Occupy Movement Hopes for New Lease on Life

PHOTO: People gather on a sidewalk during a May Day protest in New York, New York,  May 1, 2012. People around the world are gathering for May Day protests against austerity measures and calling for higher wages.
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The Occupy movement got off to a great start last fall, but living in a tent camp seemed less attractive during the Northern European winter. Now that spring is back, activists are hoping for a protest renaissance. But the loose-knit group still needs to figure out what it actually stands for.

When Erik Buhn arrives at the tent camp in Frankfurt in the afternoon to resume his efforts to make the world a better place and to foster a more open and friendly society, one in which people are considerate of each another and act responsibly, a man is just unzipping his trousers on the mound behind the euro symbol sculpture.

The man is wearing a suit, and from a distance he might be mistaken for a banker. But on closer inspection his suit looks somewhat worse for wear. He urinates onto one of the two tents that are standing there, a short distance from the rest of the camp. "Hey, what are you doing?" someone shouts from the other end of the tent camp.

Buhn is wearing jeans, a leather jacket and a small hat that makes him look a little like an artist. "You're pushed to the limits of tolerance here every day," he says.

His limits seem to be relatively broad. Two drunk men are shouting next to him. In the large tent where the protesters are supposed to eat together and attend a daily political meeting dubbed the "Asamblea," dirty plates are piled high, and there are people napping in a corner who don't look as if they really have plans to talk about politics later.

The Asamblea is cancelled, anyway, when not enough people show up. Instead, the people who are showing up are those who need a place to sleep, like the homeless from the area around the train station. A Roma family also moved in recently.

Keeping Things Orderly

When Buhn pitched his tent in the park in front of the European Central Bank (ECB) building in Frankfurt six months ago, he was searching for a new political idea. Buhn, a student from the Bavarian city of Aschaffenburg who also works part-time as an electrician, became part of the global Occupy movement.

The movement is called Occupy after the "Occupy Wall Street" protesters who occupied and pitched tents in New York's Zuccotti Park, three blocks from Wall Street, in September 2011, to protest against the power of the banks and the inaction of the political world. Imitators soon cropped up in more than 1,000 cities worldwide, including Berlin, Hamburg, Munich and Frankfurt.

Buhn's tent was given the number 90. In the beginning, the organizers of Occupy Frankfurt wanted to make sure that everything was done in an orderly fashion.

The man behind the euro sign zips up his trousers and staggers away. Buhn doesn't pay any attention to him. He is about to meet with people who, like him, still feel something of the original euphoria. They want to talk about May, when things could get going again, says Buhn.

New demonstrations are planned all across the world for the month. It began on May 1, or International Workers' Day, when Occupy Wall Street staged what they called a "general strike" in New York. There were also Occupy protests in Seattle, where protesters clashed with police after masked individuals smashed storefront windows, Miami and Oakland, California, where there were also clashes with police.

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