New networking tool for activists, citizens: (beta)

Twitter: @occthesidewalk
Beta Test Web Site:
Production Web Site (after beta testing):
Blog: Occupy The Sidewalk @ WordPress
Facebook: Occupy the Sidewalk

A beta version of the future website is up at Please feel free to bang on it, by creating fake users and fake marches.  Please report any issues and comments to ‘feedback AT occupythesidewalk DOT o r g’. As this is a beta site, the data that you enter may be wiped out at any time, though no data wipes have occurred so far, through numerous revisions of the program. Since stability of data seems likely, you may want to try and use OccupyPublicSpaces (OPS) to carry out a real march with neighbors you are already friendly with – in this case, you can name your march (or walk) beginning with the word “REAL”. (So, e.g., you might have a march named ‘REAL Eastside Anti-Fracking March’.) OTS/OPS currently has no ability to allow users to directly communicate through the site, so for real marches, be sure you have everybody’s contact info.

Occupy The Sidewalk will be a new website which has many purposes, but can be summarized as facilitating the face-to-face networking and association of neighbors, primarily in public spaces. There are two main modes. First is the political mode, which is about political message propagation, facilitating the creation of local political allies (individuals) and alliances (of groups). The second mode is apolitical – it is about making friends, enjoying nature, and creating positive reinforcement for regular exercise.

It is my intention that these two modes will forever coexist on the same website, a short click from each other. Similarly, future variations of the initial walking themes will be accessible from the same web page. I will not elaborate in this diary as to why this is so, as this diary’s purpose is to provide a walk-through.

Before getting into the walk-through, though, I will make an additional, tangential point that, while Occupy The Sidewalk drew some inspiration from Occupy Wall Street (OWS), there are probably more differences than similarities between the two, and I feel no obligation to tailor a website of my creation to somebody else’s notions of what a website with “Occupy” in its name should consist of. Long before OWS, I had concluded that big marches, such as a huge anti-war march that I participated in during the run-up to the Iraq invasion of 2003, were ineffectual in changing national policy. Perhaps if the American public had the psychological wherewithal to repeat such marches weekly, indefinitely, then large marches might have the desired effect. Given the docile nature of the American public, however, it occurred to me that frequent, ubiquitous local “marches”, which were directly targeting fellow citizens (not politicians), were the way to go. Public venues could be used to educate fellow citizens, and to recruit them into – hopefully – aggressive activist-energized groups, which would not be content to be subsumed into the existing, financially corrupted power structure. I’m opposed to “feel good, but accomplish nothing” activism, excepting as merely a form of free speech. One which, in the end, makes little difference in the real world. OTS should be about friendships, and building up a positive, welcoming group consciousness (as was experienced, e.g., during the block parties during the US’ bicentennial celebrations in 1976), but it should also be about enthusiastically terminating the careers of politicians who betray the public trust, and eagerly “throwing under the bus” people who put their selfish desires above the common good.

A few caveats: 

Note: You can click on the images embedded in this diary to show them, enlarged, on Flickr.

Home Page Overview

The 4 main navigational buttons are Find, Full Screen (F.S.), Create, and Neighbors. Clicking the Find button just brings you to the home page. Note that anybody can find out what’s going on in their neighborhood, whether or not they’ve registered and are logged in.

The Find (Home) page has a map, which can show up to 4 local marches, at once. You can quickly page through upcoming marches, a page at a time, without reloading the page.

The Full Screen (F.S.) has a map that is about 4 times as large, and will show 3 times as many marches at a time (i.e., 12).

The Create button is to create a march. Only logged in, registered users can use this functionality.

The Neighbors button is to search for registered users. Only logged in, registered users can use this functionality. Currently the search parameters are very limited, however the two most important ones are implemented. More details on this, below.

The widget on the upper right is for geo-location. Without this widget, a user would have to zoom and scroll from a map of the entire world, which is tedious. If you’re a US resident, typing in an address will likely locate you on the map very accurately. The ‘US’ zip tab will be less accurate, but still very close to your home. For non-US residents, they can use the ‘World’ tab, which initially allows them to select a location in their country’s capital city. Users will have to zoom, pan and click and drag the map that appears in to get to their neighborhood.

