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Will they turn Obama away?

The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread to 60 cities, becoming the Number 2 headline in every news broadcast, and, a leading issue to debate for Republican presidential contenders. Ground reports from the epicentres of the movement.

world Updated: Oct 29, 2011 22:48 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times

Reverend Jesse Jackson walked slowly, surrounded by four burly men, as if unsure of the terrain. He wanted to give people time to recognise him. They did. But only one of them stepped up to shake him by the hands.

The Occupy DC protesters don't care about celebs anymore. Like their brethren elsewhere in the US. Not like in New York, where is all started, not in Oakland, California, where an Army veteran was felled by a gas grenade.

Squatting close to the White House, whose occupant is referred to only as "Him (with a thumb stuck in that direction)," the occupiers are the bigger celebs now, if not the more watched.

Starting just a month ago on New York's Wall Street, the movement has spread to 60 cities, becoming the Number 2 headline in every news broadcast, and, a leading issue to debate for Republican presidential contenders.

In short, the US is not talking about the Tea Party anymore. It's the OWS.

OWS is Occupy Wall Street, a squatters' movement started by Adbusters, a Canadian non-profit with no leaders, no followers, and a list of demands so long most commentators compare it to the communist manifesto.

Public interest in the Wall Street protests surged noticeably last week, said PEW, a public research body, on Thursday, ranking second in the News Interest Index at 18%, just behind the economy in general.

"People have been silent for too long," said Mariel Escobar, an Occupy DC protesters. She is a biologist from North Carolina and would have normally been in the Caribbean at this time of the year - "Jamaica mostly". But there she is, living in a small tent on Freedom Plaza in downtown Washington. Like everyone else there - old, middle aged and young - she lives on bread and peanut butter from a Food Not Bombs stall.

A US congressman visited the camp the previous night, and the protesters allowed him to speak. "But he ran away immediately," Escobar said, adding, "We don't want them around anymore."

They are setting the agenda. Till a few weeks ago, the Tea Party, a radical right wing offshoot of the Republicans, had taken centrestage dominating national debate and the issues on the dinner table in every American home.

Deficit reduction was their idea and it caught the imagination of the country so much that the Obama administration focused on it more than - his supporters pointed out - the real problem of growing unemployment.

The Wall Street occupiers are now getting the country doubling back to the basic question - who was responsible for the economic mess and who was the real victim. Rajat Gupta, the disgraced corporate executive?

The Republicans tried valiantly -and still are - to dismiss the occupiers as class warriors - but the party is divided on that. Ron Paul, the stridently conservative among Republican presidential hopefuls, has supported the occupiers. There is word out there among the occupiers that Obama will visit them soon. "We don't want Him," said Escobar, adding the general assembly, the decision making body of the protesters, will decide.

Will they really turn away the President?

First Published: Oct 29, 2011 22:42 IST