The week-end of October 15th is turning out to be the most significant one for the Occupy Wall Street movement, with large-scale protests, sit-ins, and rallies taking place across the globe.
Some news outlets are reporting on the rallies, but those who want a direct view of what’s happening in New York City at the same time as, say, Melbourne, can now do so easily via Occupystreams.org, a web project of a 25-year-old web site developer calling himself “Otis,” in San Luis Obispo, California.
The site is nothing more than a simple collection of video feeds of events fed through LiveStream, UStream or Justin.tv. Nevertheless, it’s a useful tool for discovery and navigation. It’s also helpful for organizers, and might help grow interest in the movement, Otis said in a phone call with TPM’s Idea Lab.
“Right now, everybody in the movement knows they’re in it for the long-run,” he said. “They don’t think anything is going to happen overnight. It’s more about forming connections between people as a team, organizing among ourselves and proposing real solutions. I think of [streaming video] as team-building. We’re just rallying our team members across the world.”
Seeing what’s happening on the streets for themselves might galvanize more people to take action than if those people simply read news articles, he added.
Some of the streams can show fairly prosaic events. For example, at one point on Saturday the Occupy San Diego stream focused on an argument between an indignant protestor and a policeman who had confiscated her futon mattress.
But others can be more eye-opening. Otis says that he’s learned how protestors in other cities have organized effectively by watching events unfold on the web. For example, on Tuesday, he saw how protestors in Boston had planned around information they’d gleaned from the streamed police scanner online. They were able to figure out when the police were going to arrive.
While some people left, others stayed and kept the cameras on as the police arrived and tried to disperse the crowd and move people who had pitched tents. More than a thousand people tuned in during that event and watched the police arrest veterans who were taking part in the protest.
Otis says that he’s also learned a lot about how to organize public debate and conversations from watching the New York General Assembly streams.
“Online video is amazing because right now, we’re just getting people in our local Occupation government in order, and I’ve watched the way they do it in New York, and the way they do it in Los Angeles, and some of the problems that they run into when too many people come, so it’s a way for us to learn faster.”
The New York General Assembly, a formal session held by organizers everyday in New York, for example, can often become unwieldy as some people get up and start rambling on about an issue that they clearly know nothing about, he said. Those people have to be “gently reminded,” he said, that they can discuss and learn more about those issues in a specific committee that’s already been set up. Otis said that he’s noting how the assemblies are conducted and managed for future reference.
This is the first political protest of any type that Otis has taken part in. He said he was inspired by his 19-year-old sister who lives in Los Angeles and attended an Occupy event there a couple of weeks ago.
Ultimately, Otis says that he would like the law surrounding the idea of “corporate personhood” as embodied in the Citizens United case, to be eliminated.
“That would be a giant step in the right direction,” he said.