The Occupy Sandy Incubation team – How to deal with a million dollars

[10/19/14: This was a draft post I had written back in January of 2013, I never published it for some reason]

Last week I was invited to facilitate a meeting of the Occupy Sandy Incubation Team, Monday (1/27). As it happens I didn’t facilitate, but had an opportunity to be a fly on the wall with the people who manage a large chunk of funds donated to Occupy Sandy. Money in Occupy is a strange and often terrible thing. There aren’t many time tested procedures to deal with money within a flat organization which has no real beginning or end. When all it takes to “be” and member is to state that you are a member, how do people manage something as controversial as money? It’s clear to me that money within #OCCUPYWALLSTREET is like the one ring. To control it gives you great power, but also drives you mad.

Three kinds of money

From the OccupySandy.org funds web page:

Occupy Sandy believes in mutual aid and that community is formed through in-kind donations. We recognize that there is more than one form of capital, the money in this account will be used in the following ways:

  1. Emergency Relief Fund that distributes money to point people at relief sites.
  2. Recovery Projects Fund that provides support to initiatives that help communities recover from Sandy.
  3. Participatory Budget Fund that will be distributed to affected communities and allocated through a “participatory budgeting” process.

The Funding Trinity

As of writing the current net funds raised are $933,280.79 according to the Incubation Team’s documentation. This money is to be split between three areas, emergency funds, project budgets, and community lead budgeting.

Emergency funds

Even an organization as loosey goosey as Occupy has immediate cash needs. The Incubation team took this into consideration and set aside money for immediate needs, from the OccupySandy.org funds page:

While we strive for community building and sustainability, the reality following Hurricane Sandy’s destruction requires direct aid. Due to the large amount of in-kind support we have received— through the registry and in person—we estimate that we will not be required to use emergency funds in excess of $100,000.

As of writing $33,282.13 has been spent on “emergency funds”. This includes printing, office supplies, food, hardware, dust masks, and more. Here’s a general breakdown from the expense document:

Transport Hardware Copies/Office Supplies Food Communications Clothing
$7,290.26 $7,773.86 $5,863.39 $8,554.43 $2,381.43 $37.96

I have no background in this sort of thing, but these numbers seem pretty low considering the impact Occupy Sandy has had. The process for how emergency funds get allocated is a mystery to me. Incubation team members seem to provide money to trusted members of the Occupy Sandy community in exchange for receipts money spent. This process is not publicly documented as far as I know. While the lack of process is understandable considering that the Incubation team developed right along side everything else in Occupy Sandy it makes it hard for people who aren’t “in the know” to access these funds.

There were no well documented procedures for handling money passed down from #OCCUPYWALLSTREET apart from the memories of some members on the Incubation time who were involved with the former OWS finance group.

Project budgeting, gasping for a process

There are about three signers on the Occupy Sandy account who ultimately make the choice to take money out of the shared account. Beyond the signers is a “budget committee” which reviews and approves budgets for projects. At the meeting we reviewed the budget for an Occupy warehouse in Coney Island. The review process was hawkish and demanding, but overall I felt positive about it. I’m glad that there is very real and constructive review of projects seeking Occupy Sandy money. However, it isn’t clearly articulated what the group is looking for. There are some guidelines on occupysandy.org:

  1. Projects must address relief and recovery needs of communities affected by Superstorm Sandy.
  2. Projects must publicly align themselves with Occupy Sandy.
  3. There is a $10,000 cap per project per funding application.
  4. We do not fund budgets that include salaries.
  5. We do not provide funds for alcohol or cigarettes.
  6. Projects must be in compliance with all local laws.
  7. Projects must be publicly endorsed by members of the Occupy Sandy community.
  8. We cannot fund individual families at this time. Please visit our resources page or connect with your local hub for assistance.

Beyond that, there isn’t much in the way of making it clear why a project gets funding or not. Overall the current process that I witnessed was fair. Concerns with the warehouse project were brought forward and discussed. The budget that was given to the team can be seen here. Within an hour the team had adjusted the budget from $14,253.76 down to the following agreement:

one month: $4200. second month would be $2,600: Amendment would be that a signed agreement is made before other groups use the space

The results of that budget decision along with many more can be found on the Project Budget Decision Spreadsheet. As you can see the process currently being used isn’t perfect, but does get money to projects while protecting over zealous projects from over reaching. It might be too careful in some situations and leave some projects, especially those that are inexperienced with budgeting, without needed funds.

