After three weeks of camping out in Lower Manhattan, and with protests now breaking out in other cities throughout the United States, the "Occupy Wall Street" movement has proved it has staying power. It also has an image problem. The movement has been widely portrayed in the U.S. media as a disorganized group of dreadlocked, privileged college students without coherent goals.
But as we've seen throughout the Middle East this year, a movement of fed-up, tech-savvy young people can quickly snowball into something more significant. So I spoke with a veteran of the Tahrir Square uprising that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak to get his thoughts on what lessons Occupy Wall Street can take from the Arab Spring.
1. You don't need a leader, but you do need a platform.
Like Occupy Wall Street, there was no one leader of the anti-Mubarak movement. Mosa'ab Elshamy, a medical student and freelance photographer whose Twitter feed became a must-read for those trying to follow the demonstrations, says that a lack of central authority isn't an issue as long as everyone knows what they're there for.
"There was strong agreement because there was a common target, which was toppling Hosni Mubarak," Elshamy says. "Nobody thought about whether we are going to have parliamentary elections after, or how we were going to write a constitution or all these fiascoes we have now. These divisions emerged after toppling. But during those days, no one brought these issues up."
Elshamy recalls that the protesters' list of demands was written on a building-size banner so that "everyone inside and outside the square knew what we wanted."
Watching the protests in New York, Elshamy says it "took me a while to figure out what their demands are." Although there have been a number of proposed manifestos circling online and a declaration of grievances, addressing topics ranging from tax and trade policy to the funding of elections to animal cruelty, it's still difficult to pinpoint what exactly would constitute a victory for the activists camped out in Zuccotti Park.
Elshamy says the agreed-upon demands need not address the grievances of everyone present, but that in Egypt it was critical that there were "three or four or five that everyone agreed upon."