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

Categories: Protest News
via Facebook
Occupy MN has disassociated itself from Occupy Homes MN.
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.

See Also:
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- Occupy Homes celebrates new victories with party and conference

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

"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.

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