and unleashing a wave of reactionary counter-forces -- simultaneously."

"We are not in Kansas, nor are we in Oz," Zolli said. "We are in the whirlwind."

Among first-morning conference highlights were talks by a trio of people working on initiatives intended to rebalance not just economic and political power, but also to negotiate new spaces for broader cultural and artistic expression -- "changing who gets to speak," Zolli said, "and who gets to shape the narratives of this new global conversation."

* Shahidul Alam -- a Bangladeshi photographer, activist and social entrepreneur -- kicked off the conference by introducing his work as founder of both Drik, an agency for photographers working in the East, and the Chobi Mela International Festival of Photography, one of the largest in the world. "A problem that comes up in the world today is a perception we often have of 'the other' and it makes it difficult for us to recognize equality in a wider sense," Alam told conferees. "Pictures have a power. Through them, we are working to change how 'the other' is seen and how, in this new space, we all present ourselves." In this way, Alam says, he is working to both fight media censorship and correct the West's distorted view of what he calls "majority world" countries like his own. "The rural poor only exist as numbers. By taking pictures, they are removed from anonymity." Added Alam: "I don't like the term, Third World, because I don't want to be third in anything. When you talk of democracy and freedom, by and large the G-8 countries which represent 13 percent of the world's population do not represent me or the majority world in which I live." Alam has created a Website called to showcase and represent the unseen imagery of local, non-Western photographers. "The whole (Western) publishing process needs to be subverted," he told PopTech, so as to be able to convey the news more accurately, from local sources. "We can't simply let the West keep telling our stories," he said. "We need to be telling our own stories for global consumption."

* Anand Giridharadas, an American-born journalist for the International Herald Tribune, wrote his first book, India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation's Remaking, to update the picture of India he learned through the prism of his emigre family history and his childhood memories of India. "There is, in fact, some great news," says Giridharadas, who grew up in Cleveland. "And the great news is that contary to all you hear in the media, and contrary to all of this anxiety in this country right now, the American Dream is alive and well. It is, in fact, possibly doing better than it ever has before -- just not here," he added. In India, he says, a new version of that dream is taking hold. Indians are reinventing relationships, bending the meaning of what it means to be Indian and enduring the pangs of the old birthing the new. This rebalancing should not be seen as a threat of low-wage competition for the West, Giridharadas says, but rather as "a cultural and spiritual release." The "world is flat" idea, he said, "is a flat idea. It's not so much that the relationship between the West and India is flattening but that the world inside India is flattening, too -- becoming more fair" as old caste and class divisions are eroding. "Now, two powerful new ideas are taking hold," Giridharadas said. "The first is that destiny is something one makes rather than inherits. And the second is that ... the individual is sovereign" -- with an opportunity to excel according to individual ability and achievement, regardless of social class or circumstances of birth. Giridharadas warned conferees that political and class bickering among Americans "is making it harder and harder for people here in America to access the upward American spiral that brought my parents to this country from half a world away." This bickering is "not just eroding the America Dream" for Americans, he said. It is "wearing it down at the precise moment in history when the rest of the world has gotten wind of our once-secret formula, and I think that is something we need to think more about."

* Arvind Subramanian, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics and at the Center for Global Development, argues in his new book, Eclipse, that China has already overtaken the United States as a global economic power, with consequences both positive and negative for Americans. "China's economic dominance will be much broader in scope and much greater in magnitude than anyone yet imagines," he told PopTech attendees. And he predicts that by 2020, the Chinese Renminbi will eclipse the dollar as the world's dominant currency. "We think of the United States now as going through an economic downturn," he says, "but the other dimension of weakness in the U.S. is that the middle class is getting squeezed and their mobility is declining -- the complete opposite of what is happening in India." Subramanian says "the U.S. is like an apartment block that used to be the envy of the neighborhood. Today, the penthouses are getting bigger and bigger, the middle floors are getting squeezed, the basement is flooded and above all, the elevator from the basement is broken down." He added that America needs to change the way it cooperates internationally and do more to integrate the Chinese into American culture and institutions. By 2030, he says, the Chinese economy will be 50 percent larger than the U.S. economy. Already, the U.S. and Europe no longer have "the carrots and the sticks to cajole China into anything," Subramanian says. "It's no longer about what America wants. That world is gone. The world now will need to be much more symmetrical and balanced."

