NEW YORK, Oct 17, 2011 (AFP) - Exactly a month after a few hundred anti-capitalism activists set up camp in New York, the Occupy Wall Street movement has gone international and won the attention of the White House -- even if no one knows where it will go next.
Protesters sheltering under plastic tarps in the well organized camp at Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street, began their second month in situ Monday with plans to follow up on big demonstrations that swept through the popular Times Square area over the weekend.
|AFP - A man holds a sign on the edge of Zuccotti Park in the Financial District where Occupy Wall Street protesters are living on October 17, 2011 in New York City.|
They not only have set up all the basic needs of an open-air community -- ranging from a cell phone charging station to a library -- but are flush with $275,000 in donations, according to Darrell Prince, an organizer at the protest's finance committee.
The next major event could be on Saturday which will see a "National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality," according to the www.occupywallst.org website.
Defying expectations, the movement already has had a huge impact, sparking similar demonstrations across the United States and London, all with the same underlying message of anger at economic disparities between the top one percent and the other 99 percent.
Though their numbers are still relatively small -- the biggest demonstration gathered between 10,000 and 20,000 people -- senior politicians are paying close attention as the 2012 US presidential contest gathers pace.
President Barack Obama has led Democrats in tentatively embracing the movement.
The White House said an election campaign trip to North Carolina and Virginia this week would address the need "to ensure that the interests of the 99 percent of Americans is well represented" -- a telling reference to the protesters' slogan.
His spokesman Jay Carney told reporters on Monday: "The president has expressed an understanding of the frustration that the demonstrations manifest and represent."
On the other side, Republican presidential candidates have been scathing in their attacks on the group.
On Monday it was revealed that hundreds of writers, including Salman Rushdie, have signed an online petition set up on October 9 to support the movement including Alice Walker, Jennifer Egan, Neil Gaiman and Lemony Snicket.
"We, the undersigned writers and all who will join us, support Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world," the petition states.
Rushdie said in a message on Twitter that he had visited Zuccotti Park. "It is so civil and polite. And the idealism is overwhelming. Keep going kids," he wrote.
There was also a boost for Occupy Wall Street on Saturday when Martin Luther King III, son of slain black civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr, said at a new memorial in Washington that his father would have joined the protest.
"We have bailed out the auto industry, and we should have. We bailed out Wall Street. Now it's time to bail out working Americans. That's what this is about," he said.
"I believe that if my father was alive, he would be right here with all of us involved in this demonstration today."
The protests have so far been mostly peaceful. However, 175 people were arrested in Chicago over the weekend, following other mass arrests in recent days in Boston, Denver and New York.
The main question now is how the Occupy Wall Street movement, known by its initials OWS, will use its growing power. To date not a single specific demand has been issued, prompting ridicule from critics.
However, the strategy of simply providing a big tent for mostly young people unhappy about a stagnant economy and angry at the disconnect between ordinary people and the political-business elites, appears to be working.
Some predict that the rapidly approaching cold weather in New York will drive protestors away.
However, activists deny this. And a symbol of that determination can be found right on the homepage of their website: the detailed agenda posted on the website scrolls down literally forever.
Demonstrators meanwhile have been circulating a leaflet urging their fellow protestors to show maximum restraint to stave off any potential unrest or violence.
It warns against use of drugs and alcohol. It strictly opposes verbal abuse. And it even has restricted the hours of protest drumming to curb the annoyance factor a bit.