The Mini-March button/tab is selected by default. Having either the Mini-March or Walk button selected affects the search criteria that are available, as well as whether mini-marches or walks will display on the map. When mini-marches are created by a march organizer, the organizer will have the option of declaring an end-point to be of a specialized type. The special end point types are: Occupy location (implying an encampment; most of these were forcibly evicted in the US), Semi-Occupations (implying a continuous presence during days and evening in a public space; there’s no precise requirement for days/week and hours/day to qualify as a Semi-Occupation), and 99% Club. A 99% Club destination can be public or private. It is expected that marches with a 99% Club destination will have a Special Activity: before the march, after the march, or even both before and after. However, this  isn’t strictly necessary. Please listen to this program of the Occupied Territory Show for a fuller explanation of the 99% Club idea.

Marches can have 2 kinds of Special Activities associated with them. One type is a Social Activity – I expect a typical activity would be hanging out in coffee shop or restaurant. The second type is a Structured Activity, which might be a political action, but will also (hopefully) be educational activities, directed at the fellow citizens. E.g., many restaurants and coffee shops have flat screen TV’s, nowadays. You may be able to talk a restaurant or coffee shop owner into showing an educational video on such TV’s, during slow hours (2pm – 4pm weedays; 8pm-10pm on Monday or Tuesday). Note that Marches can have both Social Activities and Structured Activities associated with them. Also, be aware that walks only have an option for Social Activity, not Structured Activity.

Hopefully, there will someday be so many march opportunities available in your neighborhood that you want to be selective, and filter by the march organizer(s). You can enter multiple march organizers to filter by, separating them with a semi-colon. The need for this field may also become necessary to filter out fake march listings by spammers. There will eventually be a blacklist capability built into OTS, but for now, having a white list filter will have to do.

March keywords (which can be phrases), can also be used to filter results. They must also be separated with semi-colons.

To the right of the map, paged search results will appear, 4 results per page:

The results start with the earliest marches of the current day (including those that have already occurred), and go as high as has been specified in the Date Range dropdown list. A march listed here will show: title, description (if any), date and time of march, a more… link, and an all details + RSVP…. link. Clicking the more… link show more details about the march and march participants on the home page (without reloading the entire page). Clicking the all details + RSVP…. link brings you to another page, which shows all march details, as well as a map of the march, and a link to join (RSVP) the march.

clicking the more… link appends details underneath the map:

Up to 20 of the participants will have links to their profiles displayed. Clicking any of these links will show part of the user profile, directly underneath, without reloading the page. Also, an All Participants link will take you to another page, that allows you to page through all participants.

a closer look at the Map

As indicated in the map legend, the marches are color coded according to how far in the future they are. (Also, the intensity of the color coding will lessen, the further in the future the march occurs.) Red is the color of the current week.

Therefor, we can see in a glance that the results span the current week (2 red lines) and next week (2 blue lines). One of the blue lines is fainter than the other one, so I know that that march will occur at a later date. The red ‘shield’ basically means that you can forget about joining the march, as it either already started, was cancelled by the march organizer, or else auto-cancelled because not enough people met the threshold for participation that the organizer specified, by the cutoff time.

The map legend also show 3 color coded ‘shields’. The color denotes the status of the march, and the shield is plotted at the starting point of each march. Red means that the march was cancelled by it’s creator, or else was auto-cancelled, because not enough people signed up, or else has already started (and likely already finished). When a march is created, the creator indicates what the minimum threshold is for participants, in order for the march to be officially ‘on’. Also, a deadline, in terms of minutes before the official start time, for reaching this threshold must be entered. The march will auto-cancel if the threshold number of participants is not reached, after the deadline.

If there is still time to reach the threshold, before the deadline, but the threshold has not actually been reached, then the ‘shield’ will show as yellow. If the threshold has been reached, the ‘shield’ shows as green. (Both the yellow and green scenarios assume that the march was not manually cancelled by its creator.)


