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Occupy Wall Street protesters driven by varying goals

Almost two weeks into an anti-greed sit-in, the 'leaderless resistance movement' is at a crossroads.

September 29, 2011|By Tina Susman, Los Angeles Times

On its website, Occupy Wall Street describes itself as a "leaderless resistance movement" drawn from people of all backgrounds and political persuasions.

"The one thing we all have in common is that we are the 99 percent that will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1 percent," the website says. The posters in Zuccotti Park speak to the lack of a narrow platform: "End financial aid to Israel"; "End greed, end poverty, end war"; "No death penalty"; "Tired of racism."

Some supporters of the premise wonder how far Occupy Wall Street can go in galvanizing others if it does not translate its anger into specific demands.

"I see something beautiful here. I've never had a more interesting political debate," said Carne Ross, a former British diplomat who resigned in protest over the invasion of Iraq, and who now owns a consulting business in New York. But Ross, who stops by regularly to advise Occupy Wall Street, said it needs "far broader outreach" and a narrower message.

"They need to get a message to people who can't be here," Ross said.

"I'd prefer to see a list of demands," one fan wrote on the Occupation Wall Street Facebook page, echoing the concerns of a woman who tweeted something similar to Moore as he did his MSNBC interview. She asked for "some specific, tangible goals."

Michael T. Heaney, a University of Michigan political science professor who has studied social protest movements, said such groups often bump up against pressure to become more focused and to either build or join institutions that can support them.

"What you're talking about is a degree of buying into a political system," Heaney said. "But the more you use tactics that we recognize as getting you influence, the more you buy into the system, and the more you buy into the system, the more you open yourself up to compromise."

In Occupy Wall Street's case, Heaney said demands could be as vague as simply calling for financial bailout programs to apply to individuals rather than banks.

Most of those in Zuccotti Park, though, don't see the need for a change in tactics. At least not yet.

"There isn't a consolidated message, and I don't think there needs to be," said Andrew Lynn, 34, who drove the three hours from his home in Troy, N.Y., to help the demonstrators' media team.

On Wednesday, he hunched over a laptop sheltered from the clammy air by an umbrella. A generator rumbled beside him, ensuring the group's activities continued to stream live to audiences.

Added Kobi Skolnick, a young Israeli American who by Wednesday was in his ninth day of participating in the protest: "I think the main thing we're doing is knocking on the walls of ignorance in this country so people wake up."

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