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Occupy Wall Street, Act II: Go local

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Until lately, the movement has been largely about occupying ground in the name of the 99 percent – and trying to hold that ground in the face of city and police intervention. Since Sept. 17, when the first Occupiers settled in on Wall Street in New York, thousands of protesters have been arrested in cities across the United States (usually for refusing to obey police orders or for resisting arrest). The Occupy movement has been a way for people to rise up and vent their frustrations, but critics fault it for being unwilling or unable to devise a national action plan around something concrete, such as backing the Democrats' push to raise taxes on millionaires or proposing a constitutional amendment to limit special-interest money in political campaigns.

But that is as it should be, say those involved with the movement as well as its close observers.

"The question of engaging with local issues brings inherent challenges to the Occupy movement, but it is also the only way it can really move forward," says George Ciccariello-Maher, a political theorist and assistant professor at Drexel University in Philadelphia, a city where police cleared an Occupy encampment on Nov. 30. The alternative is to remain on the level of macroeconomic analysis and national issues – and to jump into national electoral politics or lobbying. At this point in the movement's development, he says, those approaches would be difficult to sustain.

"The better approach is to focus on local issues that are crystallizations of national issues but in a local context," says Dr. Ciccariello-Maher.

Critics of the movement are dubious.

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