You need to be a registered user, and logged in, to either create a march, search for neighbors, or ‘officially’ join a march. (Since the marches occur on public sidewalks, of course people can walk along with your ‘official’ marchers, as they please.) You reach the register page by, e.g., clicking the logon link at the top right. You will also automatically be taken to the logon page if you are not logged on, but also if you attempt to create a march, join a march, or search for neighbors.

The logon page has a Register link. When you click that, you are taken to the first of 2 pages of registering forms. The first page only asks for a few basics:

The second page has a map, which uses geo-location information from the home page to make an obvious guess as to your neighborhood. This page has its own geo-location widget, so you can easily locate your neighborhood without going back to the home page. Please note that we don’t ask for your exact address, and suggest that, for private residences, you slightly obfuscate address information, by instead pin-pointing a nearby location. A nearby intersection is  probably ideal.

2nd Registration Page:

In this screenshot, I’ve used the geo-location widget to initially locate myself at 1 Liberty Plaza (which is next to Zuccotti Park). I then clicked the map on a nearby intersection. Only one more field is required to complete the registration process. Viz., the Open to Activist Co-op dropdown list. This appears on the left, in the rest of the registration page:

One of the design goals of OTS is to break down barriers to cooperation, between citizens, that shouldn’t be there. An Activist Co-op is simply a group of neighbors who agree to help each other out, in using the sidewalks and other public venues to conduct political outreach, but differ in their judgement of what is most important. Basically, they take turns, and rely on their familiarity with each other to ensure that social capital invested in causes near and dear to their neighbors’ hearts is repaid in a fair manner.  Open to Activist Co-op isn’t only for citizens who are ideologically similar. It’s also for citizens who are mostly ideological foes, but realize that, at least in areas where they do agree, they’d best recall Benjamin Franklin’s maxim:

We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately.

A real life, modern example of “hanging together”, by citizens who are ideologically dissimilar, can be found in an account by Jane Fleming Kleeb, who is associated with Bold Nebraska , and was on panel at the recent, left-leaning Netroots Nation, called Handcuffs, Conventional Wisdom and Dirty Oil: Activism’s Big Win Against the Keystone XL Pipeline. Kleeb described herself as a progressive Democrat, but said that she stood shoulder to shoulder with conservative Nebraskans to fight the pipeline. She also indicated that most of her organization was conservative, which is not surprising because Nebraska is a conservative area of the country. Basically, it boiled down to her conservative neighbors wanted clean water, also.

Bold Nebraska can be thought of as a de facto, formalized Activist Co-op. (Well, not quite, because the notion of reciprocity for constituent members’ separate activities is missing – at least formally. However, the spirit of tolerant cooperation is in evidence, and that is what I want people to pay attention to. Not to mention emulate…)  By facilitating the desire to cooperate with neighbors, in a similarly tolerant manner, it is hoped that OTS can stimulate a similar level of success.

Regarding the optional fields on the right hand side, I believe the most interesting and useful one is “Find Me Keywords”. Basically, you put here any keyword  or keyword phrase that signifies, to your neighbors, a basis on which you would like to be found. An obvious example is an online political blog, where members already enjoy a sense of community, and probably often wonder whether any of the people they’re conversing with are close enough to meet up with. I personally met one of the politically smartest and most interesting people that I’d met, online. It turns out that we lived in adjacent towns! In general, though, people have no idea where the people are that they’re chatting with, online.

Speaking of “meet up”, I highly, highly recommend that people join that website, participate in groups in their neighborhoods, and furthermore develop their social capital (see Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community for more on the concept of social capital). I also highly recommend posting Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter contact info, if you are involved with those websites.

