Too Big, or Too Big to Fail? Occupy Wall Street’s Growing Pains

Monday night at Zuccotti Park, the headquarters of the Occupy Wall Street protest, someone slipped The Observer a stack of small fliers. “Pass it on,” a twenty-something girl in a hoodie said. “Zuccotti’s full!” the quarter-size page read. “There are more parks close by! We need space! Let’s take it!”

Indeed, it’s become difficult just to walk around the plaza in the day, when the still-unverified number of protesters are joined by tourists and gawkers. The food committee is jockeying to find a commercial space, having outgrown its network of home kitchens and ersatz on-site pantry, which consists of two tall metal restaurant shelves and a clogged serving line surrounded by a barricade of boxes of corn and fruit. The General Assembly, the governing body that determines the organizations next moves by consensus, still has no sound permit for a PA. The speakers are amplified by a triple version of the “human mic,” saying a few words at a time which are repeated by the audience seated immediately around them, then the people behind them, then the people behind them–a clerk also transcribes the proceedings on a laptop which is projected onto a screen.

The tediousness and logistical challenges of the Assembly is jamming up the movement. Committees are required to pass a proposal in order to spend more than $100 from the general fund, and with each new wave of righteous protesters it’s more likely that someone will block each motion. As a result, some groups are raising their own funds–creating legal implications and resentment. Everyone’s suspicious of the finance committee. The arts and culture committee and media group, the most visible committees, seem to rule the plaza. “They’re having secret meetings,” the protester who is establishing the plaza’s internet cafe said of the media group.

The only solution for the grassroots movement to remain functional seems to be to splinter. Last night at around 11 p.m., a small rogue group decided to act on the flier’s directive and “take” a second park. The flier came with a mostly-accurate list of the privately-owned public spaces in the Financial District, the ones with 24-hour public access. The Goldman Sachs Plaza, at 85 Broad, would have been attractive–but it’s no longer owned by Goldman. The JP Morgan Chase-owned plaza, has doubled down on security, and it’s not a POP–so it’s out.

We found about a dozen protesters milling around and munching dinner on the benches at the tiny plaza at 59 Maiden, hemming and hawing about what to do. The park was less hospitable than Zuccotti–much smaller, and lacking in tables. One dreadlocked protester who said his name was Joe told us the plan was to start a second, purist General Assembly–strictly anti-capitalist, he said. The current plan was to shoot for Saturday.

From that dinky plaza, things looked grim for Occupy Wall Street. It was supposed to rain. At Zuccotti Park, members of the N.Y.P.D. ordered protesters to shut off the projector due to complaints by neighboring residents. The movement is feeding 2,000 protesters a day (and some of the district’s homeless) and all that was left were nuts and Combos. We recalled the words of the movement’s spokesman, Patrick Bruner, at the previous week’s megamarch. The labor unions had joined, and students from five universities, and the parade was having trouble keeping a tight rank. “We’re too big!” he said. “Too big to fail!”

Too Big, or Too Big to Fail? Occupy Wall Street’s Growing Pains