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4 Key Questions About the Future of Occupy Wall Street

After a little more than a month of explosive growth, there’s a sense that Occupy Wall Street is at a crossroads.

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Will the occupations survive the winter?

There are as many fronts in this battle as there are occupations. The overwhelming  displays of police force in Atlanta and Oakland, Calif., likely spell an end to the sustained presence of protesters in public spaces in those cities.

In New York, protesters face a punishing winter. But they also have hundreds of thousands of dollars in donations, and, the Daily News  reports, are stocking up on supplies:

The Daily News was given a peak inside occupiers’ storage space at 52 Broadway and saw shelves lined with blankets, sub-zero sleeping bags, heavy coats, cough syrup and even an assortment of herbal teas.

There is also the unsettled question of how long the Bloomberg administration and Brookfield, the large real estate company that owns Zuccotti, will allow protesters to stay. Several days ago Bloomberg promised more arrests. A spokeswoman for Brookfield says the company has no further public comment right now on its position on Zuccotti.

Another player in all this is the community board in lower Manhattan, which has gotten lots of complaints about noise from neighborhood residents. This week, the board passed a  resolution calling for, among other things, a limit on drumming in Zuccotti to two hours a day. The occupiers will have to work to maintain good relations with the local community; if they fail, they will be handing City Hall an excuse to clear the park.

Can public and media interest be sustained?

Occupy Wall Street accounted for 10 percent of the mainstream media’s news coverage in the week of Oct. 10-16,  according to Pew. That’s a remarkable accomplishment for a movement that was then less than a month old. But the mainstream media has a notoriously short attention span. In the week of Oct. 17-23, Occupy  accounted for just 4 percent of news coverage — a drop that could partly be attributed to the death of Moammar Gadhafi.

Some within the movement argue it doesn’t matter.

“[I]f the MSM losses interest, all the better [in my humble opinion],” writes organizer Justin Wedes in an email. “Most of them are intent upon delegitimizing us now. And we have our own indie media that is growing every day.”

While that may be true, there are also signs that growth in public interest — measured by Micah Sifry in Google searches and “likes” of Occupy Facebook groups — is slowing.

To force the media — and the public — to stay interested, occupiers will have to show both durability and creativity. Part of that can be accomplished by simply maintaining physical occupations in harsh conditions (like winter or repeated police raids). New tactics will also help. There is work being done on both these fronts, of course. The Yes Men, for example, have been helping  to train occupiers to think about attention-grabbing protest actions.

Finally, it’s worth noting the New York Times  poll that found that 29 percent of Americans had heard little or nothing about the protests. That’s almost one-third of the country that Occupy can still reach.



Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin More Justin Elliott

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