Create a March

Repeating the instructions at the top of the Create page:
“Click the ‘polyline’ icon 

, on the left, to represent a march or walk which doesn’t (formally) end where it started. Then, trace out your planned route, by clicking the map at points along the way. When you are done, click the mouse a second time, at your ending point. (For a circuitous route, don’t use the ‘polygon’ icon 

, as it is not currently working correctly. Instead, use the polyline icon 

, and just end your walk or march adjacent to your starting point.)
It is not necessary to carefully trace out your route, and thus avoid “cutting through” blocks. However, the more carefully you trace your route, the more easily observers can look up your group, afterwards. Also, the more easily some people will join you in mid-route.
Of course, you should always carefully select your start and end points.”

I’ll also draw your attention to the With Special Activity? dropdown (which I do in the interface, also, with extra verbiage in red). As I mention elsewhere, I’m trying to encourage not just more ‘civic business’ like cooperative actions between neighbors, but also a higher degree of socializing. Out of a background of friendly, neighborly relationships, additional cooperative behavior will more naturally arise. Some “hanging out” after marches creates additional socializing opportunities, which may not be afforded during the march.


The Neighbors page allows you to search within up to 20 miles of your geolocation, for people who are registered in the system. You can also search by keywords. The results are paged, 10 per page. Clicking on a Details link shows profile details of the user, on the right hand side. Hopefully, most users will enter at least 1 contact means.  OTS currently has no means to allow contact within the system, other than the publicly shared contact info.

As with the search for marches, you can use the geo-location widget to geo-locate anywhere, so you can center your search, anywhere. Thus, e.g., if you’re a Green Party organizer who lives in a rural area (with no fellow Green Party members to swap war stories with, in your vicinity), and you’re willing to commute to a more densely populated suburb or city, you can search ahead of time, and see what social and/or Green Party events might exist for you, if you make a trip. Ditto for the Tea Party, online communities, etc.

A use case scenario for the Neighbors page which I hope is exploited is that neighbors who feel isolated in pursuing some civic or activist purpose, will seek out neighbors who feel similarly, but have different priorities. The basic idea is that neighbors will self-organize “activist co-ops”, whereby priorities are ‘shared’ and ‘rotated’. Thus, I join you in a march to “Save the Ales” this week, and in turn, you will join me in a march to “Save the Whales” next week.  Right now (10/5/2012) there is no search field in the Neighbors page for Activist Co-op, so users will just have to click on the various profiles and look for that bit of information. (It probably won’t be too long before a search checkbox for Activist Co-op is added.)

Full Screen (F.S.)

Below is a screen shot of the map from a Full Screen view, together with the search parameters I used.

Using OTS in an Occupy Wall Street sort of way

This is somewhat off-topic, as this is supposed to be a walk-through diary. I’ll just briefly mention, though, that activists formerly involved with now-defunct Occupy Wall Street style encampments should not despair over their loss. The excitement that comes about by meeting neighbors and fellow citizens, for reformist purposes, in a public space is something worth aiming for. OTS can, I believe, help reboot that aspect of Occupy Wall Street.

New Yorkers were not swinging by at 3:00 am to engage in lively civic chats, nor to network regarding some initiative. I even saw an expose video of some guy who took an infrared sensor device to an Occupy location (not in Manhattan), and found out that most of the tents were empty. And what of parents with young children, who are struggling to keep a roof over their family’s heads? Do they have oodles of time to even spend during normal waking hours, at an Occupy site?

2 jobs ago, I worked on Wall Street, and the single woman I shared a cubicle with was from upper Manhattan. Because rush hour commuting involved waiting in line for a subway, such that a couple of subway trains would fill up and leave before she could get in, it could take her an hour to get to work. Was “occupying” after work, 5 days a week, a viable option even for her, with fewer obligations?

In other words, being a “part time occupier” is just fine. The real challenge is in wedding idealistic desires with practical, efficient, and strategically smart organizing, that respects the different constraints that people live their lives, under.

On the other side of the fence, I’ve included a field in the Profile page for “Interested in Full Time Activism”. We need to find a way to utilize some of our fellow citizens’ capability to work for civic reform, full time, whether they are in such a situation willingly, or not. Somehow, we need to marry the efforts and desires of “full time occupiers” with “part time occupiers”.

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