Occupy Sandy budget process chart
A draft Occupy Sandy budget process chart

The major issue is a lack of project advocacy within the Incubation Team. There just aren’t enough members of the team to manage the money and help projects meet the hard-to-define requirements. This leads to project funding that favors personal trust of those bringing the project, which can lead to unfair treatment.

Participatory Budgeting: putting the money where it belongs

The ultimate goal of the Incubation team is to build themselves out of the job. Having communities control and decide on their own budgets is far superior to having a handful of un-elected people decide behind closed doors. I could write a full post about participatory budgeting but here are the basics. A group (read: community) comes together around an agreement on how to distribute money. The agreement outlines how money is collected, what criteria projects must meet to be considered for funding, and a process for choosing projects. The process could be anything really, just as long as the community accepts it. Once the agreement is made, the idea – as I’m told by some of those involved with the Incubation Team – is to then deliver a chunk of money to the community group to jump start their system. From there money can be raised directly to the community, bypassing Occupy Sandy all together.

Moving forward to rebuild

I am always amazed with Occupy. It doesn’t seem like it should work, but it does. Perhaps it’s not perfect (it’s not) but it gets the job done. There are many who are frustrated with the work of the Incubation team. Be it the lack of transparency or not being able to provide funds in a timely manner. Like many things in Occupy if you know the right people you can get what you need. While this is not ideal by a long shot it also isn’t the same crooked dealings we are used to seeing in our corporations and government. Knowing the right people maps out where you need to go to get what you need. The complexity of Occupy makes navigating the network very difficult if you don’t have people pointing you in the right direction. Overcoming these obstacles isn’t easy. It’s made much worse by the burden and liability that comes with money. Although the Incubation team is losing members, has lots of internal tension, and operates in a less than perfect way it is made up of good people who want to do good for the people of NYC and the Occupy Sandy community.

How you can help

The Incubation Team needs help. You can e-mail occupysandyprojects@gmail.com with some background about yourself and how you can help. They need help with book keeping, record keeping, and interfacing with projects. If you are a Occupy Sandy community member, don’t forget to thank those who are part of the Incubation Team.

Further reading

Learn more about Occupy Sandy funds here: interoccupy.net/occupysandy/funds Money spent can be found on this spreadsheet Project Budget information can be found here.

10 Month Goals

This is a document to outline my goals for the next 10 months (and beyond).

Outcome

  • I will be proficient in the following computer languages and systems
    • Python
    • Javascript
    • Bash
  • I will have a working understanding of
    • Modern front-end workflow
      • Grunt
      • Bower
      • SASS
      • etc.
    • Node.js
    • OAuth2
    • RESTful APIs
  • I will learn to speak Spanish
  • I will learn the fundamentals of the game Go
  • I will be able to play a song on the Ukulele
  • I will complete a backlog of blog posts I’ve been meaning to write
  • I will do the following (nearly) everyday
    • Write a blog post
    • Read
    • Exercise
    • Work toward the above goals

Details

What follows are the details of each of my goals, I’m going to attempt to apply the SMART methodology to these goals. 

Python

I wish to learn Python to better my understanding of programing in general and because it will serve as a useful tool for automating tasks. It’s also a valuable skill if I need to freelance to make money.

Path to Python Proficiency

  • I will complete Udacity.com’s CS-101 course
    • 6 hours per week – ~3 months
  • Codecademy.com Python Course
    • ~13 hours, 1 hour per day (Monday – Friday)*

Outcome: I will write a program that outputs my project folders as a website.

Javascript

I want to learn JS to round out my front end proficiency (HTML/CSS/JS). I’ve found that I struggle with JS and this frustrates me. A stronger understanding will also help with modern systems such as node.js and meteor. Plus it’s fun and quite powerful.

cover

Path to Javascript mastery

  • I will complete Codecademy.com Javascript course
    • ~10 hours, 1 hour per day (Monday – Friday)*
  • I will read Eloquent Javascript and complete the inline problems
    • ~10 weeks @ 2 chapters per week. (21 chapters total)

Outcome: I will be able to maintain and update the Phenological Clock Project.

Bash

I want to feel comfortable with Bash and the Shell. I enjoy using command line and think that it will be a useful skill to have in the future when dealing with legacy systems. It also makes me feel like a bad ass hacker.

