Occupy Wall Street, Act II: Go local
With many encampments razed or in jeopardy, Occupy Wall Street needs a second act. For now, many activists are settling on issues of concern to local residents. Will that weaken the movement, or strengthen it?
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"To solve local problems means seeing the way they are tied to deeper problems of politics," Ms. Mandle adds.Skip to next paragraph
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The notion that the Occupy movement is somehow switching gears doesn't sit that well with Patrick Coy, editor of the book series "Research in Social Movements, Conflicts and Change," and director of the Center for Applied Conflict Management at Kent State University in Ohio.
"The move to go local really is misunderstood. It's not really a move.... It has been the focus throughout," he says. "It's been a deeply grass-roots movement, and in some ways the moniker that it is leaderless is mistaken. It is deeply democratic, rooted in local politics and symbolism."
Still, grass-roots involvement will vary greatly from city to city, and will introduce difficult questions, most observers acknowledge. "This introduces complicated questions of how to relate the local issues to the larger economic analysis," says Drexel's Ciccariello-Maher.
Over in Knoxville, where the Occupy movement is just getting on its feet, about 50 people have been assembling on weekends to strategize. One challenge, says resident and film editor Lee Jon Taylor, "is that this town is very conservative ... so we need to find issues that everyone can relate to."
At a recent assembly, the group voted to occupy local foreclosed houses. The decision was spurred by a woman who had lost her job and home. "Picking up on local issues helps pump up the larger movement," says Mr. Taylor.
"It's important to become invested at the local level," he says, "because you can have much more impact there." As the movement struggles to define itself, Mr. Scott says, getting elected to a city council or a school board "demonstrates that your ideas have support."
Going local has its challenges, however. Aligning with the needs and practices of other organizations can be, at a minimum, complicated, says Herb Smith, president of the Los Angeles Mission on skid row. Some of the economic issues highlighted by the Occupy movement dovetail with concerns of the homeless, but issues such as chronic mental illness and health care do not, he says. Beyond that is the question of mixed loyalties, he adds.
"Many of the banks that the Occupy group is targeting also provide some of our funding," he says. "We certainly are not in any position to kick them out."
• Staff writer Mark Guarino in Chicago contributed to this report.
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