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November 15, 2011

Occupy Movement Works to Maintain Credibility

by Jeff Swicord

With police shutting down so-called "Occupy" camps around the United States, there is growing criticism that participants were becoming too confrontational.  While there are some more aggressive elements on the fringes of the Occupy movement who have caused problems, most protesters adhere to a strict code of non-violence.  Our reporter talked with several Occupy protesters in Washington, about the movement's efforts to maintain credibility.

After months of occupation, police moved in, evicting protestors and dismantled camps.  First in Oakland, then Portland, and now New York, were the Occupy movement started.

Officials say health conditions had become intolerable in the camps.  A murder was reported in Oakland and a rape in Philadelphia, where Mayor Michael Nutter says the protest was attracting people with the wrong motives.

“We are seeing serious health and safety issues playing out on almost a daily basis," said Nutter. "The people of Occupy Philly have changed, and their intentions have changed.”

In Washington, two "Occupy" camps are still intact.  Veteran activist Kevin Zeese says movements often go through growing pains.

“I think as movements grow and attract new people, you attract people who aren’t as clear on their purpose," said Zeese. "And who may have different agendas, whether they are people who are actually infiltrating to cause trouble and escalate violence to destroy the credibility of the movement.”

Zeese says movements must police themselves.  Here at the Freedom Plaza Occupy camp, there is a list of principles all protesters must sign if they want to stay.

“You can see the first one starts out as a non-violence resolution," he said.

They range from not carrying weapons, to not vandalizing or stealing property.  Sociologist Lester Kurtz says a non-violence ethos is essential for a protest movement’s success.

“They know that if they can maintain a non-violent discipline, it enhances the value of their message," said Kurtz. "If they lose non-violent discipline, then it begins to discredit them in the eyes of a lot of potential sympathizers.”

Occupy protesters say fringe elements who do not adhere to their principles have caused scattered violent incidents around the country.  

Recently in Washington, the Occupy movement drew public criticism after confrontations with police at a protest event.  An elderly woman fell down and several protesters were hit by a car.  

A protester who calls himself Pietro says there are some people in Occupy D.C. who, when provoked, have aggressive tendencies.   

“Those who actively engage the police in aggressive actions need to be told to leave camp, is basically what I think," said Pietro.

Occupy D.C. has worked to mend its relationship with the police.  And some in the camp have attended non-violent civil disobedience training.  For now they plan to continue their occupation, even as questions grow about the future of the movement nationally.