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'Occupy Wall Street': If protesters don't list demands, will they get anything?

With new recruits emerging daily and union members joining marches, 'Occupy Wall Street' is experiencing growing pains. Should it prioritize goals? Should it forge alliances?

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Whereas a march by members of New York’s “Occupy Wall Street” to the Brooklyn Bridge last Saturday resulted in hundreds of arrests, this encampment is peaceful and trying to work with city officials.

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The group assembles every night at 7:30 on the steps nearby and holds a general council. Joe Briones, a 27-year-old film major at nearby LA City College, lives at the site and still attends classes via subway.

“We feel we are working hand-in-glove with the city here,” says Mr. Briones. He explained how volunteers Googled the term, “general assembly formats” and have copied one used in Spain.

“This is direct democracy,” he says. “People propose ideas and if the group doesn’t like it, it gets thrown out.”

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa visited Wednesday after a City Council hearing that was streamed live on websites, with council-invited speakers stepping up to the mike for a minute each, distilling what each thinks the council can do to meet the group’s list of broad goals.

“Four city council members came out and talked to us yesterday and shook our hands and told us they are in solidarity with our goals,” says Clapier, who acknowledges that at the moment the goals are focused on the big picture. She says the group is whittling down a list of some 50 goals to 12 by next week.

Margot Paez, a director, writer, and actor, is attending the encampment as both a protester and a journalist for insightoutnews.org.

“I am watching these developments from the inside and am really struck by how the mainstream media has tried to write this off as a bunch of hippies,” she says. “I consider it my contribution to help correct that misconception.”

The challenge for many protest movements as they try to evolve is that “building more formal organizations will necessarily exclude some participants and issues,” says Marc Dixon, assistant sociology professor at Dartmouth College in New Hampshire.

It is important to recognize that the protesters have succeeded in one significant way already by bringing some of these issues to the public, he says, “be it economic inequality, the undue influence of Wall Street, or enlivening the democratic process.”

Bringing attention to neglected issues is one thing protest movements do well, he notes. But they run the risk of not putting forth a more explicit program or demands while media and public attention is greatest.

“As media attention wanes, their leverage with policymakers also declines and the potential for significant political change diminishes,” he points out. “It is hard to imagine a more opportune time than now.”

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