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Does 'Occupy Wall Street' have leaders? Does it need any?

As politicians and the media scramble to identify 'Occupy Wall Street' leaders, members of the protest movement are not playing along. But do they really need any? There are pros and cons to leaderless movements.

By Daniel B. Wood and Gloria GoodaleStaff writers / October 10, 2011

Protesters affiliated with the 'Occupy Wall Street' protests march through the Financial District in New York, on Monday.

Andrew Burton/AP

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Los Angeles

As “Occupy Wall Street” spreads around the world – now in more than 185 locales, and counting – everyone from politicians to media pundits is scrambling to identify the protest movement’s leadership.

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ABC’s “This Week with Christiane Amanpour” put protester and blogger Jesse LaGreca in its roundtable spotlight Sunday even as he prefaced his answers with the words, “I’m only speaking for myself.”

On NBC’s “The Chris Matthews Show” former CBS anchor Dan Rather – now with HDnet – tagged Priscilla Grim – a woman who launched a Tumblr page online – as “the real moving force behind this,” only to have the website mediate.com tartly observe that “Dan Rather probably has no idea what Tumblr is.”

At the same time, everyone from President Obama to several US senators to the Federal reserve chairman have tipped their hats to the power of the movement, which Monday staged demonstration from Washington to New York and Jacksonville, Fla., Mobile, Ala., and Portland, Ore.

But, say media and political pundits, efforts to locate the leader or leaders of this movement begs the ever more pressing questions: Does it have any? If it doesn’t will it fizzle? Who speaks for these vocal masses and do they have a unified voice? What are the strengths and weaknesses of the leaderless approach? What does “leadership” even mean in the social media era?

“The ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and related movements represent a resurgence of direct democracy – not really known since ancient times,” says Fordham University communications professor Paul Levinson, author of “New New Media. “The danger is always that such groups can degenerate into a mob. But the advantage is that their decisions can more truly represent the will of the people, and be more satisfying to the participants than decisions made by elected leaders.”

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