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Is Occupy Wall Street at peak or just getting started?

By Verena Dobnik

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Oct. 16 2011 11:21 p.m. MDT

Nicholas Molinuevo, left in tree, works on his tent in the park around City Hall Sunday, Oct. 16, 2011 in Philadelphia. The demonstration at City Hall is one of many being held across the country in support of the ongoing Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York.

Associated Press

NEW YORK — The Occupy Wall Street movement has close to $300,000, as well as storage space loaded with donated supplies in lower Manhattan. It stared down city officials to hang on to its makeshift headquarters, showed its muscle Saturday with a big Times Square demonstration and found legions of activists demonstrating in solidarity across the country and around the world.

Could this be the peak for loosely organized protesters, united less by a common cause than by revulsion to what they consider unbridled corporate greed? Or are they just getting started?

There are signs of confidence, but also signs of tension among the demonstrators at Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the movement that began a month ago today. They have trouble agreeing on things like whether someone can bring in a sleeping bag and show little sign of uniting on any policy issues. Some protesters eventually want the movement to rally around a goal, while others insist that isn't the point.

"We're moving fast, without a hierarchical structure and lots of gears turning," said Justin Strekal, a college student and political organizer who traveled from Cleveland to New York to help. "... Egos are clashing, but this is participatory democracy in a little park."

Even if the protesters were barred from camping in Zuccotti Park, as the property owner and the city briefly threatened to do last week, the movement would continue, Strekal said. He said activists were working with legal experts to identify alternate sites where the risk of getting kicked out would be relatively low.

Wall Street protesters are intent on hanging on to the momentum they gained from Saturday's worldwide demonstrations, which drew hundreds of thousands of people, mostly in the U.S. and Europe. They're filling a cavernous space a block from Wall Street with donated goods to help sustain their nearly month-long occupation of a private park nearby.

They've amassed mounds of blankets, pillows, sleeping bags, cans of food, medical and hygienic supplies — even oddities like a box of knitting wool and 20 pairs of swimming goggles (to shield protesters from pepper-spray attacks). Supporters are shipping about 300 boxes a day, Strekal said.

The space was donated by the United Federation of Teachers, which has offices in the building.

Close to $300,000 in cash also has been donated through the movement's website and by people who give money in person at the park, said Bill Dobbs, a press liaison for the movement. The movement has an account at Amalgamated Bank, which bills itself as "the only 100 percent union-owned bank in the United States."

Strekal said the donated goods are being stored "for a long-term occupation."

"We are unstoppable! Another world is possible!" Kara Segal and other volunteers chanted in the building lobby as they arrived to help unpack and sort items, preparing them to be rolled out to the park.

While on the streets, moments of madness occasionally erupt in the protest crowd — accompanied by whiffs of marijuana, grungy clothing and disarray — order prevails at the storage site.

It doubles as a sort of Occupy Wall Street central command post, with strategic meetings that are separate from the "general assembly" free-for-alls in the park. One subject Sunday was data entry: protesters are working to get the names and addresses of donors into a databank.

The movement has become an issue in the Republican presidential primary race and beyond, with politicians from both parties under pressure to weigh in.

President Barack Obama referred to the protests at Sunday's dedication of a monument for Martin Luther King Jr., saying the civil rights leader "would want us to challenge the excesses of Wall Street without demonizing those who work there."

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