NEW YORK (AP) — The month-old Occupy Wall Street movement continues to grow, with nearly $300,000 in the bank and participants finding satisfaction in the widening impact they hope will counter the influence on society by those who hold the purse strings of the world’s economies.
The expanding occupation of land once limited to a small Manhattan park in the shadow of the rising World Trade Center complex continued through the weekend, with hundreds of thousands of people rallying around the world and numerous encampments springing up in cities large and small.
For the most part, the protest action remained loosely organized and there were no specific demands, something Legba Carrefour, a participant in the Occupy D.C. protest, found comforting on Sunday.
“When movements come up with specific demands, they cease to be movements and transform into political campaign rallies,” said Carrefour, who works as a coat check attendant despite holding a master’s degree in cultural studies. “It’s compelling a lot of people to come out for their own reasons rather than the reasons that someone else has given to them.”
The demonstrations worldwide have emboldened those camped out at Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the movement that began a month ago Monday. But there is conflict too. Some protesters eventually want the movement to rally around a goal, while others insist that isn’t the point.
“We’re moving fast, without a hierarchical structure and lots of gears turning,” said Justin Strekal, a college student and political organizer who traveled from Cleveland to New York to help. “… Egos are clashing, but this is participatory democracy in a little park.”
Even if the protesters were barred from camping in Zuccotti Park, as the property owner and the city briefly threatened to do last week, the movement would continue, Strekal said.
Wall Street protesters are intent on building on momentum gained from Saturday’s worldwide demonstrations, which drew hundreds of thousands of people, mostly in the U.S. and Europe.
Nearly $300,000 in cash has been donated through the movement’s website and by visitors to the park, said Bill Dobbs, a press liaison for Occupy Wall Street. The movement has an account at Amalgamated Bank, which bills itself as “the only 100 percent union-owned bank in the United States.”
Donated goods ranging from blankets and sleeping bags to cans of food and medical and hygienic supplies are being stored in a cavernous space donated by the United Federation of Teachers, which has offices in the building a block from Wall Street near the private park protesters occupy.
Among the items are 20 pairs of swimming goggles (to shield protesters from pepper-spray attacks). Supporters are shipping about 300 boxes a day, many with notes and letters, Strekal said.
“Some are heartwrenching, beautiful,” and come from people who have lost jobs and houses, he said. “So they send what they can, even if it’s small.”
Strekal said donated goods, stored for a “long-term occupation,” have been used to create “Jail Support” kits consisting of a blanket, a granola bar and sanitary wipes for arrested protesters to receive when they are freed.
The movement has become an issue in the Republican presidential primary race and beyond, with politicians from both parties under pressure to weigh in.
President Barack Obama referred to the protests at Sunday’s dedication of a monument for Martin Luther King Jr., saying the civil rights leader “would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing those who work there.”
Many of the largest of Saturday’s protests were in Europe, where those involved in long-running demonstrations against austerity measures declared common cause with the Occupy Wall Street movement. In Rome, hundreds of rioters infiltrated a march by tens of thousands of demonstrators, causing what the mayor estimated was at least euro1 million ($1.4 million) in damage to city property.
U.S. cities large and small were “occupied” over the weekend: Washington, D.C., Fairbanks, Alaska, Burlington, Vt., Rapid City, S.D., and Cheyenne, Wyo. were just a few. In Cincinnati, protesters were even invited to take pictures with a couple getting married; the bride and groom are Occupied Cincinnati supporters.
More than 70 New York protesters were arrested Saturday, more than 40 of them in Times Square. About 175 people were arrested in Chicago after they refused to leave a park where they were camped late Saturday, and there were about 100 arrests in Arizona – 53 in Tucson and 46 in Phoenix – after protesters refused police orders to disperse. About two dozen people were arrested in Denver, and in Sacramento, Calif., anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was among about 20 people arrested after failing to follow police orders to disperse.
Activists around the country said Saturday’s protests energized their movement.
“It’s an upward trajectory,” said John St. Lawrence, a Florida real estate lawyer who took part in Saturday’s Occupy Orlando protest, which drew more than 1,500 people. “It’s catching people’s imagination and also, knock on wood, nothing sort of negative or discrediting has happened.”
St. Lawrence is among those unconcerned that the movement has not rallied around any particular proposal.
“I don’t think the underlying theme is a mystery,” he said. “We saw what the banks and financial institutions did to the economy. We bailed them out. And then they went about evicting people from their homes,” he said.
In Richmond, Va., about 75 people gathered Sunday for one of the “general assembly” meetings that are a key part of the movement’s consensus-building process. Protester Whitney Whiting, a video editor, said the process has helped “gather voices” about Americans’ discontent.
“In regards to a singular issue or a singular focus, I think that will come eventually. But right now we have to set up a space for that to happen,” Whiting said.
Some U.S. protesters, like those in Europe, have their own causes. Unions that have joined forces with the movement have demands of their own, and on Sunday members of the newly formed Occupy Pittsburgh group demanded that Bank of New York Mellon Corp. pay back money they allege it overcharged public pension funds around the country.
New York’s attorney general and New York City sued BNY Mellon this month, accusing it of defrauding clients in foreign currency exchange transactions that generated nearly $2 billion over 10 years. The company has vowed to fight the lawsuit and had no comment about the protesters’ allegation about pensions.
Lisa Deaton, a tea party leader from southern Indiana, said she sees similarities between how the tea party movement and the Wall Street protests began: “We got up and we wanted to vent.”
But the critical step, she said, was taking that emotion and focusing it toward changing government.
The first rally she organized drew more than 2,500 people, but afterward, “it was like, `What do we do?’” she said. “You can’t have a concert every weekend.”
Associated Press writers Suzette Laboy in Miami, Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Va., Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh, Laurie Kellman and Stacy A. Anderson in Washington, Tom LoBianco in Indianapolis, Sophia Tareen and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report.