* Paul Needham and his Bangalore-based company, Simpa Networks, are designing new products and services aimed at "doing capitalism differently" -- making things radically more affordable to the poor. In this case, it's electricity. There are now some 48 million people worldwide who have a mobile phone but no connection to the grid. Simpa is setting out to change that by offering the world's poorest people access to solar energy on a "pay-as-you-go" basis. It's a model that is similar to pay-as-you-go mobile phones in that there's a low initial cost for the hardware required -- but once the cost of the hardware is repaid, the device becomes the consumer's to use, and the electricity generated going forward is free. "Consider the power this model gives to underserved people to create new possibilities for themselves and their worlds, and in some cases for the very first time," says Needham.

Cause Global will be posting more highlights throughout the conference. Watch this space for updates. PopTech ends Saturday night.

Here's the livestream:

Watch live streaming video from poptech at

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Illustration, top, by Cinoby/Germany for

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Monday, October 17, 2011


Today is the official one-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, and supporters are congratulating themselves, with birthday cakes and marathon choruses of "Happy Occupy to You" from Manhattan's Zuccotti Park. But the movement's staying power should come as no surprise. What has been unexpected? Since the Tweet that started it all went viral July 15 -- "Sept. 17. Wall St. Bring Tent." -- the movement it catalyzed has appeared to kindle more heat globally than nationally. The New York Times journalist Nick Kristof, in a column Sunday titled America's Primal Scream, wrote how "it's fascinating that many Americans intuitively understood the outrage and frustration that drove Egyptians to protest at Tahrir Square, but don't seem to comprehend similar resentments that drive disgruntled fellow citizens to 'occupy' Wall Street."

Indeed, the #OWS movement had its largest single day of protests Saturday not in New York but far from Wall Street. Writes blogger Nate Silver: "In Europe, crowds in cities like Rome, Barcelona, and Madrid were estimated at 200,000 to 500,000 per city -- more, probably, than the protests in the U.S. combined." [See Cause Global's coverage of the rally in Times Square here.] Silver, who analyzed crowd turnout numbers and the distribution of the October 15th protests worldwide, also found that "despite Occupy Wall Street's name, its energy in the U.S. seems to be coming from the left coast" -- and apparently from people who didn't vote in the 2010 mid-term elections.

But it would be foolish to underestimate the movement's ideological diversity, its staying power, or its organizational savvy. This is not, as protester Justin Strekal told The Associated Press over the weekend, simply "a participatory democracy in a little park" near Wall Street. On the contrary, Occupy Wall Street has become a global franchise, backed by an impressively horizontal "wire-archy" of digitally connected strategy, media, and community organizing professionals, volunteers, sympathetic tech startups and consultants, online petition groups and other pro bono-minded social enterprises and innovators -- all of whom say they are working to redefine for the digital age what is meant by economic sustainability and participatory leadership (not to mention strategic planning).

For its part, the Zuccotti Park "branch" of the movement is continuing to meet daily in a general assembly and has aggregated nearly $300,000 of hundreds of individual donations into an Amalgamated Bank account. It has a local finance committee -- which, according to The New York Observer, just voted to turn down a donation from music mogul Russell Simmons because he wanted to help the group shape specific demands. (Victoria Sobel, 21, Occupy Wall Street's CFO, told The Observer Sunday that organizers are almost "obsessively sensitive" to any one individual or organization trying to exert leadership over Occupy; she said finance committee members are taking crash courses in money management to make sure the movement's books remain transparent and unfettered by New Age lobbyists.)

