"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.
"As the Occupy movement becomes embroiled in local issues, it is the beginning of the end of the movement," predicts David Johnson, a Republican political consultant based in Atlanta and a former speechwriter for ex-Sen. Bob Dole, in an e-mail. "It loses focus from its national objectives, and local issues then lessen the cohesion of the movement."
In Los Angeles, where homeless people had occupied as many as half of the 500 tents that sprawled alongside City Hall before the site was razed, activists are tackling some root causes of homelessness, such as bank foreclosures. The group is demanding a moratorium on foreclosures from Bank of America.
"We are a microcosm of the larger issues," says Alissa Kokkins, a screenwriter and researcher who pitched a tent in the encampment on Day 1 and stayed until the city cleared it on Nov. 30.