‘Occupy Wall Street’ protests gain steam, but movement’s goals remain unclear

October 3, 2011

“Occupy Wall Street,” a broad movement of protesters who have been gathering in New York and modeled roughly on the Tahrir Square protests held in Egypt, has gained steam in recent days. As Ezra Klein reported :

It didn't seem that the whole world was watching, at least not then. The next day, I tried to contact the protest's organizers for an interview, but it didn't come together. An effort to look up their demands online didn't yield much. I figured the protests would fizzle. Instead, they're gaining strength. Almost 1,000 protesters were arrested this weekend on the Brooklyn Bridge, and sympathy protests are spreading to cities all across the country. Occupy Wall Street is leading papers and news shows. The whole world, or at least the whole country, actually is watching.

The protesters are also gaining institutional support. MoveOn.org is sending e-mails about "an amazing wave of protest against Wall Street and the big banks has erupted across the country." They're planning to join with organized labor to march to the Occupy Wall Street site on Wednesday. A live videofeed from the protests will kick off the liberal Campaign for America's Future annual conference, and Van Jones's 'Rebuild the Dream' coalition is staging a "virtual march."

The Occupy Wall Street protests are explicitly inspired by, and modeled on, the Tahrir Square protests in Egypt. And though that's a tough act to follow, it's clear the Occupy Wall Street protests are catching a fire all their own. The question now is what they do with it. The jockeying has already begun to suggest an agenda to the protesters -- see these proposals by Mike Konczal and Nick Kristof -- and, in the embrace of the activist left, to join the protesters to an agenda that already exists, much as happened with the Tea Party and the conservative movement.

On Saturday thousands of protesters from the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement caused the Brookyln Bridge to shut down traffic to one direction for hours. More than 700 protesters were arrested. As AP explained :

More than 700 protesters demonstrating against corporate greed, global warming and social inequality, among other grievances, were arrested Saturday after they swarmed the Brooklyn Bridge and shut down a lane of traffic for several hours in a tense confrontation with police.

The group Occupy Wall Street has been camped out in a plaza in Manhattan’s Financial District for nearly two weeks staging various marches, and had orchestrated an impromptu trek to Brooklyn on Saturday afternoon. They walked in thick rows on the sidewalk up to the bridge, where some demonstrators spilled onto the roadway after being told to stay on the pedestrian pathway, police said.

The majority of those arrested were given citations for disorderly conduct and were released, police said.

Some protesters sat on the roadway, chanting “Let us go,” while others chanted and yelled at police from the pedestrian walkaway above. Police used orange netting to stop the group from going farther down the bridge, which is under construction.

Some of the protesters said they were lured onto the roadway by police, or they didn’t hear the calls from authorities to head to the pedestrian walkway. Police said no one was tricked into being arrested, and those in the back of the group who couldn’t hear were allowed to leave.

The protests have begun to attract institutional support from liberal groups even though the movement has yet to adopt even a general political platform. For those trying to understand the protests, Ezra Klein wrote this primer :

Wonkbook today was about ‘Occupy Wall Street,’ the growing, decentralized protest movement that’s clashing with police in New York City, spreading across the country, and grabbing headlines across the world. It is also, somewhat unusually, a protest movement without clear demands, an identifiable leadership, or an evident organizational structure.

Decisions are made by the NYC General Assembly, which Nathan Schneider describes as “a horizontal, autonomous, leaderless, modified-consensus-based system with roots in anarchist thought,” and thus far, the General Assembly has decided against yoking the movement to a particular set of goals, or even a particular ideology.

Which is all to say that it’s important to try and understand the movement on its own terms, rather than the terms most of us are used to. Here are five places to start:

- The official -- or perhaps just mostly official -- ‘Occupy Wall Street blog’, and in particular, the blog’s forums. Here, for instance, is the movement’s ‘Declaration of the Occupation of New York City.’

- The moving ‘We are the 99’ tumblr.

- Nathan Schneider’s ‘Occupy Wall Street FAQ’. I’d perhaps recommend this as the single best place to start.

- ‘Understanding the theory behind Occupy Wall Street’s approach,’ by Mike Konczal. A deep dive into the theoretical underpinnings of the protest movement’s tactics and organization. Also see his post, ‘15 definitions of freedom from Occupy Wall Street,’ which records the answers 15 protestors gave when Konczal asked them to define “freedom.”

- ‘Occupy Wall Street is a church of dissent, not a protest,’ by Matt Stoller.

More from The Washington Post

‘Occupy Wall Street’ gains institutional cheerleaders

Gandhi goes to Wall Street

‘You’re creating a vision of the sort of society you want to have’

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