To be a 1337 h4x0r

Outcome: I will re-write the scripts in my ~/bin folder so that they work properly and are written well.

Modern Front End Workflow

frontend_logos

I’m already quite adept with HTML and CSS. I have a decent understanding of current workflows, but have fallen behind the past several months, which is a long time in internet time. I want to know tools such as GruntJS and Bower better. I want to understand how they work and be able to deploy a website in a matter of minutes using the latest frameworks and libraries.

Knowing what the cool kids know

  • Read about bower, grunt, and any other systems.
    • Write one in-depth blog post about these systems within 6 months.

Outcome: I will write a long form blog post about front end development workflows by March 2015. (I’ve created a blank blog post scheduled to publish by March 1, 2015)

Node.js

I want to understand what this is and how to use it.

I will make a plan for learning Node in the next 3 months, after I increase my understanding of Javascript.

OAuth2

I’ve never quite understood what the hell OAuth2 actually does, I’d like to better understand APIs and this seems like a good place to start.

I will make a plan for learning OAuth2 in the next 3 months.

Spanish

I was at a panel discussion on some revolutionary topic and one of the panelists was discussing Argentina’s cooperatives and how they came out of the economic collapse. At some point she said “when the revolution comes to the US it will be speaking spanish“. I want to speak the language of the revolution.

This will also help me communicate with my friends to the south, where I plan to travel in the coming years.

Cómo Voy a Hablar Español

  • I will practice using duolingo.com
    • Spanish Course 5 hours per week.

Outcome: I will be able to hold a conversation in 10 months time.

GO

problem
It was considered one of the four essential arts of a cultured Chinese scholar in antiquity. There are 10761 possible games of Go.

It’s a game that seems to fit a philosophic framework I’m finding myself within. Less about direct confrontation and tactics and more about long term strategy. I think it will grow me as a person.

Getting Going

  • I will devote 30 minutes a day to learn and practice Go

Ukulele

472px-Kala_Makala_Soprano_Ukulele_MK-SD
Credit: John Clift

I find myself singing when I’m alone. Still afraid to sing in front of anyone and am in need of some kind of musical outlet. I want to learn the banjo, but as a first step it’s been suggested I learn Ukulele. This I will do.

How I will shred the Uku

  • I will practice 30 minutes a day.
  • I will study music theory 30 minutes a day.

Outcome: In 5 months time I will be able to play and sing a variation of Freshman Thesis by Thee More Shallow (below)

Write backlog of blog posts

I have a whole bunch of posts I need to write that show what the heck I’ve been doing with my life.

I will devote 3 hours per week to writing the following posts:

  • Permaculture in Virginia
  • Garden in Atlanta
  • Interview on CBC
  • Recap of income sharing community meeting
  • phenclock update
  • brooklyn zeen
  • greening neighborhoods energy audit
  • NYC Tech Shed website
  • Dee’s co-housing work
  • Point A
  • Twenty Thirteen Theme color changer.
  • pork huggers
  • #Occupy Christy
  • Food System
  • Password like a pro
  • Taarifa hack
  • Acorn
  • Acorn Trash
  • Acorn Water Heater
  • Agile Learning Facilitator Summer
  • ALC Website
  • ALC Everett

What I Will do Everyday

Write a blog post

It doesn’t have to be much, I’ll just post something on one of my blogs.

Read

I’ll read at least 30 minutes a day. I’m reading Powershift: Knowledge, Wealth and Violence at the Edge of the 21st Century by Alvin Toffler and Extracted How the Quest for Mineral Wealth Is Plundering the Planet by Ugo Bardi currently.

Exercise

I’ve been doing, at least, the 7 Minute Workout everyday. Swimming if I can and further exercise if possible.

Work toward the above goals

I’ll need to commit a chunk of time everyday to achieve the goals I’ve set for myself.

  • Python 6 hours per week Udacity CS 101
  • Read 2 Chapters per week of Eloquent Javascript
  • Read 1 Chapter per week of Bash Guide
  • 3 hours per week writing backlog of blog posts
  • 1 hour per day (7 hours per week) Codecademy.com *[of one or more of the following]
    • Python
    • Javascript
  • 5 hours per week of Spanish
  • 30 min per day of Go
  • 30 min per day of Ukulele or…
  • 30 min per day of music theory
  • 1 blog post per day
  • 1 long form blog post per week

goal_calendar