After tent cities fade, Occupy turns to specifics

By Amy Westfeldt

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, Dec. 1 2011 12:00 a.m. MST

Alan Collinge of Tacoma, Wash., founder of studentloanjustice.org, holds a sign expressing his views during an interview with The Associated Press at Zuccotti Park, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2011 in New York. The tent cities in New York, Los Angeles and Philadelphia have faded away. And now Occupy Wall Street protesters are starting to talk more about the movement’s specific goals.

Mary Altaffer, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

NEW YORK — For more than two months, they were open-air communes where people came to rebuild society and start a nationwide discussion on how to close the wide gap between the rich and the poor. But as Occupy Wall Street tent cities fade away, a growing number of protesters are pushing to put a clear message ahead of the movement.

Alan Collinge has his list ready — return bankruptcy protection to student loans. Bring back regulations that were removed from the Glass-Steagall Act. End corporate personhood.

"They should come up with a short term list of no brainer agenda items," said Collinge, wearing a huge sign in the rain at New York's Zuccotti Park calling for student loan reforms.

More than a dozen other protesters interviewed by The Associated Press also came up with a wish list of specifics to address what they say is corporate greed and economic inequality. The list of demands ranged from the simple — get corporate money out of politics — to the ethereal (make sure Washington politicians act with a moral conscience).

Asking Occupy protesters what, exactly, they would do to reform government and the financial system is a loaded question and a source of internal conflict. Collinge, 41, of Tacoma, Wash., said he has unsuccessfully lobbied Occupy's general assembly meetings in New York to develop a strong platform, but has been rebuffed.

"A lot of people, they think that this should be sort of a catchall" for every issue, he said, the goal being to expose the economic problems in the country, not solve them.

Other cities' movements have held meetings of committees with titles like "cohesive messaging" to discuss strategy, but haven't agreed on listing specifics as a movement. The greater purpose isn't to influence the government or the financial system through classic demands, but to foster broad cultural changes that will gradually empower people to stop depending on big corporations and Wall Street money.

"All the energy has gone into an outcry over economic conditions, with the hope that others will join us and pick up issues they care about," says Bill Dobbs, press liaison for Occupy Wall Street in New York. "Our best hope is inspiring other people to take action to bring economic justice."

Some observers and experts predict that Occupy groups may spend the next few months focusing on smaller actions while waiting for the summer when the Republican and Democratic conventions would give Occupiers a world-wide audience.

But ask around, and protesters who spent weeks living in encampments and talking about the country's woes have a clear idea of what they want.

A number have called for limiting campaign donations and getting big money out of politics. Some Occupy members want to limit the amount of money a person is allowed to give a politician. Others want to ban corporate donations specifically, or the number of campaign ads.

"How did Abraham Lincoln ever become president without a television set?" asked Ryan Peterson, an entertainment company worker from Chicago who lived for weeks in Zuccotti Park. Paul Lemaire, a 20-year-old visual arts student from Brooklyn, wants the two-party system eliminated.

The influence of money in politics is one of the greatest factors behind the gap between the superrich and the poor, said James Parrott, chief economist at the Fiscal Policy Institute in New York, which published a report last year on economic disparity. It shows "that they're very focused in understanding the root causes" of the country's economic issues, he said.

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