Wall St. protests: How reform happens

Thousands of Occupy Seattle protesters take to the streets of downtown Seattle during the second week of the protest held in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street protest in New York City, Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011.
AP Photo/seattlepi.com, Joshua Trujillo

A street fight of sorts rumbles on this weekend in an unlikely place. The address is Wall Street, the symbolic heart of American finance. And how big the confrontation will grow is, at this point, anybody's guess. Rebecca Jarvis lays out the stakes:

"We are the 99 percent!" "Enough is enough!"

It started out as just a handful of protesters near Wall Street - the sort of demonstration folks describe as "ragtag"... "disorganized."

But over the week past, they began to find their voices.

And they began to grow in numbers.

"Wall Street got bailed out, and we all got sold out!" said one protester.

Now, three weeks and counting after the Occupy Wall Street movement first took up residence in a downtown Manhattan park, you're hearing fewer and fewer references to ragtag.

"Our mission is to change the system," said Brian Phillips, an ex-Marine. He hitchhiked from the West Coast to join a movement whose goals still remain vague.

"Mainly get the corporations out of the government," Phillips said, "and the fact that they have financial influence in all the decisions in lawmaking. It's a corrupt system."

And as the protests have grown larger, and gone viral - and gotten increasingly confrontational - more and more people have taken notice.

Thousands take Wall Street protest to N.Y.C. park
Standoff with protesters closes D.C. museum
"Occupy" protesters garner increased support

It's drawn folks like actor Mark Ruffalo: "It's a leaderless movement that really reflects the voice of the whole," he said. "We just saw a massive rip off of our tax dollars. And in a bailout, there's no ongoing investigations. No one's been brought to justice. And that is, I think, what this movement is about."

To be sure, some of it seems straight out of the Sixties, complete with songs from Peter Yarrow, of Peter, Paul and Mary.

... a grass-roots newspaper ...

... and a pretty basic communication system.

"Here you're not allowed to have a permit to use any sort of amplified sound," said logistics planner Craig Bethell. He said the "people's mic" - cupped hands - was "really a creative solution on how to, when one person's speaking, speak to thousands of people."

But in other ways, this protest is state-of-the-art, using the Internet to spin off demonstrations nationwide.

"What is the goal?" Jarvis asked organizer Victoria Sobel.

"That's a good question. And I will not - I cannot say that we have consensed as a group to goals, or demands or principles," Sobel said. "And that's something that as a group of people, as a group of occupiers and even broader, as a whole set of occupiers, is being discussed daily, hourly. I'm sure if we took a poll right now, there's people talking about it in this block."

When asked what he thinks was the tipping point for the protest movement, author Michael Lewis ("Boomerang") replied, "It's really hard to say when the level of pain gets to a certain point, the people are willing to take action. But what's changed is that young people, especially, have been living with years now of a bad economy, and poor employment prospects.

"We have a system right now where people in Wall Street banks can still take lots of risk - and make lots of money taking the risk - and if it goes wrong, it's probably OUR responsibility. And so, it's capitalism for us and socialism for the capitalists, I think is a fair way to describe it. The gains inside the big Wall Street firms are captured by the people who work inside the big Wall Street firms. The losses are losses that we will all suffer because they're 'too big to fail.'"

And it's the political system's failure to fix that perceived injustice that is - according to the protesters and their supporters - striking a chord ...