Occupy MN cuts ties with Occupy Homes MN, calls the group "commercial" and "classist"

Occupy MN has disassociated itself from Occupy Homes MN.
Occupy MN has disassociated itself from Occupy Homes MN.
via Facebook

At its regular Wednesday night potluck and meeting last week, Occupy MN announced that it was cutting ties with its high-profile spin-off group, Occupy Homes MN. The decision, which was made by the protest organization's seven-person media arm, came with an explanation.

"While it is laudable to work on housing issues, we cannot reconcile a working process with this commercialized group any further," the leaders said, taking turns reading. "Many of us helped create, volunteered with, and were arrested with Occupy Homes, until unethical tactics serving the goal of evolution into a profitable Non-Governmental Organization achieved dominance."

Following the meeting, Occupy shared the statement and a video of the discussion on its Facebook page. Though Occupy organizers say they had previously suggested separating the two voices, OHMN activists say that, when they first saw the post, they were blindsided.

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Two hours after the posting, Nick Espinosa, one of six stipended OHMN activists, wrote in a comment, "This was never brought up with any member of Occupy Homes and was done in a completely undemocratic and non transparent way. This is unacceptable."

He continued in a second, lengthy comment, "Every reason you give for this decision is based upon falsehoods that would have been easily clarified had any attempt at communication been made."

The discussion on Facebook has now spiraled to over 300 comments, and turned ugly, including comments reported to Facebook and at least six users getting their accounts suspended.

As supporters on both sides continue to weigh in, OHMN faces a dilemma more immediate than bruised feelings. The most concrete part of the split is that Occupy MN separated its social media accounts -- Twitter and Facebook -- from OHMN. The accounts, which reach approximately 22,000 people, serve as OHMN's primary megaphone to reach its supporters.

OHMN issued a response statement on Sunday afternoon. "Resources, especially our social media tools critical to our campaigns, which we have built in collaboration since the planning stages of the local Occupy movement, must be shared in a fair, equal, and democratic way," the statement argues. "One section of the movement cannot purport to speak for the whole without any attempt at dialogue."

Dissent between the two groups, ostensibly part of the same nationwide protest movement, first heated up over the summer, when OHMN hosted a national conference in Minneapolis and limited the number of "delegates" who could attend. The group argued that the attendance cap was necessary to facilitate a productive discussion; certain members of Occupy MN, however, saw the move as antithetical to a movement founded on transparency.

"It was very difficult when, kind of on the sly, they made the official national convention not really open access," explains Dan Feidt, a member of the Occupy MN media team that made the decision to separate. "There was an ideological split then. I believe that Occupy works best as an open network, versus a vertical movement."

For similar reasons, members of Occupy MN have grown increasingly uncomfortable with OHMN's publicity campaigns, decision-making structure, and above all, fundraising, which includes a voluntary $10 monthly membership fee. Portions of the revenue go to pay an $800 monthly stipend to six of OHMN's lead organizers.

Feidt doesn't flatly oppose OHMN raising funds, but "the financial data is not publicly available," he says. "They're less transparent than Monsanto."

Since Occupy MN posted the statement, "Other people who have had negative experiences have felt more open to sharing what has happened to them," Feidt explains. "We've been hearing, 'That needed to happen' from a wide spectrum of people."

One of those people is Anita Reyes, a woman who has been fighting to save her Longfellow-neighborhood home from foreclosure since 2011. She reached out to OHMN before her first court date, in May 2011, but quickly grew "disillusioned," she says, with what she describes as a lack of communication and transparency.

Anita Reyes, here outside her bank, says that OHMN left her feeling "exploited."
Anita Reyes, here outside her bank, says that OHMN left her feeling "exploited."
courtesy Reyes. Click to enlarge.

"I hate to say that they didn't help me at all, but I felt exploited," says Reyes. "I felt like what they had going was more important than what I had going, and they left me out in the cold."

Reyes describes difficulty getting hold of the people who had been designated to help her, and frustration that her house and story were used to fundraise for OHMN. "I don't have a problem with them receiving money," she says. "But I have a problem with how they're doing it."

"They did this video of people working on my house, and I'm thinking, 'This is a joke,'" Reyes says. "They had people come out for 20 minutes, and after that I did all the work. It promotes Occupy, and to me it was propaganda."

Though Reyes is still fighting for her home, OHMN has helped eight other homeowners renegotiate with their bank to stay in their homes.

The group acknowledges "grains of truth to the concerns that they're raising," Espinosa told City Pages. "It's our duty to always be open to  critique and we should try to improve our process of being democratic. But I was really surprised that [Occupy MN] went about this without any dialogue."

Espinosa explains that Occupy MN and OHMN have grown increasingly separate. "Folks in leadership on both are really committed to their issues," he says. "Since the plaza has been evicted it made it difficult for us to share physical space, and not having that shared space makes it more difficult to collaborate."

He admits that "hurt feelings and differences of opinion have been growing over the last six months," but is quick to defend OHMN's positions.

The stipend for OHMN organizers is "just enough to support people's basic needs," Espinosa says. "I live at home. This isn't a way for me to make money off the movement, but it's a way for me to sustain my basic needs while committing 60 to 80 hours a week to this work."

