Occupy Wall Street had taken place for a full week before it started getting noticed in the mainstream media and talked about by the progressive political establishment. During that first week, people outside of Zuccotti Park just weren't sure whether it was worth paying attention to this leaderless, online-orchestrated, unfunded and somewhat anarchic movement.
When the press and conventional political institutions realized, a week in, that this was more than a flash mob, they still had trouble understanding, reporting about and engaging it. There was no timeline, no specific list of demands, to official leaders to be bargained with, bolstered or bought off. Reporters wondered who to quote. Political leaders were cautious to support a movement without a concrete platform.
Yet, the movement kept growing.
The public imagination hooked onto sensational moments - police use of mace, mass arrests. Political celebrities and their allies in entertainment gave outsiders something to see and repeat: Visits from Cornell West and Michael Moore, the whispers of a Radiohead show. But experienced political pundits cautioned them to get their act together, their platform in order, or else they'll sputter and dissolve.
But in spite of the pundits' predictions… the movement keeps growing.
Despite, or because of, mass arrests over the weekend, the group in Lower Manhattan grows. The movement has put out its own publication, The Occupied Wall Street Journal. Last week, led by TWU, local labor unions started endorsing the occupation.
Today, a march in solidarity is being supported by the progressive establishment, including the Working Families Party, and the grassroots community, from Greater NYC For Change to Democracy for NYC. Other campaigns, like the push for a Millionaire's Tax, have started factoring the anarchic gatherings into their organizing strategy.
Council Member Jumaane WIlliams was among the first local electeds to endorse the action, but others now join on. Borough President, and Mayoral hopeful, Scott Stringer penned in the Huffington Post today a sympathetic post arguing that the underlying economic situation "is not a problem we can arrest our way out of."
In 240 cities, Occupy actions are taking place. MoveOn.org, CREDO, Democracy for America and other national action lists have called upon their members to join. Brave New Films' subject line - Occupy Your City - says it all.
At the AFL-CIO's Young Workers Summit in Minneapolis last week, mention of Occupy Wall Street was met with resounding applause. At Take Back the American Dream, a DC convening of progressive organizations, hastily-arranged sessions on #Occupy were as popular as the panels and speakers months in the planning. Support of the movement became a topic in the Massachusetts Senate primary debate.
There is still no platform - yet cautious organizations are showing their support. There is still no executive council of decision makers, yet other movements are aligning themselves with the makeshift camp. There is still no microphone, yet officials are lining up to speak. There is still a sloppy story to tell, but participants are telling it to each other - through Twitter and other social media - making their experience real and replicable in city after city.
Nobody knows what it will be. It takes a long time to reach the nine-tenths consensus the General Assembly requires. But the energy and appeal are undeniable. People are stepping away from computers and into the streets. They are leading, not following, institutions, media coverage, officials and mass email lists. And they are doing something wholly un-owned and unownable by the banks at whom much of their frustration is directed.
Whether it grows from 250 to 500 cities or gets smashed by police action in the dead of the night, the makings of the movement are there - taking unpredictable forms, following unlikely leadership and rehearsing a set of skills, communication strategies and organizing techniques that will characterize movements of the years ahead.
Justin Krebs is a political organizer and writer based in New York City. He is the founder of Living Liberally, a nationwide network of 250 local clubs that create social events around progressive politics, and author of "538 Ways to Live, Work and Play Like a Liberal."