Occupy Movement Reaches a Critical Moment

More than a month into their protests, demonstrators have faced increasing pressure from authorities, but the movement shows little sign of weakening.

Posted: 10/27/2011 02:44 PM EDT
Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Oakland, Scott Olsen, injured

Participants in the Occupy Movement are meeting increased police pressure, pushing the protests toward a strategic crossroads. Among the questions raised: How should they respond to attempts to break up the encampments? Are they disciplined enough to remain peaceful, even when tear gas is used against them? Should they be more specific in their demands?

 

Some of these issues came to a head in Oakland on Tuesday night when police attempted to break up the encampment in front of City Hall. Scott Olsen, 24, an ex-Marine and veteran of the Iraq War, was knocked to the ground after police flung an object — possibly a tear gas canister — at a group of protestors. Other protestors rushed to his aid, but to their surprise, as they helped Olsen, an officer tossed another canister toward the group, as the video shows.

 

"What the f----!" a protestor is heard screaming to police in the video.

 

Olsen was rushed to the hospital where it was discovered that he suffered a skull fracture.

 

"I think it is a sad state of affairs when a Marine can't assemble peacefully in the streets without getting injured," Jose Sanchez, executive director of Iraq Veterans Against the War, told a local San Francisco paper.

 

On Thursday morning Olsen, who had been unconscious and breathing with the help of a respirator the night before, was upgraded to fair condition at Highland Hospital in Oakland. 

 

Police also hurled tear gas at protestors in Atlanta this week as they tried to break up a two-week-old demonstration. Fifty-three people were arrested early Wednesday. In response to the acts, police said protestors threw rocks and bottles at them.

 

“With any nascent movement like this, there are always going to be risks because [the protestors] haven’t clarified what they stand for,” Glenn Totten, a Democratic political consultant told Business Week. “Any time you take to the streets there’s an inherent sense that you are somehow rabble-rousers.”

 

Some Occupy movement members feel it is smarter to be less specific about their policy demands, allowing the movement to grow on a more general anger at the inequalities that have be deepened in recent decades. New York City protesters voted to adopt a list of grievances. Protestors may seek to disagree, however. Others, such as the New York General Assembly, have specified demands such as an end to capital punishment, joblessness, war and health profiteering.

 

Protestors frequently call themselves the “99 percenters,” and recently a new report from the Congressional Budget Office confirmed that the rich really are getting richer.

 

Between 1979 and 2007, the top one percent of Americans with the highest incomes have seen their incomes grow by an average of 275 percent. In contrast, 60 percent of middle class Americans saw their incomes increase by just 40 percent during the same period, according to the study which was based on a combination of IRS and Census data.

 

Though their messages may not have been as popular when the Occupy movement started over a month ago on Sept. 17, with an election approaching, several Democratic leaders have begun to defend the movement against persistent hostility from Republicans.

 

President Obama and other democratic leaders including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz are among those who have expressed sympathy.

 

“Right now, it feels to people like the deck is stacked against them, and the folks in power don’t seem to be paying attention to that,” Obama said Oct. 25 on NBC’s The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.

 

Occupy Wall Street, which provided the movement’s original spark, says it hopes to see a general assembly in “every backyard” and on every street corner and doesn’t plan to stop until that happens.

 

 

To contact or share story ideas with Danielle Wright, follow and tweet her at @DaniWrightTV.

 

(Photo: AP Photo/Jay Finneburgh)

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