NEW YORK — To veterans of past social movements, the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York and spread nationwide have been a welcome response to corporate greed and the enfeebled economy. But whether the energy of protesters can be tapped to transform the political climate remains to be seen.
“There’s a difference between an emotional outcry and a movement,” said Andrew Young, who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as a strategist during the civil rights movement and served as U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. “This is an emotional outcry. The difference is organization and articulation.”
The nearly four-week-old protest that began in a lower Manhattan park has taken on a semblance of organization and a coherent message has largely emerged: That “the 99 percent” who struggle daily as the economy shudders, employment stagnates and medical costs rise are suffering as the 1 percent who control the vast majority of the economy’s wealth continues to prosper.
The growing cohesiveness and profile of the protest have caught the attention of public intellectuals and veterans of past social movements.
“I think if the idea of the movement is to raise the discontent that a lot of people from different walks of life and different persuasions have on the economic inequity in this country — it’s been perfect,” said the Rev. Al Sharpton, who plans to broadcast his nationally syndicated radio show from the park today and five days later lead a jobs march in Washington, D.C.
He said he felt it was necessary to be there to talk about how blacks and Latinos are also buffeted by economic difficulties.
“I think it is more a movement to show dissatisfaction. I think that is effective and useful,” he said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson said the protest was a growing success. “There is a legitimacy to their demands for economic reconstruction,” he said, with the analysis of the problems in the economic system “dead on,” as he wrote in a commentary.
He said the protest could become a powerful movement if “it remains disciplined, focused and nonviolent — and turns some of their pain into voting power.”