Occupy Wall Street's future course unclear

Demonstrators returned to Zuccotti park one day after

Demonstrators returned to Zuccotti park one day after their encampment was taken down. (Nov. 11, 2011) (Credit: Newsday/Alejandra Villa)

What's next for Occupy Wall Street?

Nobody knows -- from national experts to the protesters themselves.

But most agree that the budding movement, drawing from the strength of its protests in New York City and across the nation, has the potential to influence social or political reform on a large scale.

The protesters have marched under such banners as "Resist Austerity" and "Rebuild Our Economy," but New York civil rights lawyer Norman Siegel said achieving major change is much harder than marching in the streets.

Siegel, 68, a veteran of the 1960s civil rights movement, said Occupy Wall Street is unlikely to follow the tea party model, which used its cut taxes-shrink government agenda to back political candidates.

"There's no specific blueprint," he said. "Economic justice has been long denied. That's the goal."

Demonstrators who've been heavily involved in Occupy Wall Street said that only two months into the movement, they don't know what form, or forms, it will take.

"I think it will sprout off in many directions," said Matthew Sky, 27, of Brooklyn, an unemployed Web developer.

For the moment, protesters say they'll continue to challenge the economic system, with a planned "occupation" of foreclosed homes on Dec. 6. They also intend to focus more intently on local issues. Organizers of Occupy Brooklyn, for example, are opposing further gentrification of neighborhoods.

"It could be that this is a burst of energy" toward addressing working-class issues, said Mark Bray, 29, a doctoral student at Rutgers University.

But don't look for the protest group to throw its support behind a slate of Democratic or Republican candidates for Congress, said Eric Lichten, chairman of the sociology department at the C.W. Post Campus of Long Island University in Brookville.

Occupy Wall Street protesters find fault with both major political parties for being too cozy with corporations, he said.

There are already signs that the protests might be influencing the political debate.

Heather Gautney, a sociology professor at Fordham University and an expert on social movements, noted Democrats on the bipartisan supercommittee working on deficit reduction have said their push for higher taxes on the wealthy was influenced by the New York demonstrations.

"That process has already begun," Gautney said. "And as we get closer to the elections, I think we're going to see more of it."

She said the protesters clearly want to ride the success of the movement forged out of the occupation of Zuccotti Park.

"This is a social movement," Gautney said. "It's kind of an organic expression, and that gets lost when it gets translated into political outcomes."

But one critic is convinced the Occupy Wall Street movement "isn't growing anymore" and is unlikely to last.

Frank Seabrook, of Wading River, who founded a political action committee that raises money for tea party candidates, said similarities between the two groups end with both talking about government no longer serving the will of the people.

"They want more government intervention and we want less," he said.

Occupy Wall Street is trying to redefine itself in the wake of headline-grabbing demonstrations that have drawn thousands of protesters, said Susan Lerner, executive director of Common Cause in New York, a nonpartisan group dedicated to open government.

"Ultimately in any political situation, it's numbers that count," Lerner said. "They've tapped into a huge well of frustration. What the focus will be I don't know yet."

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