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Off and ... Stumbling
As the Occupy Wall Street movement has proliferated throughout the nation over the past several months, its biggest stumbling block continues to be its failure to express succinctly a goal or message. Without a project plan, its founders cannot expect anything more than to sink and fade.
Why are they not sufficiently organized to answer the criticisms and questions they are getting? Countless letters to the editor in cities across the country have gone unanswered by Occupiers.
When police squads in multiple places moved in apparent tandem a couple weeks ago to oust them or to confiscate their tents, heat sources and other equipment, Occupy leaders protested that their first amendment rights had been breached. They failed, however, to point that necessary accusing finger at the mysterious, ubiquitous “they” who had ordered the raids. It was an opportunity missed to censure the police for acting by order of a mayor, who acted by order of city council members, who acted by order of corporate leaders within the various communities. The Occupiers were prepared with neither a plan nor a voice.
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Looking Back at Other Movements
All movements of rebellion rumble to life from non-credible, inauspicious beginnings. Take today’s Tea Party, with its members now wielding a stranglehold on Congress. Go back to the '60s and '70s, when protesters amassed against an unfair war and civil rights violations. Remember the suffragette movement? You can even go all the way back to the Sons of Liberty, a colonial group that roused anti-British sentiment risking community censure, forfeiture of personal property and even capital punishment to make right what they viewed as wrong.
All these groups began with a ragtag group of people who accrued resources, divvied up tasks and sent out a message. Now it’s time for Occupiers to stand up and send out their message, or else it’s time for them to fold up their tents and say goodbye. Let’s help them out with some basic project management skills.
This writer sent messages via Facebook to three separate Occupy groups—one in my local area and two chosen at random. Only my local group responded, but the response was nothing more than a link to an article by Clay Duda in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange. Duda’s article in turn links to a website stating that the Occupiers will hold a national convention in Philadelphia on July 4, 2012, to be attended by two people from all 435 congressional districts.
Mr. Duda describes that some Occupiers refuse to voice a message or list grievances because that gives respondents the power of deciding whether or not to respond to those grievances. The groups are too stymied by the nature of their mission, united against what they view as self-serving leadership, to send out leaders of their own. They’d better get over it!
The various Occupy groups started down the road to managing a project the first time they assembled in a neighborhood locale to set out meeting plans. Here, then, is a project management start for the Occupiers.
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The Project Management Playbook
1. Determine Project Scope. Occupiers cannot expect, just because they take up sidewalk space in various downtown venues, that bank presidents will come outside and concede, “Oh, all right; let’s readjust all mortgages past due for people unemployed because of the economy, and let’s start looking at loan applications again within the community.” Like it or not, the Occupiers have to decide how far they expect to go with their movement. They have to define their scope. They don’t want to set goals or propose measures because they don’t want to be like the 1 percent? Get over it!
2. Identify Stakeholders. Who are the stakeholders, and who else is buying in to the movement? The Occupiers have attracted the support of many celebrities, and detractors scoff that these celebrities are, themselves, part of the 1 percent. The Occupiers need to appreciate that the celebrities are wielding their fame to spread the word and gain support for the group, and they need to claim these celebrities as their own. And they should pressure Jay-Z to get up off some of that money he’s raking in for his Occupy All Streets shirts!
3. Count and Assign Resources. Some projects begin with a schedule of tasks, but this situation involves a group that began with no assets or staff. Remember when they first gathered at Zuccotti Park? When someone spoke to the crowd, individuals repeated the speaker’s words, acting as a collective human bullhorn so that people farther back could also hear the message. At this juncture, someone has to track both human and material resources.
Presumably the person who launched each local group tracks whatever food or equipment is donated or brought to the cause—until someone says to him, “Let me help you with that.” Once two other people get involved, the first one can track people, their skills and their contact information—like an HR manager; the other catalogues and schedules uses of tents, bullhorns, blankets, plus what donated food will be used when. He becomes the materials manager.
4. Scheduling. Now it’s time to set a schedule of activities. A few events have garnered community attention, such as Bank Transfer Day—but more of them are needed. Occupy Youngstown, the group that provided me with the link to the Duda article, has now issued a sign-up list for people who want to keep apprised of activities—now that’s what I’m talking about! How about scheduling a bake sale to raise money? How about buying booth space at a local crafts store to enlist volunteers and hand out a free newsletter?
5. Communicate and Collaborate. What newsletter, you may be asking. The group leadership must appoint someone who, like Benjamin Franklin and Samuel Adams of the long-ago colonials, will write well-thought-out and carefully edited position papers. Someone in each group must respond to letters to the editor and call in to radio talk shows when the topic of the Occupy movement comes up.
6. Risk Management. Each group needs someone to identify and manage risks—pepper spray, anyone? Injuries, arrests, negative publicity and bad weather are just the beginnings of the risks that these people will undertake. In Nashville, Occupiers are permitted to remain a presence—while local lawmakers are fast-tracking legislation that will roust them from Legislative Plaza.
7. Change Management. For every activity that occurs or risk that is handled, someone must be ready to evaluate how things could have been done differently or better. The group needs people who know how to plan, do, study, and act.
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How Will It Unfold?
The Occupy movement has a long way to go before we find out if it’s a nation-changing event or just a flash in the pan. I want to hear about this collective group’s goals and learn about the people who are taking charge of them. I don’t want to see it falter and fail from lack of organization. Hopefully they’ll take a page out of the project management playbook to help them get their cause off the ground and see where it goes.
- The 99 Percent Declaration, at https://sites.google.com/site/the99percentdeclaration/
- Duda, Clay. Occupy Wall Street Protestors Call for National Assembly, Put Forward Possible Demands, in the Juvenile Justice Information Exchange, at https://sites.google.com/site/the99percentdeclaration/