"It's important for us to build a stable financial base that doesn't rely on corporate donors or institutions," Espinosa continues. "We do share that critique that funding sources often have the potential to co-opt movements, but we believe the way to combat that is to have a member-led and member-funded organization."

"All we're asking for is the ability to continue sharing resources," says Espinosa. "There are relationships here between people who care about each other and care about the work we're trying to do together."

Espinosa continues to hope that the groups will be able to discuss their issues, but says he hasn't yet heard back on requests for mediation.

Despite the decision to split, Feidt takes pains to note that he wishes OHMN well. "We just have to work separately," he says. Meanwhile, Occupy MN continues to support a variety of issues, like the Idle No More movement, immigration reform, climate change initiatives, and the Enbridge Blockade up on the Red Lake Reservation.

"What defines a movement?" Feidt asks. "I think that when different projects can go in their separate ways, that can work well, and they each continue to strive independently."

Click over to page two for the full video and statement from Occupy MN, as well as the response letter from Occupy Homes MN.  

On March 20, 10:18 p.m., OccupyMN posted the following on its Facebook page:

Joint Statement & video of open discussion: As the content creators on the OccupyMN Facebook page & Twitter, we can no longer share a content process & resources with Occupy Homes MN effective immediately. While it is laudable to work on housing issues, we cannot reconcile a working process with this commercialized group any further.

We are in a unique position where we must Block our further participation in a feedback loop of public promotion & private stipends, message shaping and fundraising. Since, unlike any other known "occupy" group, Occupy Homes MN demands cash payment for what was once an egalitarian participation process, there is no way we can resolve our differences under those terms.

Many of us helped create, volunteered with and were arrested with Occupy Homes, until unethical tactics serving the goal of evolution into a profitable Non-Governmental Organization achieved dominance. We are sorry that our pages have not been able to be used to defend our friends and discuss the truth about these harmful hierarchical tactics, including censorship & banning volunteers from the listserv for speaking out.

Additionally, we can not work with or accept messages that promote classist attacks on the most vulnerable in our society such as the chemically dependent homeless who were attacked as "drug house" rot in recent PR campaign material.

We wish them well, but we must have our own space which does not operate on a commercially oriented basis.
Dan Feidt (hongpong)
Sam Richards
April Streich (ALS)
Liz Dahl (L)
Dingane Xaba

On Sunday, March 24, Occupy Homes MN posted a link to this response to its own Facebook page:

Open Letter to Members of the Occupy Minneapolis Media Committee

Residents of the Twin Cities, community members, and members of the Occupy movement,

We're proud of what we have accomplished since the fall of 2011, helping first to launch our local Occupy movement, then expanding the energy of the plaza into the neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by the economic crisis. Together we've built a national movement, won loan modifications for 8 families facing eviction from their homes, and moved families experiencing homelessness into vacant homes to assert the right of every human being to have safe, equitable, and affordable housing and to strive towards democratic community control of our housing system.

However, we are deeply disappointed to share that a few members of the Occupy Minneapolis media committee have chosen to lock out residents fighting for their right to housing with Occupy Homes MN from access to 22,000 of the 25,000 or so shared social media contacts that our work has helped generate since the fall of 2011 under the statewide "OccupyMN" facebook and twitter accounts, meant to represent all the manifestations of the Occupy movement in Minnesota--without any communication with our group whatsoever.

We request that our access to the 22,000 social media contacts we helped build be immediately restored for the sake of the imminent threat of eviction facing Jessica's home and the undemocratic process in which access was revoked.

We invite individuals who participated in the construction of the statement to join us for a mediated dialogue with trained community members who wish to see both our groups succeed.

This decision comes in the midst of an active 24/7 eviction defense at a vacant home reclaimed for a mother of four experiencing homelessness where police could come at any moment to evict. These resources are critical for emergency mobilization for eviction defense, call-ins, emails, and petition drives for resident campaigns, and urgent action alerts--like when Wells Fargo's management company illegally broke into the reclaimed home at 6:00am last week for the fourth time.

A video of a statement raising concerns and critiques, some based upon inaccurate information, of Occupy Homes MN was posted publicly on the OccupyMN facebook page, and signers of the statement have since communicated their concerns with the press in violation of the St. Paul principles of solidarity and the spirit of the Occupy movement. Our attempts at a dialogue with the individuals who made this decision have gone ignored, so we are writing this letter in the hope that the broader community can help us resolve this conflict and provide healing to the toxicity that is a byproduct of such difficult and personal work.

We recognize many concerns raised by members of Occupy Minneapolis as legitimate and as always, are open to a dialogue to find ways to better address them and build a stronger movement together.

We also recognize their right as an autonomous group to distinguish themselves as separate from Occupy Homes MN.

However, the resources, especially our social media tools critical to our campaigns, which we have built in collaboration since the planning stages of the local Occupy movement, must be shared in a fair, equal, and democratic way, and one section of the movement cannot purport to speak for the whole without any attempt at dialogue.

The Occupy movement brought people from a vast spectrum of political beliefs to put aside their differences and come together to fight for the common good of the 99%. We're still hopeful we can find a way to return to the ideals that united us to build a stronger movement based on solidarity, respect, and a shared vision for another world.

In the spirit of solidarity,
Occupy Homes MN

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