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Dissension among the ranks at Occupy Wall Street

A meeting of the protest’s general assembly descends into yelling and jockeying over who could speak, witnesses said, and protesters voice concerns about financial transparency.
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The Occupy Wall Street protest is showing signs of stress.

A meeting of the protest’s general assembly late Sunday descended into yelling and jockeying over who could speak, witnesses said, as protesters living in the Zuccotti Park encampment voiced concerns about financial transparency, feeling underrepresented and not having enough daily resources as winter nears.

The contentious meeting came days after an ad hoc group of protesters held an alternative general assembly and yet others living in the camp formed their own movement.

“I’ve seen this coming for a while, the occupier versus non-occupier,” Lorenzo Serna, a 31-year-old from North Dakota in the camp since the occupation began Sept. 17, told the crowd gathered at the foot of the sprawling tent camp near Wall Street. “People fractured, people stopped listening and coming together, and instead went on their own way. That can be fine, but we still live here together, so let’s work on it.”

The protest in Manhattan has more than 80 working groups tackling topics ranging from alternative banking and electoral reform to arts and culture and town planning (for the camp).

With tents going up in the park — and taking up a lot of real estate — a number of the group meetings are now held at a large, indoor atrium nearby.

But while those meetings are going on, others are attending to the camp’s daily needs and can’t leave, and they feel left out, Serna said.

“Lack of dialogue is really happening because there is no real communal space, there’s no way for people to really interact,” he said.

Derek Brown, 44, mentioned rumors circulating about both sides when he got up to address the crowd about finances.

“I want to know where the money is going,” he said. “We need not just transparency but accountability, because there are some people in the ghetto in which I live (he pointed to the western end of the camp) that are destitute and are occupying. The problem is this: We’ve heard rumors, like you guys have heard rumors about us, that the people who have structured this ‘Occupy’ site are not refunneling the money to where it needs to go concerning the people who are occupying the park. We need direct access to monetary funds … to metro cards, to laundry money.”

“I heard that some of the 99 percent are the 1 percent of the 99 percent,” he added, and to which some people started applauding. “We don’t need that.”

Protesters who were feeling underrepresented began the evening meeting 15 minutes early “and voiced their opinions on how we aren’t being represented on the other half of the park,” said Cody Thies, a 19-year-old from Los Angeles.

“The people who make decisions for the (general assembly) are tourists who pass by and just come in only to say what we should do here and then leave and go back to their apartments,” he added.

Those living in the camp were particularly upset with their inability to get the assembly to approve “basic things so we can survive and not freeze in the winter,” Thies said.

Overtures were made to address the concerns.

Nicole Carty, a member of the group that runs the general assemblies, invited those living in the park to learn how to facilitate. She also said she was happy the grievances were being aired.

“I know it looks extremely chaotic. I know it can be extremely frustrating,” she told them. “I know we have an agenda that we probably aren’t getting to. But I believe by having this conversation today, we can start a discussion about how we are going to bridge the growing cultural divide in this park.”

One person hoping to help guide those efforts is Rabbi Chaim Gruber, 42, a member of the solidarity working group who addressed the general assembly about a grievances committee he had just started.

“Solidarity had recognized that there was a severe break in unity in what is going on or what had been going on in Occupy Wall Street,” he said, referring to the alternative general assembly and to The Occupational Parallel, born out of the western end of the camp.

Part of the problem was a lack of familiarity with the general assembly’s procedures, he said, noting that he was hoping to organize training for the protesters in the park so they could join in. Serna, the North Dakota protester, also noted he felt there were misunderstandings among those camping about how the assembly worked.

“There are different worlds that exist here, there really, really are,” said Gruber, who called himself the “rabbi in residence.”

“There’s people who are disenfranchised and who have been disenfranchised for a large part of their life, and there are people here who have not been disenfranchised and who are highly educated. … By nature, they have a manner ... that more knows the ins and outs of the system, so to speak, and how things are done.”

Down in the western end of the camp, a cardboard box on a tent read, in part, “The Occupational Parallel.” A man who identified himself as Chilligan, said this effort, launched on Nov. 11, ran parallel to Occupy Wall Street, but it was not on the same path.

Some people at the camp “believe that we are stagnating, we are running in place. We’re sitting here camping out in a park begging politicians and corporations to change the game so that we can have a fair share and that’s simply not going to happen. It’s not a realistic expectation,” he said.

Bill Dobbs, of the protest's public relations working group, acknowledged there were many issues to be “sorted out and bridged.”

“This is about social change. It’s also about democracy. And, they don’t come gift-wrapped,” he said. “It’s a valuable lesson in how crucial working together and consensus is.”

By evening’s end, a number of the protesters said they hoped that the clearing of the air would help the movement go forward.

“We are in our infancy stages right now,” Thies said. “We still have a lot of room to grow, a lot of progress to be made, but we will eventually get it down.”