Shunning Leaders and Goals, Occupy Wall St Grows Organically

Clashes between the Occupy Wall Street protestors and police were supposed to happen when cleaning crews arrived to hose down Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan early Friday. Instead, they occurred all day, apparently because the cleanup was called off.

Exuberant groups of demonstrators, celebrating a perceived victory over authorities they believed wand them removed from the encampment they’ve held for over a month, broke into impromptu marches that ran afoul of police. More than a dozen arrests were reported.

Notwithstanding the handful of arrests, it’s hard not to view the decision by the park’s owners to back away from a planned cleanup – one that would have required at least a temporary removal of the hundreds of demonstrators gathered there – as a sign of the movement’s growing momentum.

While consciously and conspicuously shunning an established group of leaders and a specific set of goals or demands, the protestors have relied on organic growth founded on a broad national consensus that the American system is broken. The plan appears to be working, if at least temporarily. The movement has now spread to scores of U.S. cities

“Plurality is our strength,” said Mark Bray, who was serving recently as a spokesman for the movement.

The movement, galvanized around a broad theme generally focused on perceived economic inequalities, has spread nationwide, with protests emerging in numerous cities large and small including Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Tampa and Iowa City.

Bray said the growth is proof that Occupy Wall Street’s message, while admittedly diffuse, is resonating.

In fact, it’s the diversity of the causes and grievances being aired by the demonstrators that’s forming the movement’s strengthening core, he said.

“Our message is diversity, plurality and participation, and it’s resonating with a larger segment of society. It’s not just the people in the park,” said Bray.

Still, from discussions and overheard conversations with numerous protestors, a unifying theme can be gleaned: the fat cat bankers on Wall Street screwed things up big time a few years back, got bailed out by corrupt politicians with billions of U.S. tax dollars, and now they’re back at it again.

From that over-riding conceit spring myriad specific grievances. Here’s a 29-year-old graduate student already five figures in debt to student loans and whose job prospects are looking dim. There’s a 56-year-old out-of-work teacher who says budget cuts in his New Jersey town left him without a job and fearful for his home and his future.

Then there’s the kids. Lots of them, mostly in their late teens and early 20s. Probably two-thirds of the protestors in Zuccotti Park fit into this group. Most of them seem to be having a pretty good time, burrowed into swaths of sleeping bags scattered across the park. Dred locks and pony tails, tattoos and piercings abound.

One group is listening to a guitar player (playing Woody Guthrie perhaps?), another is making burritos (maybe) from something green (no meat, naturally). Patchouli and the occasional waft of marijuana permeate the air around these clusters.

In another corner of the park a prim looking older fellow, balding and angry, dressed in khakis and a crisp blue blazer, railed against government conspiracies somehow connected to Alzheimer’s disease and autism. Diversity, indeed.

Everything is free, donations accepted. That includes stacks of second-hand books on just about any topic, all manner of literature on subjects ranging from organic farming, the dangers of fracking (supposedly caused by drilling for natural gas), alternative energy, etc… A comfort station located in the center of the park offers blankets, clothes and water. Piles of dry foods are stacked nearby, apparently sent by sympathizers who couldn’t make it on their own.

As has been noted throughout the media coverage, the park resembles a bohemian street fair far more than the site of a desperate political demonstration.

Bray said the protestors in Zuccotti Park aren’t likening themselves to those last spring in Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, who risked their lives in many cases to bring down generations of despotic leaders.

“Things are very different here than in Egypt. But it’s been an influence,” he said. There are philosophical similarities. “We are trying to envision a better democracy.”

Bray said he’s not concerned that any single powerful interest group – one of a handful of big labor unions, for instance, that have lent their support to the movement – will hijack the cause for their own agenda.

Occupy Wall Street’s organizers, such as they are, are opposed to any “single doctrine” emerging as the movement’s cause or voice, he said.

Celebrities are welcome, too, despite the distraction they bring. “They help raise attention,” said Bray, pragmatically. Well-known (solidly liberal) personalities such as documentary film-maker Michael Moore and Academy Award winning actress Susan Sarandon have made cameos

Rumors swirled Friday that more demonstrations were planned around Manhattan over the weekend, including a possible move into Times Square. The reports couldn’t be confirmed.