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The “Occupy Wall Street” protest in New York is now entering it’s third week and has now spread to other parts of the country.

In other words, there’s no denying that these youngsters have managed to capture the country’s attention. But do any of us really understand what they’re protesting?

The rallies, which began 16 days ago with a goal of occupying Wall Street for months, spread to cities including Los Angeles and Boston, where 25 people were arrested Sept. 30 after police said they refused to leave the lobby of a Bank of America Corp. building. The next day, New York City police halted a march over the Brooklyn Bridge and took hundreds of activists into custody for blocking traffic. Some people arrested claimed officers had tricked them into leaving the pedestrian walkway.

“The huge event on the Brooklyn Bridge is likely to bring thousands more into the movement,” said T.V. Reed, a professor of American studies at Washington State University who wrote “The Art of Protest: Culture and Activism From the Civil Rights Movement to the Streets of Seattle.”

On placards and in chants, protesters are citing Americans’ frustrations with a financial industry that received unprecedented taxpayer bailouts while damaging an economy in which unemployment remains above 9 percent. They aim to put Wall Street on the defensive, just as firms seek to shape regulations and influence next year’s general election.

Protests also have been held in San Francisco, and last week, about 200 people met in a Methodist church in Philadelphia to organize a similar event in that city, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported yesterday. (For a slide show of Amy Arbus’s portraits of Wall Street protesters, click here.)

Demonstrators initially struggled to build momentum, drawing a fraction of the 20,000 participants that organizers such as Adbusters, a group promoting the demonstrations, aimed to lure to lower Manhattan for the Sept. 17 kickoff. Instead, about 1,000 people showed up, and by the time traders and bankers returned to work two days later, the crowd had dwindled to about 200. The number of protesters camping in Zuccotti Park a few blocks from the New York Stock Exchange fell into the dozens that week.

On Sept. 24, a larger group of weekend protesters watched as a New York Police Department deputy inspector used pepper spray on some participants. The incident stoked public interest.

Provoking police is part of protesters’ strategy to get noticed, said Michael Heaney, a political science professor at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor who has researched social movements.

“The police actions give them sympathetic attention,” Heaney said yesterday in a telephone interview. “The protesters want to be pepper-sprayed, they want to be arrested,” because if authorities take actions that may be perceived as unjust, “then that helps their cause.”

Okay, but is any of this going to affect anything in the real world?



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