Occupy Wall Street Protest: As Movement Spreads, a Message Evolves

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Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

Protesters with painted faces look on after a march to Los Angeles City Hall during the "Occupy Los Angeles" demonstration in solidarity with the ongoing "Occupy Wall Street" protest in New York City on October 1, 2011

When the Occupy Wall Street protesters bedded down on Friday night, their two-week-old movement appeared to have found a central message.

The movement’s website explained that on the two week anniversary of the day protesters first occupied Zuccotti Park in downtown Manhattan, there would be a solidarity march entitled, “We are the 99%–This Saturday thousands more of us will march together as one to show that it is time that the 99% are heard,” the website said. Less than 24 hours later, 700 protesters were on their way to precincts in Brooklyn and Manhattan, having been arrested while marching on the driving lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge. It was nearly a ten fold increase in the number arrested during marches one week before.

(PHOTOSMarchers Arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge)

Lost amid the stories about the number of marchers arrested is the evolution in the protesters’ message, which has begun to cohere around the theme, “We Are the 99%.” “The reason I’m here now is to speak for the other 99 percent of this country that has been denied a seat at the negotiating table,” protester Henry James Ferry told TIME early in the movement’s second week. “I don’t hate capitalism; I don’t hate rich people. I think you should come down to Wall Street and make as much money as you want. And when you do, you should pay a fair tax rate back to the city and the country that gave you the opportunity.”

Ferry’s message is one that resonates with the majority of the protesters, but because it is a leaderless movement, that message has yet to translate into pragmatic demands. The Occupy Wall Street movement has, at times, seemed like a missile without fins, brimming with potential energy and promise, but with a tendency to veer off in unexpected directions. But “We are the 99%” appears to encapsulate the central complaints of income inequality, economic disadvantage and the overwhelming power they say is controlled by the top 1 percent.

(VIDEO: Sights and Sounds from the Wall Street Protests)

The slogan “We are the 99%” appears to be taking hold, as similar movements are popping up in Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. The Los Angeles Times reports that several hundred people have camped out on the lawn of the L.A. city hall, and like the New York protesters, they say they intend to stay. The Boston Globe reports that the Occupy Boston protesters plan to march during rush hour, which in certain to snarl traffic in an already congested city. But protesters in Los Angeles have an enormous advantage over the movements in Boston, Chicago and Wall Street– those living outside in L.A. will be spared the harsh winters of the other three cities. As the weather turns steadily colder and chilly rains fall throughout October, living in Zuccotti Park will become increasingly difficult. But if the protesters can stay into the cold months, it will be a sign that they are extraordinarily committed to their cause, even if it is one that remains in evolution.

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Nate Rawlings is a reporter at TIME. Find him on Twitter at @naterawlings. Continue the discussion on TIME‘s Facebook page and on Twitter at @TIME.