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Protesters' Eviction Prompts Soul Searching

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Occupy Wall Street protesters continue to have access to New York's Zuccotti Park but have lost the right to erect tarps or camp overnight.


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block. Zuccotti Park, the site of Occupy Wall Street in New York, is open today, but people entering are scrutinized by guards to make sure they have no tents, tarps or sleeping bags. Protesters were evicted yesterday and a court ruling now prohibits them from rebuilding their encampment.

As NPR's Margot Adler reports, it's a moment for soul searching about the movement's future.

MARGOT ADLER, BYLINE: It's pouring rain. Everyone is holding an umbrella. There are perhaps a couple hundred in the park. They're planning to mark tomorrow's two month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street with demonstrations, but they're also thinking about the future.

Mark Bray, who works with the press at Occupy Wall Street, says the movement was never about sleeping in Zuccotti Park. It was about economic justice, but occupying the park was what generated the passion of the movement.

MARK BRAY: Was what was unusual because it's not as if these issues are new and it's not as if people hadn't talked about them in the past, but what we needed was that spark to get the conversation going. And right now, the conversation is going.

ADLER: And he thinks there will be continued attempts to occupy other space because the goal has always been to make this park less important.

BRAY: So we started an initiative called Occupy Your Block, where we're trying to get people to focus on those things that are of concern nearby, to not have this just be about one little park in southern Manhattan, but have it be relevant to where they're at.

ADLER: Kanene Holder is from Harlem. She's been there since the second week. She says, last night at the general assembly, people broke down into small groups to brainstorm about the future, what she humorously calls OWS 2.0.

KANENE HOLDER: Unlike the status quo, we don't rush to rash decisions like bailing out banks because, again, we are a direct democracy and the principles of a direct democracy implore and engage every single voice.

ADLER: For ideas, she puts forth meeting with churches and tomorrow's plan to have speak-outs in subway stations where ordinary people on their way to work can voice their concerns.

But Todd Gitlin, who teaches journalism at Columbia University and is a long time observer and participant of protest movements, thinks Occupy Wall Street needs more focus.

TODD GITLIN: I'm in the camp of those who think that it should be more focused on particular demands, some of which can be won in the short run. I think it should be a force within the political ear.

ADLER: But standing in the rain, I come across a middle-aged man, Anthony Donovan. He was a medical manager for 35 years. He lost his job and now he's a nurse. He's not here to be part of a protest, he says.

ANTHONY DONOVAN: But I'm here because I've been meeting a lot of people who are interested in solutions in creating - what are we going to do about the tremendous economic challenges that we're facing right now?

ADLER: And what solutions does he find talking to people? Well, it's not clear, but it's people sharing views who don't often talk together.

DONOVAN: We had a couple of veterans showing up. We had a whole group of retirees talking about their concerns and what they'd like to see, so this has been a place where people have been coming together.

ADLER: Todd Gitlin says there is one thing about this movement that may give it staying power. Most social movements - civil rights, the anti-Vietnam War movement - were not popular at the beginning.

GITLIN: Here, this movement had barely put itself on the ground when the polls started to demonstrate that majorities - actually, supermajorities - agreed with them on the issues.

ADLER: They may not exactly know their direction, but they've got lots of support and issues in the air. Margot Adler, NPR News, New York.

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