Occupy Wall Street: Increased Organization, Looming Challenges

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Andrew Burton / AP

New York City police officers monitor Occupy Wall Street protesters near the New York Stock Exchange on Oct. 10, 2011

As Occupy Wall Street enters its fourth week, the movement appears to be gaining strength. But what’s next for the stalwarts at Zuccotti Park?

While all three major stock-market indices have soared to their biggest gains in weeks, Occupy Wall Street saw a boost in numbers on Columbus Day, thanks in part to visits from big-name celebrities. Kanye West, back in the U.S. after unveiling his clothing line at Paris Fashion Week, showed up to the protest with hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, who has been to Zuccotti Park before and has said he is trying to organize a large march on Oct. 15.

Warm weather kept hundreds of people at the park later than usual. The numbers of protesters who “occupy” the park — that is, sleep there overnight — has grown, but not nearly as fast as the number who come during the day and stay well into the night. The evening meeting, known as the general assembly, featured a projection screen with a set agenda, time limits for speakers and a visual of the group’s Twitter feed in real time. But the assembly’s unique process remained intact: No one is denied the right to address the group, and new speakers are moved to the front of the line.

(PHOTOS: Labor Unions March with Occupy Wall Street Protesters)

At the camp’s aid station, a volunteer who gave his name as Kat organized medical supplies. Kat explained that he rides the ferry from Staten Island whenever he doesn’t have work and volunteers his skills in wilderness first aid, to help care for the blisters, cuts and colds that come from living outside. Kat praised the occupiers, saying those who are living in the park have kept the protest’s momentum alive. “The only thing that keeps this moving is the sheer tenacity of these people,” Kat said. “It’s clumsy and slow, but they keep it going.”

On Oct. 7, as the crowd swelled before the weekend marches, Jess Horner stood on a park wall in a suit. Horner, a licensed clinical social worker, earned a master’s degree in social work from Columbia University but has been unemployed for the better part of a year. Every day, when she finishes another round of job interviews, she comes to the park and holds a sign that reads “Licensed Social Worker with No Job, No Health Care and Thousands of $ in Student Debt.” “This is part of my job search,” Horner said. “I come here [and] meet and connect with people with similar ideals,” including protesting major cuts in social programs that focus on the poorest and highest-risk people.

(MORE: Why the Washington Establishment Is Heeding Occupy Wall Street)

As Occupy Wall Street becomes more organized and attracts more people like Horner and Kat, the movement will be challenged. Last week’s cold rains gave way to a second round of unseasonably warm weather, but the cold, wet weather is soon to return. While the protesters have come up with methods to deal with the rain, many said they were worried that the bitter cold sure to come this winter will whittle the occupiers down to a devoted few. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he thinks the weather will drive the protesters out but that in the meantime, they are allowed to stay. “This is the place where you can protest,” Bloomberg said at a Columbus Day parade.

Still, it will be an expensive fall for the city. NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly testified before the city council that overtime pay for police officers to maintain their 24-hour presence has already cost the city $2 million. That was on Day 18.

Several protesters said the movement plans to march on Oct. 15 to Tompkins Square Park in the East Village, the site of an August 1988 riot that erupted when police tried to evict homeless people. Last weekend, the protesters held a rally in Washington Square Park near New York University, but there was no organized march from the Zuccotti Park camp, and few resulting arrests. For now, the protesters are staying put, readying for the cold nights ahead.

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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.