Where are the Occupy Wall Street protests heading?

By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News, New York

image captionCommentators are wondering if this movement could become a "Tea Party" for the left

As a man known as Mercury puts the finishing touches to his corporate zombie make up, he explains why he's joined the anti-capitalist protests here in the shadow of Wall Street.

"We are inspired by the Arab Spring. Americans have rights but they're too often apathetic."

Welcome to Zuccotti Park, where the leaderless protest is now entering its third week.

Sophie is here to protest about the execution of a Georgia man, Troy Davis.

Will Estrella believes this is his generation's revolution.

And Brian Phillips, a marine turned housing community official, wants to see the Federal Reserve abolished.

The protesters aren't unified in their motivations or their demands, but they're tapping into discontent about inequalities in an America still struggling after one recession and fearful about entering a second.

'We're the 99%'

Brian Phillips, who wears his marine dog tags round his neck, says he has been lied to all his life by officialdom and he's had enough.

image captionThe protesters want a change in political and economic culture

That's what made him leave Washington state and his job at a low-income housing unit to come here.

Now Brian is efficiently dealing with media requests.

I tell him that I want to speak to one of the 700 arrested on Brooklyn Bridge on Sunday.

"Arrested Sunday!" calls Brian. Two young men step forward for me to interview.

That's how we communicate, Brian explains, with marine-like efficiency, as to his left a group start the day with yoga.

Police officers stand at the edges of the protesters' encampment, and today at least relations seem cordial enough.

But on Saturday the demonstrators say the police ushered them on to a roadway section of the Brooklyn Bridge rather than the pedestrianised walkway, fenced them in and then arrested them for disorderly conduct.

The NYPD says this isn't correct, and has released a video of the police telling the protesters not to go on the roadway section of the bridge.

Freelance photographer Will Estrella says the police clearly guided him and others on to the bit of the bridge they weren't meant to be on.

The NYPD's tactics for policing this protest have been called into question after a high ranking officer was seen on a YouTube video using pepper spray on demonstrators the weekend before last.

Will Estrella wants this to be a peaceful protest, a theme echoed across Zuccotti Park.

Most of the protesters I saw camping out at Zuccotti Park were young - in their mid-20s. Many have gone from job to job since graduating.

They have known difficult economic times in young adulthood, and they don't like a system which to them seems to reward what they call the "1%" of society.

"We're the 99%", they say.

Their manifesto supports the people of the world against corporate greed, and calls for people to assert their power and create a process to address the problems we face.

In the centre of Zuccotti park, amid the sleeping bags, is the communal food area.

Ange, a 24-year-old redhead who does freelance art work in Manhattan, is helping organise the food for the protesters.

"I like communal decision making, something that comes from the bottom up," she explains. Ange isn't sure how long she'll be here, but she's pleased to be part of a grassroots movement.

Where will this lead? No-one knows. But the protesters say their enthusiasm won't fade with the autumn sunshine.

The question is whether this ad hoc group of protesters - who feel they're getting the short end of the stick while corporate America hoards money - could morph into a political movement, a kind of left wing Tea Party.

The city's unions are now starting to back the protesters, something they didn't at first, suggesting they see the potential here.

Jesse Cooper Levy, a bearded 24-year-old, hopes this movement will influence politics.

His particular concern is what he sees as the corrupting influence of corporate lobbyists on Washington DC.

"What do you want?" I ask the protesters. "Change", comes the answer - a change in political and economic culture.

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