* Forging alliances with unions, other groups
* Little involvement with political campaigns
* Feb 29 'Shut Down the Corporations' event
By Nick Carey
CEDAR FALLS, Iowa, Feb 15 Their
encampments are largely gone, but the U.S. Occupy movement is
far from dead, with organizers focused on a next wave of
In Iowa, a major farming state, Occupy activists are
mobilizing with other groups against agricultural biotechnology
firm, Monsanto. In Oklahoma, Occupy plans to target retail giant
Walmart for protests. Groups in more than 50 cities are planning
a national protest day February 29, targeting numerous
Occupy groups in Chicago are forging bonds with the teachers
and transit unions. In Cincinnati, Occupy is boosting numbers by
building coalitions with civic groups and the Green Party.
To an extent, the groups say their message has been
validated by President Barack Obama, a Democrat who has focused
on income inequality in his election-year calls for tax reform.
But for the most part, Occupy groups have yet to align
themselves with a presidential campaign or even get involved in
state or local elections.
"We need candidates who are about the people. We don't have
any right now. To change that we have to start with each and
every one of us," said Nancy Bohannon of IndyOWS, an Occupy
group in Indianapolis that is trying to help with voter
In interviews with Occupy groups in more than a dozen states
- on both coasts and across the Midwest - activists described
training for nonviolent confrontation, plans for spring rallies
at state capitols and preparations for a major presence at the
G-8 and NATO summits to be held in Chicago in May.
"We have had to get back to more conventional grassroots
organizing methods to get more people involved and engaged,"
said Chris Schwartz, a member of Iowa's Occupy Cedar Valley.
"What we're doing is building out infrastructure for the
"The encampments were fun and cathartic and they served a
purpose in bringing all of us together," said Zach Chasnoff, 33,
a landscaper who belongs to Occupy St. Louis. "Now we begin the
Academics who track middle-class populist movements say that
Occupy - originally formed to protest Wall Street excess - is at
an important juncture. The tent cities that popped up across the
country offered strong symbols but had little policy impact.
"The question is whether they can become more effective
while keeping a large number of volunteers engaged and excited.
This is where a lot of popular movements hit the shoals and
founder," said Steven Schier, a politics professor at Carleton
College in Northfield, Minnesota.
Schier said that unlike the Tea Party movement, which
focuses on limited government, Occupy's issues range from social
and economic justice to environmentalism and human rights.
"If you asked me to describe the Tea Party agenda I could
define it pretty well, but the Occupy movement is more
amorphous," he said. "As it becomes more specific it may lose
people and resources."
Robert Liebman, an associate sociology professor at Portland
State University, said he sees the protesters "doing a lot of
thinking, networking and training."
"Before you get people out onto the streets en masse, you
have to do networking and planning, plus work out what role
everyone can play," he said. He said Occupy's activities remind
him of the civil rights movement's early days.
Like the conservative Tea Party, the Occupy movement is a
loose collection of local groups, without national leaders.
Occupy wants systemic change but, unlike the Tea Party, it
has yet to embrace the political process. Most Occupiers
interviewed by Reuters said they prefer to stay out of politics,
a hallmark of the movement thus far.
Although Occupiers are tracking the upcoming elections,
Reuters only encountered one who is seeking political office.
Nate Kleinman of Occupy Philadelphia is running against
Democratic Representative Allyson Schwartz in Pennsylvania's
"I expect others will run for office sooner or later,"
Kleinman said. "We have to get this country back on track."
Unlike the highly individualistic conservatives in the Tea
Party, the Occupy movement has moved quickly to build
coalitions, especially in smaller cities.
Kellie Stewart, 46, used the internet to help organize from
St. Croix Falls, Wisconsin, population around 2,000.
"There aren't enough of us here to do anything," she said.
"So I turned to the Internet to help create a statewide group."
Occupy Wisconsin helps groups coordinate statewide, and
similar groups are springing up elsewhere, such as Occupy
Indiana and Occupy Oklahoma. Occupy the Midwest is planning a
March regional conference in St. Louis.
More than 50 groups plan to take part in the February 29
"Shut Down the Corporations" event, focusing on companies in
their areas. In New York, the target will be Bank of America.
"This is part of an effort to boost national coordination,"
said history student Mark Bray, a member of Occupy Wall Street.
"But this is not a top-down organization where people have to
get approval from a political party or NGO."
"The Occupy groups in Texas and Iowa are not waiting for us
to tell them what to do. They're just going out and doing it."
Activists in smaller cities say they needed to shift their
focus from encampments to spreading their message more broadly.
"We aim to peeling back the sleeping eyelids of the American
people," said IndyOWS' Bohannon. "We're going to wake them up."
Some groups are planning to return in the spring to
encampments that led to confrontations with authorities in
Washington, D.C., and Oakland, California. In New York, Occupy
Wall Street is considering "pop-up Occupations" for a day in a
park, plus other forms of public protest.
"Some people feel that re-encamping would serve as a symbol
and that it's something we need to do," said John Zarebski, 62,
a skilled tradesman and member of Occupy Lansing in Michigan.
"Others feel we should devote our resources elsewhere."
"A MOVEMENT OF MOVEMENTS"
Activists like university student Jessica Garraway of Occupy
Cedar Valley - a coalition of activists from Cedar Falls, Iowa
and nearby Waterloo - say they are in this for the long haul.
"We have our eyes on a prize far beyond just one election,"
Garraway said. "There is a systemic problem here that has to be
They argue that enthusiasm will not dissipate just because
the tents have come down.
"I've been waiting for years for people to rise up and get
more involved," said Justin Jeffre, 38, of Occupy Cincinatti, a
singer best known as part of the once-popular boy band '98
Degrees.' "It finally feels like we have a movement of