Occupy Wall Street plans biggest marches yet, but can it avoid pitfalls?
'Occupy Wall Street' is planning its biggest action yet: marches Saturday nationwide. But as the movement tests the tolerance of police and cash-strapped cities, can it keep its message positive?
More and more, “Occupy Wall Street” is on the move.Skip to next paragraph
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Following a week that saw a “millionaires' march” by the homes of the wealthy and powerful in New York and rallies outside banks in downtown Los Angeles, the protest movement is preparing for its biggest action yet: marches this Saturday by all 1,300-and-counting Occupy chapters worldwide.
But as this transition from words to action escalates, so do brushes with local authorities. Scores of Boston protesters were arrested for camping on the wrong lawns, while 12 activists were arrested and charged with trespassing for refusing to leave the lobby of a downtown Los Angeles branch of Bank of America.
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Those increased confrontations with the law could be politically perilous for the movement, which, say observers and the protesters themselves, is at a critical stage in defining its purpose and its goals.
Occupy’s message is getting through to the public for now, but an escalation of violent encounters could easily overwhelm that, says Richard Levick, CEO of Levick Strategic Communications, a firm that specializes in crisis management.
“The Occupy Wall Street movement must not allow clashes with police or fringe elements [within the movement] to define who it is, or it will cease to exist,” he says.
In Los Angeles, police are exercising restraint, for now.
At first, he notes, when there were just a few tents, the police insisted they move from the grass to the sidewalk at night. But “now that there are so many it’s not practical because it would completely block the sidewalk,” he says. “So we just let them stay on the lawn.”
As long as the groups are peaceful, “it’s a low-grade infraction,” he says. “As long as things don’t escalate into property damage or harm to people, we won’t enforce small infractions.”
But violence may not be the only shoal in the waters ahead for the Occupy movement. The cost of protesters' presence in the downtown areas of large cities is starting to mount, both in terms of finances and reallocated resources, and could test city officials’ patience.