Wall Street protests reflect nation's diversity

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NEW YORK — As other protesters chanted vigorously around her, Nancy Pi-Sunyer stood off to the side at the Occupy Wall Street rally, clutching her sign.

At 66, the retired teacher was joining a protest for the first time in her life.

“I was too young for the civil rights movement,” Pi-Sunyer said earlier this week as she joined thousands of protesters marching in lower Manhattan. “And during the Vietnam War, I was too serious a student. Now, I just want to stand up and have my voice be heard.”

As the protests have expanded and gained support from new sources, what began three weeks ago as a group of mostly young people camping out on the streets has morphed into something different: an umbrella movement for people of varying ages, life situations and grievances.

There are a few common denominators among the protesters: their position on the left of the political spectrum, and the view that the majority in America – the “99 percent,” in their words – isn’t getting a fair shake.

Beyond that, though, there’s a diversity of age, gender and race – in part because of the recent injection of labor union support, and fueled by social networks – that is striking to some who study social protests.

“Most people think this is a bunch of idealistic young kids,” said Heather Gautney, a sociology professor at Fordham University and an analyst of social protests. “But the wider movement is remarkably more diverse than it’s been portrayed. I’ve seen a lot of first-time protesters, nurses, librarians.”

Pi-Sunyer, who lives in Mont­clair, N.J., was drawn into the fray Wednesday the same way many were – via social networks.

“I just decided to get off the couch and be in control,” she said, holding a hand-lettered sign that read: “Wise OWLS Seek Economic Justice 4 All.” (OWLS was a play on the initials for Occupy Wall Street – with an “l’’ for little people.)

Both Cherie and Rich Walters had protested during the Vietnam War, as students at Central Mich­igan University. Compared with those anti-war protests, she said, this one was way more diverse – “different ages, colors, even languages,” she said. Legal Aid lawyer Steve Wasserman, 63, who joined Wednesday’s march with his union and remembered his Vietnam protesting days, agreed. “The old left was very male-dominated,” he said.

Such diversity is what organizers were hoping for, said Patrick Bruner, the spokesman for Occupy Wall Street. Since launching the protests in mid-September with a group of mostly young activists, “we’ve made a concerted effort to diversify our group,” he said, with an outreach committee and caucus groups for people of color, for example. “We’ve gradually seen our message resonate with different groups of people.”

DEVELOPMENTS

• Demonstrators said they are growing out of their lower Manhattan encampment and exploring options to expand to other public spaces in New York City. On Saturday, several hundred protesters marched north to Washington Square Park – the site of protests against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and 1970s – to discuss expanding their encampment to other sites.

• Hundreds of people converged on downtown Charlotte, N.C., on Saturday to march on Bank of America’s corporate headquarters as the anti-Wall Street protests spreading across the country reached the second-largest U.S. banking hub. In Atlanta, protesters set up in Woodruff Park on Friday.

– From wire reports


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