Breaking Up With Occupy
Justine Tunney, former Occupier, now works at Google, the one company she doesn’t hate. (© Tracie Williams)
Justine Tunney works for Google. Every day that she feels like it, Tunney goes to a playgroundlike office in Chelsea in Manhattan and eats her meals from the free gourmet rooftop cafeteria. She does her job and little else. On the beach in Puerto Rico this summer, at the wedding of two fellow Occupy veterans, she was working so hard on an algorithm designed to improve cloud computing that she lost track of time and got a sunburn.
“They basically bought my soul,” she says. But Tunney doesn’t seem to mind. “Google is the one company I don’t hate. I think Google is actually doing things that are making the world a better place.”
With Google, 28-year-old Tunney has a hand in building the groundwork for the future Internet. Her main task involves a system for managing the vast array of top-level domains Google has bought. As the creator and administrator of Occupy Wall Street’s most public-facing website, OccupyWallSt.org—known by insiders as “Storg”—she’s the one who put the slogan “The only solution is WorldRevolution” on the main page. But Google lets her be part of a revolution that’s not so far off. She can only hope it will come before the now publicly traded company succumbs entirely to the whims of Wall Street—or, for that matter, the National Security Agency.
The day after Adbusters issued its July 13, 2011, call to “#occupywallstreet,” Tunney registered the Storg domain. She’d recently cashed out of a tech company she helped start and moved from Philadelphia to Washington. But on weekends, she began coming up to New York for the General Assembly’s early planning meetings. Almost from the outset, she found herself at odds with the tumultuous assembly, which had destroyed its own initial website and wanted control over hers. She refused and was labeled an authoritarian by many as a result.
“Just another geek trying to help out with the revolution” was how she described herself to me in the occupation’s early days, while she was checking the Storg server’s vitals with her laptop and monitoring police radios on an earbud. As she puts it, “I was in the shadows.”
Tunney lives in a shared apartment in Stuyvesant Town, a campus of postwar brick apartment towers on Manhattan’s East Side. A robot the size of a snare drum occasionally cleans the floor. Her contribution to the walls of the windowless living room is a cardboard sign above the doorway that says Give Class War A Chance, with a circle around the word “A” to make an anarchist symbol. She still helps maintain Storg a few hours a week, but it doesn’t take much.
“There hasn’t been a lot of stuff going on in Occupy these days,” she’s noticed. “Now it’s mostly bickering on mailing lists.” Occasionally she jumps into these debates with an act of provocative trolling or a treatise denouncing the folly of consensus. She gets impatient. “We shouldn’t just try to create an anarchist society that’s free. We should create a society that’s ten times better,” she says, echoing Google co-founder Larry Page’s goal of making the company’s products ten times better than what they replace.
Tunney also tinkers with her software experiments, like a sophisticated poetry generator and Celeb Dial, a website that lets users make prank calls using celebrities’ voices. She’d stopped playing World of Warcraft because of Occupy and Google but has picked it up again.
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