As the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations and sit-in move into their third week, trying to nail down the purpose and future of the movement can seem a frustrating task. It is as vast as the thousands who have gathered there, and it could go on in some form for months. Or not, as the case may be.
About 1,000 people have been arrested so far – most on misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges related to blocking traffic or refusing police orders to move.
But unlike the 1999 “Battle in Seattle” when anarchists and others trashed the city’s downtown during a mass protest of the World Trade Organization meeting there, the Wall Street protest has generally been nonviolent. The one notable exception was when a police officer – later identified as Deputy Inspector Anthony Bologna – was videographed shooting pepper spray at women peacefully penned inside police netting. That event is under official investigation.
Film maker Michael Moore and others say it’s Wall Street bankers who should be arrested for their role in the country’s economic difficulties.
"The world's economy has been wrecked by these rapacious traders,” author Salman Rushdie tweeted. “Yet it is the protesters who are jailed.”
“It was inspired by the Arab Spring movement, particularly the protests in Cairo's Tahrir Square which resulted in the 2011 Egyptian Revolution,” the description continues. “The aim of the demonstration is to begin a sustained occupation of Wall Street, the financial district of New York City. Organizers intend for the occupation to last a few months.”
But beyond that, there’s no 10-point list of demands to be nailed, Martin Luther-like, to the business and media establishment’s door.
"It’s impossible to translate the issue of the greed of Wall Street into one demand, or two demands,” Princeton University professor Cornel West told Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! this week. “We’re talking about a democratic awakening. We’re talking about raising political consciousness.”
In essence, the reasons behind the protest – which has a loose structure centered on social media, and which lacks any formal set of demands – seem as varied and numerous as the protesters themselves gathered at Zuccotti Park, which is private land open to the public in downtown Manhattan near the former World Trade Center.
"Look, I can't name [just] one single thing I'd like reformed because I'd like the whole system reformed … education, economics … all across the board,” says Mike Esperson from Queens, New York.
"I got the Facebook invite about 3 days before I left, and I was like, hey this is what I was waiting for,” he says. “This is a grass roots movement about people claiming some autonomy."
Dave Immenburseo, who came to Wall Street from Philadelphia, says, "The fact that corporations are controlling and manipulating the economies of the majority of countries – especially third world countries – that's what really angers me.”
"We're in the financial district of Manhattan for a reason,” says Dew Petrilli, who lives in Brooklyn. “We're not at the NYPD headquarters so it's not protesting the police or police brutality. We're in the financial district.”
"Most decisions about our nation's wealth are made in this district, and something is seriously wrong with it,” he says. “People are losing their homes. Unemployment is up and there is a reason for it. And even though some people might not be the most knowledgeable, the basic idea that something is wrong is clear … no matter what your political side is."
Following Saturday’s march across the Brooklyn Bridge, when some 700 people were arrested for blocking traffic, Sunday was relatively quiet. Protesters are planning their next big march for Wednesday.
Meanwhile, smaller-scale protests spread over the weekend to Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston, Denver, Washington, Albuquerque, Portland, Maine, and several other cities. An “Occupy Toronto” protest is planned in Canada.
Chris Richardson contributed to this reported from New York.
[Editor's note: the original version of this story misspelled Dave Immenburseo's name.]