The Zuccotti Park installation also has its own newspaper, published in two languages, and a library, an infirmary, a rotating set of showers and rooms-for-no-rent in the area, and a waste disposal system set up by a social enterprise called Mobile Design Lab. And more widely, it has media savvy by the boatload, thanks to a real-time line-up of global PR volunteers and liasons who have, so far, managed the message cross-culture. People in London, Madrid, South Korea, Japan, Sydney and Stockholm, for example, were carrying similar signs and wearing similar t-shirts on October 15, all claiming membership in the "99 Per Cent." Meanwhile, multiple networks of crowdsourced "hackathon" techies are working to better connect sympathizers near and far, and more than 100 lawyers are donating their services to aid the arrested. Most protesters and their supporters, of course, don't live outside in parks, but rather in houses and apartments in multiple cities and countries. [Like the Arab Spring protests, this movement depends on people aggregating both geographically and online to continuously catalyze multiple communities while also populating a geographical "center" for public reference.]

And politically, at least for now, Occupy Wall Street is trending in the mainstream, if not on Twitter, among some of the movement's most unlikely supporters. The GOP-appointed Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke told a recent hearing of the Joint Economic Committee of Congress that "at some level, I can't blame them (the protesters)" for "blaming, with some justification, the financial sector for getting us into this mess."

In the words of New Yorker Senior Editor Amy Davidson, "this is a global conversation going on now, and it would be foolish not to listen. ...Wall Street has long been a multinational brand name; now Occupy is, too. ...For an anti-corporate movement, OWS has a good sense of franchising -- and more importantly, it has something to say about enfranchisement."

No doubt. Occupy, perhaps most significantly, offers yet another example of how the Internet is profoundly enabling people to reshape the status quo at multiple levels of society. Occupy's loose-knit, distributed networks of hyper-agile, group-led "adhocracies" are -- thanks to our growing addiction to social media -- both inevitable and impossible to ignore. Can such digital organizations and movements topple governments as we know them? If you count the Arab Spring demonstrations, they already have. What's not so obvious is what comes next.

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photo of Occupy demonstrator by Reuters, with permission. Illustration: Cover of the October 24, 2011 issue of The New Yorker]

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Saturday, October 15, 2011

Times Squared

Just before the official 5 p.m. start time of today's Occupy Wall Street demonstration in Manhattan's Times Square, a small throng of formally-attired theatergoers standing near the discount TKTS booth began complaining loudly about the crowds clogging the sidewalks, apparently unaware that the biggest Broadway show in town was about to begin right in front of them -- no tickets required. ["Don't they know they're in the way?" theatergoer Rose Aberdeen, 67, asked no one in particular, pointing to a protester dressed up as the Statue of Liberty.]

But this was not just another day in self-expressive Gotham. Some 6,000 demonstrators took to the streets today in Times Square as part of Occupy Wall Street's official October 15th Global Day of Action, prompting the NYPD to close off Broadway for eight blocks in Midtown and erect steel barricades, mount horses and drive motorcycles in formation to break up the crowds. [After 4-plus hours of chanting slogans and texting at a rate of some 500 tweets per minute (according to Twitter), demonstrators headed south to Washington Square Park on the NYU campus, dispersing after police arrived through the Arch and warned they would be enforcing a midnight curfew. Fourteen were arrested for remaining in the park.]

Among today's Times Square protesters were 87-year-old Irwin Nack and Pat Alessandrini, 72, both in from New Jersey for the day. Nack, a retired American history professor from William Patterson University, recalled his first protest rally in 1946 in Manhattan, when he was organizing city teachers for higher wages. He praised social media. "We would have had so much more clout if we'd had those tools back then," he said. " With social media, you can simultaneously protest in multiple locations." Closer to where counter-terrorism police were rushing the intersection of 46th and Broadway, Annie Dawson, 26, from Ann Arbor and Jeffrey Demesch from Brooklyn called the protests "America's Spring" -- referring to the Arab Spring protests earlier this year that used similar tactics in Cairo's Tahrir Square. Meanwhile, chants of "This is our Street" and "This is what democracy looks like" erupted each time a new squad of police marched into the intersection at 46th and Broadway to separate protesters coming into the Square from the east from those pouring in from the west. "I think most people don't realize how neglected their democracy has become until they try to exercise their rights to free speech and assembly," Dawson said.

But for all the chanting and shouting -- and despite some pepper-spray incidents and minor skirmishes with police -- this crowd remained peaceful. And it was impressively self-policed: at various times, some protesters would advise others to stop shouting and sit down. [As one demonstrator passed out Fourth of July sparklers, others urged people to throw them away. "Fireworks are illegal in New York and you don't want to get arrested for that," someone said.]

