More people and organizations are joining Occupy Wall Street or
expressing solidarity every day. Whether it's an infusion of vital
energy or a force that tears at cohesion is up to the movement.
An estimated 200 social justice protesters demonstrated in
Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C., Thursday, expressing solidarity
with the "Occupy Wall Street" movement that has spread to more than
150 US cites.
The protesters, part of a larger group that had gathered earlier
near Capitol Hill for a long-planned antiwar rally, beat drums,
carried signs that said "Tax the Rich," and rang cowbells.
The smaller group's modest, if opportunistic, appearance in
Freedom Plaza showcased a larger phenomenon challenging the Occupy
Wall Street movement, which began Sept. 17 in New York.
As expressions of solidarity with Occupy multiply - labor unions
marched in New York Wednesday while student and labor groups joined
in Boston - the question is being asked: Can the protest movement
carry the newcomers, or will it sink under their weight?
Political scientists, sociologists and historians - as well as
public relations specialists - are coming forward to offer their
views and comments about the pluses and minuses of merging interests
with other groups, some traditional, others not.
Partly because the movement has coalesced so quickly and captured
growing media coverage, it faces both uncommon promise and peril as
it tries to turn the corner and sustain itself for the longer term.
The next two weeks are crucial in deciding its identity and
structure, say a host of experts who study grass-roots political
"The entropy that is Occupy Wall Street threatens to either
destroy the group or propel it to new heights," says Michael
Robinson, senior vice president for Levick Strategic Communications,
an international public relations firm. "They need to be really
careful about becoming too schizophrenic and having too many
personalities. They risk getting diffused if they expand themselves
Pros and cons of union involvement
The entry of established groups could benefit the movement by
providing it with focus and organization, says Jack Pitney, a
political scientist at Claremont McKenna College in California. "But
these groups could also jeopardize the protests by making them look
like just another partisan political tactic. The involvement of
labor unions is especially problematic. Public approval of unions is
near historical lows," he says.
Pitney, Robinson, and others point out that the antiwar movement
of the 1960s had a singular goal - getting the US out of Vietnam -
and even the Arab Spring countries zeroed in on very specific goals
such as "Get Mubarak Out" rather than a laundry list of complaints
from water rights to the economy.
The Occupy Wall Street movement is circulating a working draft of
very broad principles - "engaging in direct and transparent
participatory democracy," for example, and "the belief that
education is a human right" - and different cities are coming up
with specific goals in coming days.
Standing outside his tent at Los Angeles City Hall Wednesday,
activist Joe Briones said breadth is precisely the appeal of this
movement to him.
"In the '60s, you had the civil rights movement and Vietnam with
specific goals, but once those goals were met, the activists had
nowhere to go," he says. "We are building this for the long term."
If that's true, all the more danger and promise at the moment,
say others. The more you tighten goals with specifics, the more
people get alienated.
"I think this is going to get dragged down by all these splinter
groups," says David Johnson, CEO of Strategic Vision LLC, a public
affairs polling and branding consulting firm. "Their great appeal at
the beginning was that they had people from left, right, and middle