In a recent article published at OccupyWallStreet.Net, (informally known as “Street.Net”), the authors pulled no punches in excoriating the members of a separate Occupy-related group called the Occupy Solidarity Network, Inc. (also known as “St.org“).
The sin? Having the temerity (and commercial – dare I say, Capitalist – savvy) to offer for sale to the public copies of the iconic Occupy poster showing a dancing ballerina atop the bronze Wall Street Bull in lower Manhattan.
And, make no doubt, that image is Iconic, and the complaint somewhat justified.
The “Dancing Ballerina” poster immediately caught the public’s attention. It was described by one journalist and observer as “scenic, striking… and an emblem of the Occupy Wall Street Movement” and goes on to describe its origins as a creation of Vancouver based Adbusters magazine and its editor, Micah White.
Micah attempted to explain the galvanizing impact of the Dancing Ballerina: “We rely on passionate words, pertinent facts and beautiful art to try to provoke epiphanies!
Fast-forward two-plus years and the “epiphany” of many in Occupy is that, if it is to survive, it needs the framework and lifeblood that sustains every revolutionary enterprise – organization and money. But, not everyone in OWS is happy about that hard-won insight, and there’s the rub.
Call them the purists, or ideologues, or “hard grounders,” but a vocal number of Occupiers as evidenced by the complainers at the Street.net blog are attempting to hold the “St.org” people to some tough and controversial standards. They list in detail the offenses:
1. It’s about money. 2. “We Are All Founders” (and ergo deserve a voice in this). 3. A “collective resource” was misappropriated. 4. Funds acquired are unlikely to “spark a future revolution.” 5. This promotes the idea that money is more important than actual participation (i.e., feet on the street).
The objects of this broadside, Priscilla Grim, Justine Tunney and Micah White, have a fairly convincing argument on their side for what they are doing, and why. But first, some history.
Justine launched the first OWS-related website in July 2011, far in advance of Zuccotti Park. When the actual occupation of the park happened in September, 2011 and Priscilla came aboard, theirs was the only fully functional go-to website, complete with an 800#, where people could get information and immediately plug-in to the community.
Realizing that OWS was getting bigger than could have been imagined and that they needed to hold themselves accountable, they morphed into a 501(c)4 corporation in October, 2011, so they could be “as political as we wanted to be” to support direct action and media work while availing themselves a recognized legal structure. (This model was followed a year later by the highly-successful “Rolling Jubilee” organization – itself actively critiqued by some Occupiers..
St.org, by early October, had already established itself as a gateway for donations. Donors were redirected to the NYCGA (the NYC General Assembly) and a WePay account. They took this step purposely to keep themselves free from some of the mismanagement taking place in that body – particularly regarding the managing of funds that were flowing in from donors around the country who backed the Occupy action at that moment.
This rankled OWS purists to no end
Even so, Priscilla asserts that all the money raised through their 501(c)4 has gone for Occupy work, “one way or another.” Sometimes, this meant keeping people from being evicted, having their cell phones turned off, or even sending organizers to family funerals.
Long before the poster sale came into their thinking via Micha’s blessings, they had already been reaching out to the Occupy ranks to let them know that resources were available, as exampled by the Paul Robeson Freedom School which they helped sponsor and partially fund.
As for supporting their own work, prior attempts to do so were unsustainable. All the time they worked at Occupy they devoted themselves to OWS, to great personal cost. Further along, the two women attempted to do website development and then later as a contract consultancy. No go, in either case. The helpers were not being helped.
As for the critics? “All those people are the ones not doing the actual work…the same people we approached to help move their organization along and who advised us to ‘just keep us posted and practice transparency’ but didn’t pitch in,” Priscilla complains.
The person who came up with the idea of marketing the poster was Micah White. The editor at Adbusters (http://bit.ly/1hnV93k) for six years, he was the one to come up with the Occupy Wall Street concept and the one who created the poster and the meme. And, as a Board Member of the Occupy Solidarity Network, he is also the person who came up with the idea of marketing the poster for fundraising purposes.
Who owns “Occupy?”
“The U.S. Trademark office has ruled that the phrase Occupy Wall Street cannot be trademarked because it is so much a part of our lexicon now,” Priscilla explains.
“The poster folio that was part of the Occupy Wall Street Journal is now in MOMA (Museum of Modern Art) and no one is complaining that they have to pay $20 to see that.” She continues, “and, Adbusters sold the slick copy of that magazine for $7 a pop, and no one is going after them for profiting off this.”
After their employment drought, Priscilla is now working for a website, www.PowerMyLearning.org, and Justine got a job at Google. Both of them have a very simple request of people within and supportive of the Occupy.
“Buy a poster so that we don’t have to keep dipping into our salary and savings to support the movement. 2014 is when Occupy will make a comeback. But, in our experience, Occupy cannot do that without funding to go along with that all-important physical presence. This can only happen when cellphones are paid for, transport and food provided, and people are sheltered.” It’s all about survival.
Survival is important to souls like Priscilla and her cohort, Justine, as it is to a lot of dedicated activists. These two have had to support themselves under severe circumstances since Zuccotti, Justine had contracted cancer (Google’s insurance came in handy, here) during this time, and Priscilla and her daughter were evicted from their apartment on Christmas Day, 2012!
Christmas Day!I wonder where her detractors were on that day?