Activists marching from Occupy Wall Street's Zuccotti Park encampment to Washington, D.C. will camp in state parks and other occupation sites on their two-week journey, but they're also going to take advantage of the kindness of strangers they found through the website Couchsurfing.org. It seems odd that members of a movement with the kind of web presence Occupy Wall Street boasts would have to go on a routine traveler website to book lodging -- don't they have a massive network of supporters? Thousands of Twitter followers who could answer a call for help? Yes, but despite the marching group's unweildy size, using Couchsurfing actually worked out better than a Twitter blast because it limited the pool of those with whom organizers had to swap emails.
Couch Surfing International, which operates the site, is nothing new, but it's usually used by travelers who swap hospitality as they tour alone or in small groups. Members have profiles describing themselves, their travels, and their hosting restrictions, including the maximum number of couch surfers they can host. The Occupy the Highway march departed Zuccotti Park with 25 people on Wednesday, and organizer Kelley Brannon said via telephone they expected more to join along the way.
For most on Couchsurfing, a 20-plus crowd would be a deal-breaker. But Michael Glazer, another organizer, said enough were receptive that he arranged some five hosts in 24 hours. "I told them how many people I was going to have, they responded back and said 'I’m all about what you guys are doing. You can stay here and if you have to camp on the front lawn then that’s fine' " he said. "I’ve done couch-surfing before, and I know the kind of people that do it and I trust them."
The marchers plan to walk eight hours a day (9 a.m to 5 p.m. -- banking hours), covering 20 miles daily in order to make it to Washington, D.C. in time to demonstrate in front of the White House on Nov. 23 to call on the Congressional Deficit Reduction Super-Committee to repeal Bush-era tax cuts.
On Wednesday, they'll be staying in Elizabeth, New Jersey, with a guy named Ken Londono who lists two as his maximum number of guests. He's a construction worker in Newark who speaks Spanish in addition to English and is trying to learn Arabic, according to his profile. "Ken was the first person I emailed and the first person who got back to us," Brannon said. "He said he can host up to 20 people. He’s a couch surfer himself, and obviously believes in that kind of community and giving and sharing."
Clearly, there's some heavy overlap between the kinds of people who use Couchsurfing and those in the Occupy Wall Street march. But the key reason to use a site like that instead of a mass call for help on Twitter or the main Occupy Wall Street site is simply that the information is easier to handle. Earlier on Wednesday Bill Dobbs, a member of the occupation's PR team, remarked that the sheer amount of communication the protest's organization generated was becoming unmanageable. "You get blockages," he said. "Our main email address gets such a a high volume that we’re setting up another email address for those inside OWS who need our help ... It ranges from general queries to a college-radio podcast in texas to Turkish newspapers. It's all over the place."