The ironies conveyed by Time Square's famous neon signs also didn't go entirely unnoticed. Just above a placard that read "Beat the Banks" was a billboard advertising Bonnie & Clyde -- the musical. Beneath a billboard advertising GenX darling Zooey Deschanel in her new sitcom, The New Girl, sat NYU student Jennifer Bell, 22, wearing an AlterNation cap and sharing her opposition to "the status quo" with a fellow demonstrator. Later, beneath Bank of America's enormous red-and-white electric marquee sign on the southwest corner of 46th and Broadway, an Australian couple asked a passer-by to direct them to the nearest ATM -- but first, please, show them the fastest route through the crowd to the Winter Garden Theater. (It was in sight but blocked by mounted police.) They had show tickets for 8 p.m., they told Cause Global, and they "didn't want to miss the show."

When all was said and done, 78 people were arrested in New York, according to The New York Times, including 24 accused of trespassing in a Greenwich Village branch of Citibank during a mid-day rally encouraging people to close their bank accounts at various Citibank, Wells Fargo and Bank of America branches across the city.

The day's events from New York, while generally not televised, were livestreamed, tweeted, facebooked, foursquared and liveblogged, making cable news networks' lack of in-depth local coverage this evening all the more obvious and frustrating to the crowds, underscoring the rapid pace and wider reach of new and social media. "Where's the press? Where's the press?" was the chant at 10 p.m. when the Square's neon news tickers failed to flash much about the day's local demonstrations.

"The press is us now," protester Ann Dawson shouted back. "Shut up and keep tweeting."

-- Marcia Stepanek

[For more on the #OWS swarms, watch this space for continuing highlights, follow the Global Revolution channel on Livestream and jump into the Twitterstreams at #occupywallst and #ows, among others.]

[All photos, top, of Occupy Wall Street's October 15th demonstration at the intersection of Broadway and 46th Street in Times Square, by Marcia Stepanek for CauseGlobal]

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Swarms Global

Occupy Wall Street's October 15th Global Day of Action catalyzed coordinated street demonstrations in dozens of cities today, including Taiwan, London, Rome, Belgrade, and Berlin. In Rome, demonstrations turned violent between ralliers and police, while other European and global demonstrations remained comparatively peaceful.

Meanwhile, in New York City, Occupy Wall Street organizers staged weekend hackathons to further advance the movement's ability to digitally coordinate simultaneous actions worldwide and nationally. At 3 p.m. EST today, marchers set off from Washington Square Park on the NYU campus and began making their way north to Times Square, where a large rally was scheduled to start at 5 p.m EST to cap off the global day of protest -- called United for #Globalchange. Protest actions are additionally being coordinated via Foursquare and Meetup.

A video calling for October 15th participation globally, below, sought actions in 951 cities in 82 countries.

To follow the day's events as they continue, watch this space for hilites. Additionally, go to the Occupy Together web site and watch the livestream of the protest marches in NYC today. Jump into the Twitter coverage from the front lines [#OWS, #Oct15, #globalrevolution, #99percent, #occupynyc, among others] and check out the liveblogging by Reuters and The New York Daily News.

[Photos, top to bottom: demonstrator ducking teargas in Rome by The Associated Press; a protester today in Taiwan and the demonstration near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, both by Reuters; all with permission]

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Friday, October 14, 2011

Connected (the movie)

From Cairo to Wall Street, social media are changing the way people come together. Connected, a new documentary film that opens this weekend in Manhattan, explores some of those changes, for better and worse. "For centuries, we have declared our independence but maybe it's time to declare our inter-dependence," says director Tiffany Shlain, also the founder of the Webby Awards. The film, which previewed at this year's Sundance Film Festival, has been shown mostly to California audiences until now. Here's the trailer:

Seen the film? Let us know what you think.

[Illustration by S. Fox for

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Thursday, October 13, 2011


Occupy Wall Street entered its fourth week of protests yesterday in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park, and despite claims of at least 800 arrests so far nationwide, the movement is showing no signs of winding down. Undeterred by rain, hundreds of demonstrators packed the 33,000-square-foot park of sparse trees and blue tarps again this afternoon -- standing, singing, sitting huddled under blankets, sharing donated food and texting from the ground.

