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Saturday's protest march by Occupy Little Rock — the local offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York, which is (among other things) seeking income equality and taxation fairness — was undeniably a success: peaceful, vocal, with a age-and-race-diverse crowd numbering around 500. Part of a worldwide day of protest, the Little Rock march stopped along the way for noisy pickets at the local seats of financial and political power: the Little Rock Chamber of Commerce, the headquarters of Stephens Inc. (home to the Little Rock branch of the Federal Reserve Bank), Bank of America and the Federal Building. The biggest question now is: Where does Occupy Little Rock go from here? The answer will ultimately help decide whether the Occupy movement fizzles or effects real change.
Though OLR prides itself on being democratic to a fault and "leaderless," one of the clear leaders on Saturday was Adam Lansky. He carried the bullhorn for a good bit of the morning, helping to lead protestors in chants like: "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!"
"The energy was great that day," Lansky said. "We picked up a lot of people that were just walking by. People got swept up in the moment, feeling the same thing." While Lansky doesn't want to reveal too much of the group's short-term plans, he did say OLR is in a "ramp-up phase." In coming weeks, Lansky said, the goals are to find a permanent spot where those in OLR can camp overnight, and planning the next march. The group will also stage a series of small protests outside Little Rock banks and financial firms in the next few weeks, though the leaders we talked to didn't want to specify when or where to keep "the element of surprise." For more information, visit: www.facebook.com/groups/occupyLR.
Lansky hopes the success of Saturday's march will draw others. "I think there are still people waiting to see what we do next before they get on board," he said. "They have natural fears. They have natural doubts. So not only do we need to prove to ourselves that we can do it, and we need to prove to the local government that we can do it, we need to prove to the rest of the 99 percent that we can do this."
Though the Occupy movement has been called unfocused, with a number of complaints and issues jockeying for the spotlight, Lansky said if the goals seem cloudy, it's because of the scope of the problems. "Part of why the movement has seemed so unfocused is that there are so many things we're frustrated with," he said, "even down to the human element of: Why is this happening? Why are we doing this to each other? Why are these people on top doing this to the people below? It's hurtful. Nobody likes being hurt, and we want to say something about it. If the representatives that we've elected won't say anything about it, this is what we have to do."
Dustin Kurz, a founding member of Occupy Little Rock, said the lack of clear goals has been overblown. "We do feel the pressure to [get a platform of ideas], and you can tell it within the group with some people," Kurz said. "But if you go up to New York to Occupy Wall Street, it's completely different than what the media is showing you here. If a reporter comes up to them, they have three or four points on why they're there."
Kurz said that he knows that not everybody who wants to support the movement has the time or money to travel to a protest. For him, their support is enough. "They have responsibilities. Families ... They're entrapped by this mess we're in," he said. "People who want to be a part of the movement but can't [come to a protest] can be a part of it by joining from home, by finding one Occupier and giving their support."
Jay Barth, chair of the Department of Politics and International Relations at Hendrix College, said that it's too early to know whether the Occupy movement will succeed or fail. "We're a little prone in the Information Age to do some evaluation a little more quickly than is appropriate," he said. "For instance, if we think about the Women's Movement, we wouldn't have evaluated it in 1963 or '64, right?" Barth said that he sees the Occupy movement as more "diffuse" than unfocused right now, but adds that if it is to survive, a "focal point" will have to come together sooner rather than later.
"I think there has to be some definition of the goals," he said. "Not immediately, but in the fairly near future. That's key ... Eventually has to be something to give people something more tangible to focus on."
Occupy Little Rock is undoubtedly a work in progress, and Lansky said they will be learning as they go.
"We have to experiment, react, and analyze constantly, not only while we're in the field executing actions, but in debriefing sessions afterward," he said. "We threw a big rock in the water. Now we have to ride out those ripples."
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