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09 December 2023

Occupy Wall Street puts its hopes in spring rebirth


Two months after being ejected from their campsite in New York's financial district, the founders of Occupy Wall Street hope the arrival of spring will breathe new life into a flagging campaign.

On Thursday, barely 20 people attended the daily General Assembly meeting at Zuccotti Park, the square where the OWS movement was born in September last year and which, despite the camp's eviction, remains a rallying point.

The sparse gathering in freezing temperatures was a far cry from the loud throngs who used to congregate to denounce what they see as systemic unfairness in the US economy -- a cry that sparked copycat demonstrations nationwide.

Zuccotti Park, once crammed with tents, was almost deserted. Two police officers and three private security guards stood watch.

"You remember when the world was watching us?" one protester asked his neighbor as the General Assembly got under way with exercises to combat the cold. "It seems it's only us watching us now."

Sean McKeown, a chemist involved with OWS since October, said there were never more than 50 people attending since winter started.

"We're not doing as much as we were and there is not much money," he said. "It's cold."

McKeown was one of those who voted last week to freeze nearly all of OWS' spending so funds could be preserved for when they become most needed.

From a war chest of about $730,000, (Dh2.68m) all donated, there is now $270,000, McKeown said. Of this, ê100,000 is set aside as a fund for meeting bail if protesters are arrested.

Money questions are sensitive. Some activists fear there will be an end to funding for the approximately 130 supporters being sheltered by two New York churches. Others, however, oppose that OWS should provide funding for sister Occupy protests across the United States.

"Money is a very useful resource but not everything," Bill Dobbs, a spokesman, said, insisting that the movement is very much alive.

There are "many hundreds still involved and participating," he said.

"Last night we were part of the protest outside the Apollo Theater in New York's Harlem district, where (President Barack) Obama had a fundraiser, to make the point that money is corrupting elections," Dobbs said.

"What is going on is movement building and strategizing. There are a lot of efforts going into planning for the spring, May 1 in particular," he argued, adding that Occupy planned a trip around the US north-east.

Dobbs said the "base is expanding" with dozens of meetings each week of OWS working groups and although activity is sharply down, the movement's slogan dividing America into the 99 percent and top one percent has entered the national conversation.

"Building a resistance movement in the US is a very interesting process. People have to wake up to what is going on and learn how to take action," Dobbs said. "It takes time."