As the Occupy NOLA sit-in enters its third week of encampment, their temporary homestead on Duncan Plaza in front of City Hall may have become a dangerous place to walk, sleep—and tweet.
Protesters this week reported armed robbery, sexual misconduct and an unidentified man (who goes only by “Joe”) who wrested control of their social media outreach away from the rest of the group and temporarily retained lone access to their Facebook page, Twitter and Livestream accounts and their “WePay” account, which has, so far, collected almost $1,000 in donations.
Jason Lacoste, an out-of-work teacher and participant in the sit-in, addressed the group’s “general assembly” Wednesday night. “There’s a guy,” he said, “he posts as Joe Smoe, AKA Joe Bignose, AKA Joe the Cripple….” According to Lacoste and other Occupiers who have been running social media for the protests, “Joe” helped to set up several accounts through which the Occupiers communicated with the outside world—and collected money—but when other organizers suggested he share login information with more people, he left the camp for good and locked the other organizers out of as many online outlets as possible.
I met “Joe” at the house in Gretna where he is staying. He declined to comment for this column.
Meanwhile, the physical camp—just like their electronic presence—is dealing with its own issues. Djoma, a 33-year-old freelance IT consultant who asked that his last name be withheld, said that he was robbed at gunpoint on Loyola Avenue, across the street from Duncan Plaza, on the night of Oct. 11.
“It was very professional,” Djoma said. “The guy asked me what time it was”—he says he remembers the robbery was exactly at 10:22 p.m., because he checked his phone to tell the man the time—“then told me to give him my wallet and phone.” He says he ran back to camp to raise the alarm and that other Occupiers spotted the man getting into a car and driving off. He has not filed a police report.
Protesters have also mentioned that there are recurring incidences of men climbing into women’s tents uninvited, issues of indecent exposure (rectified when the city furnished the camp with port-o-johns) and occasional disagreements between Occupiers.
At the General Assembly during which Lacoste apprised the group of the situation with “Joe,” the group was establishing an “integrity working group” to augment their own internal security. Several Occupiers with military and security background volunteered for extra detail.
Since the 400-person march on Oct. 6, the numbers at Duncan Plaza have dwindled to perhaps one-tenth that number, although temporary Occupiers come and go through the camp. The group marched for a second time on Saturday, snaking through the CBD and French Quarter and back to Duncan Plaza.
There has been scuttlebutt in the camp of occupying Lafayette Square, but many Occupiers are hesitant to disrupt the Harvest the Music concert series, as they do not want to interfere with fundraising efforts for the Second Harvest Food Bank. (Our colleagues at The Lens wrote on the subject before the protests even began.)
The group has also abandoned the "human microphone," a contrivance of the Occupy Wall Street-ers by which each speaker in a general assembly is parroted, phrase for phrase, by the entire assembly. The process came about in New York when Occupiers were forbidden to use amplification; a visiting Occupy Wall Street-er explained to Occupy NOLA's first general assembly that the "human microphone" "lets everyone feel like they're part of the process."