The protest swarm that emerged there via Facebook on September 17 has now spread to many cities: Wikipedia counts more than 70, from Salt Lake City and Seattle to Providence, Rhode Island. About 130 people were arrested at Occupy Boston early Tuesday; the Occupy groups in Atlanta and Seattle, among others, were reported on Slate to be digging in at their sites for the long haul. Politicans and the media, meanwhile, have been forced to take notice and to take sides. On Tuesday, a group of demonstrators from Occupy Wall Street took to the road and marched from lower Manhattan to NYC's uber-wealthy Upper East Side, in what they called the Millionaire's March. The group walked and chanted past the homes of people like Rupert Murdoch, Tea Party financial backer David Koch and JP Morgan Chase Chairman Jamie Dimon. [Mayor Michael Bloomberg, himself a billionaire, was spared; his East Side townhouse was not on the visitation list.]

More marching is planned for this weekend: Occupy Wall Street is organizing a series of flash mobs at Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase bank locations across the country. Though Facebook, YouTube, livestreaming and Twitter have been key in organizing and perpetuating the movement, organizers also have been distributing "old media" -- paper fliers and a broadsheet newspaper called Occupied Wall Street Journal, published in English and Spanish.

"We're taking what worked in Cairo during the Arab Spring," says Jonathan Hull, 26, a protester who arrived in Zuccotti Park last week from Portland, Ore. A freelance graphic designer, Hull says the movement is less about the future of capitalism and much more about the need to create new models of leadership for a digital world. "These protests are kind of like a first effort by members of my generation to use social media to help create a new, consensus-driven model of self-governance," Hull told Cause Global. "We call ourselves leaderless but we're really fighting to create a shared kind of leadership, kind of like how Wikipedia works. It's a group effort. It's consensus-based. We're working to create a new way to give everyone a voice and apply those voices to solving what's not working" in society. (As Hendrik Hertzberg, writing in this week's New Yorker, observed: "The process, not the platform, is the point.")

Hull isn't the only protester to speak passionately about the need for new forms of leadership -- both to organize digital groups and then to grow and sustain them. Justin Wedes, 24, an Occupy Wall Street founder/organizer, spoke Wednesday with WNYC Radio host Brian Lehrer on his live, call-in talk show about the group's goal to create "a new form of direct democracy" enabled by social media.

What follows is an edited transcript of that interview:

LEHRER: Who are you and why are you involved?
WEDES: I'm an organizer with the New York City General Assembly, one of the organizing bodies behind the Occupy Wall Street movement. We started three months ago, when Adbusters and Anonymous put out the call to flood lower Manhattan in protest of Wall Street. We have been organizing in parks and local spaces, holding horizontal open, public meetings for anyone interested in joining the thousands of people we have in New York now and across the country. I trained as a high school science teacher and do part-time work designing Web sites and community activism.

LEHRER: Are you the person behind #OccupyWallStNYC on Twitter?
WEDES: Yes, I'm the captain of that tweetstream but not the only one.

LEHRER: Will you soon need to put out a list of demands to keep the movement from fizzling?
WEDES: I don't believe so. I think it's a goal of the movement to enunciate some serious demands, but organizing people is a process in and of itself. It's taken us now over three weeks just to get where we are, and we're still growing -- now at our fastest rate ever. If you look at the immense amount of solidarity and support and growth of our movement, it's not because we're enunciating any particular demands but rather because we are reaching out to people who are frustrated, who are really saying 'enough is enough.' Meanwhile, every night, we are meeting and talking about what our [specific] demands should be and building solidarity.

LEHRER: Enough is enough of what?
WEDES: Corporate greed. The political influence of monied interests on Wall Street in Washington and in our local and state governments. People are just fed up. It's not fixing our economy. It's destroying our country and people have had enough.

CALLER: Are you using Gandhi's ideals to influence your movement?
WEDES: Yes, absolutely. This is in the vein of Gandhi's nonviolent work of peaceful protest. The world we're trying to create in these general assemblies [Occupy groups] across the country is all about nonviolence and consensus. These general assemblies we're creating are now being built spontaneously in up to 100 cities. It's a mirror of what we're trying to get to in the end.

