Two weeks ago, I was walking through New York when I stumbled on a crowd chanting angrily at a mass of police. "They're arresting them," someone said to me. "Who?" I asked. "The Occupy Wall Streeters," he said. Someone else held up a cell phone camera. "The whole world is watching," he shouted.
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.
We'll see, over the next few weeks, which, if any of these paths, tempt the protesters. Up until now, the organizers have seemed to view the decentralized, inchoate nature of the protests as a strength for the nascent movement, not a weakness. The unifying idea has been drawing attention to "the 99," not offering a concrete policy agenda. The New York Times quoted a a pep talk a woman gave to a new protester. “It doesn’t matter what you’re protesting,” she said. “Just protest.”
An ‘Occupy Wall Street’ primer
These links also appear elsewhere on Wonkblog — namely, in the post titled ‘An Occupy Wall Street Primer’ -- but it seemed worth adding them to Wonkbook, too.
- 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’.
- ‘Understanding the theory behind Occupy Wall Street’s approach,’ by Mike Konczal. Also see his post, ‘15 definitions of freedom from Occupy Wall Street.’
- ‘Occupy Wall Street is a church of dissent, not a protest,’ by Matt Stoller.
The "Occupy Wall Street" protests are escalating, reports Robin Harding: "A controversy erupted on Sunday over the policing of anti-Wall Street protests in which the New York police arrested over 700 people. Police said that they made the arrests on Saturday afternoon after demonstrators ignored warnings and entered the roadway of Brooklyn Bridge, stopping traffic. But protesters claimed that police had entrapped them by leading them on to the vehicle section of the bridge. The arrests have drawn worldwide attention to Occupy Wall Street, an inchoate protest movement modelled on the Tahrir Square demonstrations in Egypt this spring, which has been building up in downtown New York since September 17...The movement is fuelled by continuing anger at the profitability of Wall Street following government bail-outs in 2008 and 2009...But the goals of the demonstrations are vague."