Members of Occupy Philly met with city officials Sunday evening after 19 days of discussion and deliberation to address public safety and health concerns raised in an Oct. 11 letter from Managing Director Rich Negrin.
First item on the agenda? His tweets.
"He tweets that we're disrespectful, that we're not following safety rules, that we're cursing in
public and all these other things," one Occupier said today. "He's been telling the media we're planning to relocate when we're not and generally misrepresenting the movement. There's actually a
group of people trying to remove him from all communication with Occupy
Philly," he said.
"The General Assembly complained about Negrin's negative tweets, so we did bring it up at the meeting" said Katonya Mosley, who helped draft Occupy's response to the city and serves on the legal committee. Protesters asked Mayor Michael Nutter to have Negrin "step back" from engaging with Occupiers as the city's representative.
"We have no interest in a Twitter war," Nutter replied, according to minutes posted on Occupy Philly's Facebook page, but he also added that city officials have a responsibility to address inaccurate public information concerning local government.
Nutter's spokesman Mark McDonald was mostly mum on the issue yesterday, but said that there was no change in policy or restrictions on city officials' ability to tweet about Occupy Philly. "We've had good relations back and forth," he said.
And not all Occupiers agree that Negrin's social media savvy is a bad thing. "I think he's just been trying to establish a line of communication," said an organizer with the media committee. "It's nice to see some transparency and we appreciate that he is making an honest attempt to start a public dialogue with us."
"I don't really follow Twitter, but I think since the meeting – now that he has seen our faces – he feels differently. Now he's tweeting positive, I guess," Mosley said.
Here's a timeline outlining some of Negrin's Occupy tweets.
Even before the protest starts, he proudly retweets a picture of the fledgling movement's first general assembly and expresses his desire to work peacefully with Occupiers.
He begins on an optimistic note when the protest assembles on Oct. 6.
When Occupiers agree to sign a permit to camp out at City Hall, he directly addresses Occupy Philly for the first time, opening a line of communication between the two camps.
He even retweets invitations to come down and check the camp out.
His tone is more reminiscent of a proud parent than a watchful city official.
He's an avid retweeter, posting sentiments that seem pro-Occupy almost to the point of being anti-business.
He even defends Occupy Philly as something the city should be proud of.
Notice the emphasis on "all" and mention of public safety? The Managing Directors Office's letter addressing safety and sanitation hazards is probably already being planned.
Here, he mentions the walkthrough that ostensibly provided ammunition for the letter, though he remains positive.
No Occupy tweets on the date of the letter delivery or the day after.
First mention of the letter.
The corner has been turned. Here comes the contention, as frustration at the lack of response to or communication about the letter addressing vandalism and safety hazards mounts.
A little Simple Green, and they're kind of sort of friends again.
Eight days after the delivery of the letter, Negrin seems to become impatient with Occupy's lack of a formal response. This is right around when Occupy Philly decided to de-authorize its legal team from communicating with the city.
The next day, communication is reinstated.
And then comes the second point of contention: a 17-hour sit-in outside police headquarters that results in 15 arrests. Protesters roundly criticized Negrin for engaging in arguments with other Tweeters.
Negrin is now clearly frustrated – it has been two weeks since he sent the letter and still no meeting.
Then, police broke up the camp at Occupy Oakland with rubber bullets
and tear gas. Negrin seems eager to differentiate himself from their
officials and distinguish Philly's approach, though his mood is more hopeful than confident.
An Occupy Philly reply letter is finally delivered. But still no meeting. And more Twitter spats.
Then come some pointed facts about benefits of the Dilworth Plaza renovation as it comes to light that Occupy Philly has not made a decision on whether or not to relocate when the planned rehab starts.
And, in the face of mounting attention surrounding the Occupy Oakland chaos, more tweets praising Philadelphia's handling of the occupation with a renewed sense of pride.
Then, finally, the meeting. Positive progress abounds.
He even retweets information about today's general strike.
But today brought a sit-in at the Comcast Center and the arrests of ten people who refused to vacate. Negrin has begun to respond, but how this second incident will change the tone of his tweets – and his future interactions with Occupy Philly – remains to be seen.
The verdict: pro-Occupy tweets and retweets, though some serve the self-congratulatory purpose of trumpeting how well the city is responding, seem to outweigh criticisms. And the criticisms aren't malicious, but pointed questions and insights borne out of frustration during three key turning points in the city's relationship with the movement: the lack of communication and compliance from Occupy Philly following the Oct. 11 letter, the 15 arrests as a result of the Oct. 22 police headquarters protest and today's Comcast Center sit-in, which led to 10 arrests.
On a more general note, the fact that tweets are even an issue is representative of a new generation of activists. No previous youth movements in this country have been able to disseminate and receive information so quickly and so publicly. On the flip side, no officials have been able to so easily monitor the workings of a movement or so openly express their own opinions and desires.
For better or worse, social media is bringing protesters and city officials closer together than ever before, drawing them into dialogues of both contention and praise. Negrin, like the protesters, is exercising his right to free, public speech through his chosen medium. In terms of today's technology, this is what democracy looks like.