CALLER: Is this anti-capitalist?
WEDES: There is a broad spectrum of perspectives and agendas. We claim to be the 99 percent [of the population] and if we are, that represents a very wide spectrum of beliefs, so I don't want to narrow it down to one or another ideology.

CALLER: What is the process by which you all arrived at the organizational roles you play? How does the election process take place to form these general assemblies that choose you and others as leaders of this movement?
WEDES: I can't stake a claim to be a leader any more than anyone else. I call myself an organizer, as I've been there since Day One, helping to bring spirit and organization to this movement. We are a leaderless, horizontal movement, in the sense that there are no hierarchies of roles in this group. We are constantly rotating through facilitators in our general assembly [a daily mass meeting], so there's no ability of any individual or organization to co-opt us.

I think the magic that I believe is happening right now in Zuccotti Park (and really, across the country) is that the general assembly is a consensus-based process. It's not an elected or representative democracy. It is an attempt to bring consensus -- agreement to a group of people. And it works in a really amazing, magical way. Everybody has a voice in the general assembly. Every voice is heard. It's a slow process and at time, laborious, but people are patient because they know their voices will be heard and valued.

LEHRER: Consensus is a high standard. You can't always get a consensus in a marriage, much less among thousands of people in Zuccotti Park.
WEDES: No, that's right, and when there isn't consensus -- when there are blocks, for example, in proposals -- we move to what we call 'modified consensus.' But even before that, we try to modify our proposals with friendly amendments. The problem with representative democracy is that it has up-and-down votes. You know, 51 percent of the people may be in support of an idea but then the other 49 percent are then immediately marginalized. That doesn't work. Politics isn't working because it has become so confrontational. So our approach is rather than try to find the 51 percent agreement and leave the other 49 percent in the dust, let's do the extra work it takes to build consensus and unity.

CALLER: But if there is no one leader, this movement won't go anywhere. Every group needs a leader.
WEDES: The idea of a leaderless, horizontal movement is really difficult for a lot of people to grasp because it's only in the last few years that we've started to harness technology and social media and the possibilities that it all brings in order to facilitate communication and flatten communication hierarchies. I like to rather call [our movement] leader-ful -- a leaderful movement rather than a leaderless one -- because what it means is that everyone is empowered to take a role of leadership. Everybody is empowered to step forward and lead a cause or an initiative. And the way that we're able to do that is we're harnessing technology to open up streams of information --to keep from having information bottlenecks, for example, where too few people know too much and they are able to have access to resources that other people in the group don't.

LEHRER: If you're a tight little group of protesters in each city, you can do that. But if you want to become a major political party, or if you want to have a major mass influence on America, then you can't do it like a tight-knit little family, can you?
WEDES: I'm not sure whether we can or cannot. I think that's a little bit unpredictable. What I DO know is that what will grow out of this is being supported by the work of some very, very smart people on the software development end and the hardware development end, who are working on tools to be able to coordinate these movements all over the country -- and really all over the world -- so that we can collaborate in real time and hold things like simultaneous polling. We live in a world where technology has long surpassed the political realities of this country. We have a representative democracy that is so unparticipative right now, that everybody's democracy muscle is not being flexed. So let's find creative solutions to that.

LEHRER: How long will this movement keep going? It started September 17.
WEDES: There was never a deadline for when we go home. We always said we'll be here until our voices are heard and our demands are met. Those demands are being created right now. We will release them soon.

LEHRER: Will there be something like a news conference?
WEDES: I'm not sure, as that would be pretty old school and I think we're a bit beyond that now with our social media. [To follow Occupy Wall Street NYC, go to the livestream, search the calls to action on YouTube or go to Occupy's YouTube page. Or, go to Occupy Together to check out actions across the country and jump into the Twitterstreams at #occupywallstnyc, #ows, and #sep17 -- among others.]

-- Marcia Stepanek

[Photo, top, by Lukas Johnson/Reuters]
[Poster, above, by B.L. Singelton for Occupy Together]

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