The statement on OccupyWriters.com is simple:
We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world.
Scroll down and you’ll see dozens of names, in strict alphabetical order with no concern for genre or fame. But unlike the wikis, Meetups, and other collectively compiled resources of Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Together, this list is maintained by a tiny handful of people. “Some people have asked us why we don’t automate the list,” says OW founder Jeff Sharlet. “Ask ‘Henry Kissinger,’ ‘Herman Melville,’ and the ghost of Howard Zinn, all of whom have tried to sign up. Worse have been pranksters adding names like Thomas Pynchon’s. We’d love Pynchon to sign, but we’re pretty sure that wasn’t really him; if we didn’t check it out and just let any name go on, it’d soon be filled with obvious fakes that’d allow people to discredit the whole thing.”
Sharlet, a college professor, had no idea what to expect when he put the site up. Within a day, he had received 1200 requests to be listed. He and collaborator Kiera Feldman (who answered my email at 4:30 in the morning, saying that they’re working around the clock on verifying and adding names) estimate that hundreds more come in daily, creating a substantial workload for a small group of volunteer fact-checkers. “We don’t add people if they fail to identify themselves according to the formula that’s there on the site,” Feldman says. “So: if people just write ‘John Smith, student at Any College’–we’re not adding that. It needs to be name, author of TITLE (self-published is great–lots of self-published writers on the list).” She adds, “I can understand the frustration of people not seeing their names on the list immediately, and I can imagine it must feel crappy to think that there is some kind of ‘weeding out’ happening. Don’t worry–there’s no judgment about who is a writer or who is not a writer.” The only qualification needed is “a real title of something, whether it’s a book or a magazine or whatever, that people can go out and read.”
Sharlet suggests, with the acerbic tone of someone severely deprived of sleep, that anyone impatient with how slowly things are going could always offer to help clear the backlog, which is currently over 1000 names. “I think we’ve been doing a good job at getting them done fast,” he says. “I know we’ve been doing a good job at shirking our paying jobs, telling our kids to hold on a minute, and getting red-eyed from sleeplessness. If you’d like to help, the most valuable thing you could do right now is to spread the word that yes, the names have been received, yes, they’ll be published, no, there’s absolutely no discrimination against self-published or genre (just the opposite–this list was always conceived as a democratization of such lists, normally very exclusive and anti-democratic). That’d help a lot, because it’s a real downer, when you’re exhausted, when your own work is languishing, when your kid is saying, ‘Can you play with me,’ to be accused of nefarious discrimination by people who are supposed to be expressing their solidarity.”
I’m personally kind of surprised that individually verifying each name is seen as less work than putting up a wiki and keeping an eye out for prank edits, but since Occupy Writers is now publishing original works by authors as well-known as Francine Prose and Lemony Snicket, its fame has begun to spread, and that sort of publicity inevitably brings in the trolls. Either way, it seems like an epic undertaking. If you have some spare time and want to help out, you can volunteer–or add your name to the backlog, or share your thoughts on the Occupy movement or your local Occupation–by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.