Occupy Wall Street Plots a Comeback
In a society in which we’re used to taking direction from Presidents and CEOs, captains and quarterbacks, Occupy Wall Street’s leaderless structure seems like a formula for chaos. And yet nearly a month after protesters were evicted from the movement’s birthplace in Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan the exercise in organized anarchy is still going strong. On Tuesday, Occupy Wall Streeters in 20 cities across the country marched in neighborhoods that have been hardest hit by foreclosures. In East New York, Brooklyn, about 400 protesters broke into a foreclosed vacant property and moved in a family that was homeless after losing their house to a bank.
Since the Nov. 15 eviction, much of New York Occupy Wall Street group’s day-to-day activities have moved inside. Occupy Wall Streeters have moved in to a donated small office space in downtown Manhattan, with desks for about 50 workers. Crowds have dwindled, particularly at Zuccotti Park, where protesters are allowed to gather, but no longer sleep. Organizers say a smaller but more dedicated group is now doing much of the work of planning marches and deciding Occupy Wall Street’s next moves.
(See pictures of the Occupy Wall Street movement.)
Nonetheless, as it has been since the beginning of the movement, the leaderless structure appears to be working. Crowds come together on cue. Messages go out to the media. Lawsuits are filed. Funds are raised (more than $500,000 by the end of November). And the silliest ideas, like building an igloo city in Central Park, get voted down. “There have been challenges, but generally the group has been effective,” says Marina Sitrin, a sociologist who has written a book on leaderless movements and is an active member of Occupy Wall Street. “The lack of leadership has been able to get more people engaged in the process, which I think shows how effective it has been.”
So how does Occupy Wall Street make all this happen with no titles and no corner offices? By organizing as a network of dozens of working groups, Occupy Wall Street keeps its participants focused on particular tasks they can perform with autonomy and attention to detail. A look at the division of labor: