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Monday, October 10, 2011 - Page updated at 08:30 p.m.
Veteran activists critique Wall Street protest
By CRISTIAN SALAZAR
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — To veterans of past social movements, the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York and spread nationwide have been a welcome response to corporate greed and the enfeebled economy. But whether the energy of protesters can be tapped to transform the political climate remains to be seen.
"There's a difference between an emotional outcry and a movement," said Andrew Young, who worked alongside the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a strategist during the civil-rights movement and later served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. "This is an emotional outcry. The difference is organization and articulation."
The nearly 4-week-old protest that began in a Lower Manhattan park has taken on a semblance of organization, and a coherent message has largely emerged: That "the 99 percent" who struggle daily as the economy shudders, employment stagnates and medical costs rise are suffering as the 1 percent who control the vast majority of the economy's wealth continue to prosper.
Labor unions and students joined the protest on Wednesday, swelling the ranks for a day into the thousands, and lending the occupation a surge of political clout and legitimacy. President Obama said Thursday that the protesters were "giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works;" some Republicans have been seeking to cast Occupy Wall Street as class warfare.
The growing cohesiveness and profile of the protest have caught the attention of public intellectuals and veterans of social movements.
"I think if the idea of the movement is to raise the discontent that a lot of people from different walks of life and different persuasions have on the economic inequity in this country — it's been perfect," said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who plans to broadcast his nationally syndicated radio show from the park on Monday and five days later lead a jobs march in Washington, D.C.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the protest could become a powerful movement if "it remains disciplined, focused and nonviolent — and turns some of their pain into voting power."
In the late 1990s, a global movement to reject corporate-driven globalization took to the streets, most famously in the U.S. by shutting down the 1999 meeting of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. Despite several actions aimed at summits by world institutions, the "movement of movements," as it soon came to be known, faded away.
Much like the Occupy Wall Street protests, one of the main criticisms was that it lacked a cohesive message.
Todd Gitlin, an author and former president of the Students for a Democratic Society in the mid-1960s, attended Wednesday's rally and said the emerging movement was different. The demands of the protesters were crystallizing around calls to tax the wealthy to address inequality, he said.
" 'We are the 99 percent' is a clear message," he said. "It is unfair and in fact disgusting that the American political economy is run for the benefit of a plutocracy. I don't see how that can be misunderstood."
Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-highest ranking Democrat in the House, also denied that it lacks a coherent message and said many of the people he marched with during the civil-rights era likely wouldn't have been able to put into words their reasons or frustrations, either:
"They all knew something was wrong. They knew that it just wasn't right to have to get up out of your seat and give some white person your seat on a bus. They may not be able to explain to you exactly why I'm out here marching; they may not even be able to relate that lunch counter to that city bus or to a ride on the train or to walking down the sidewalk having to step off the sidewalk when approached by a white person, which was the order of the day."
Cain a critic: On CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday Republican presidential contender Herman Cain called the participants in the growing Occupy Wall Street movement "jealous" Americans who "play the victim card" and suggested the rallies had been organized by labor unions to serve as a "distraction so that many people won't focus on the failed policies of the Obama administration."
Iranian view: Gen. Masoud Jazayeri of Iran's Revolutionary Guard said Sunday that the protests spreading from New York's Wall Street to other U.S. cities are the beginning of an "American Spring," likening them to the uprisings that toppled Arab autocrats in the Middle East.
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