Monday, May 7, 2012

Opening day for Occupy Wall Street: Act 2

Occupy Wall Street protesters plan demonstrations in more than 100 cities, hoping to rekindle the movement after months in relative hibernation.

The Occupy Season is kicking off.

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Starting Tuesday morning, May Day, the Occupy Movement in 100 cities will begin what it is terming ?spring awakening,? with marches, rhetoric, and probably some old-fashioned civil disobedience. The organizers are calling for a general strike although union support for a work moratorium appears low. And after a day of unpermitted, pop-up protests, educational picket lines, ?free university" teach-ins, and other events there will be an ?after party,? with bands and speeches.

Many of the issues will seem familiar from last fall when the protests began: income inequality (think 99 percent vs. 1 percent), high levels of student debt, and anger at foreclosures. But this spring the disparate groups that make up Occupy are ?zeroing in? on some specific issues, such as breaking up the Bank of America, campaigning against right-wing groups, and a new focus on the issues facing people of color.

?I think it was inevitable, various groups are focusing on issues they feel they can have impact on,? says Karanja Gacuca, a spokesman for Occupy. ?Income inequality is still our focus but now we are drumming down on specific issues that solidify the 1 percent.?

Among the new issues, according to Mr. Gacuca:?

  • Breaking up the Bank of America. ?Every month there will be actions targeting both the Bank of America and Merrill Lynch (owned by B of A),? he says. ?We think it ought to be broken up into smaller, more manageable banks.?
  • A campaign against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a conservative group that drafts research and policy papers as well as local laws. ?As we make the public more aware of them, they are losing some of their corporate support,? says Gacuca.
  • A campaign against the major spending by companies for the presidential campaign. ?We will be targeting super PACs and presidential candidates and following both candidates at fundraisers in New York and other big cities,? says Gacuca.

Narrowing the focus is a good plan, says Stephen Zunes, a professor of politics at the University of San Francisco. ?It?s good if you can get reforms even if the goal is more radical,? he says. ?Having short-term goals that are achievable is good.?

However, political scientist Edward Morgan of Lehigh University says to transition into actual legislative actions ?requires lots of outreach to the rest of America as well as sharpening the critique.?

Making contact with the public has been increasingly difficult for the Occupy movement, since police departments have cracked down on their encampments in most cities.

For example, on Monday in downtown Manhattan, only one Occupy Wall Street protester, Christopher Guerra, was sitting in Zuccotti Park, where protestors started the movement Sept. 17. Seated behind a sign that says, ?Prosecute the Fraud,? referring to the 2008 bank bailouts, he says the Occupy protesters are now spread out around the city, not just in one location.

One of those new locations is on the steps outside of Federal Hall National Memorial, which is across the street from the New York Stock Exchange. The protesters are on the stairs to the left of a statute of George Washington ? the site where he took his oath of office as first president. However, even in that location, there are limits: the police are limiting the protests to 25 people at any given time. A sign on the steps reads, ?NYPD created these barricades to mentally and physically separate us. Let?s be one ? talk to me.?

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