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How Occupy Wall Street is different from other protests

Demonstrators associated with the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement protest in Times Square on Oct. 15, 2011 in New York City.

Jeremy Hobson: It's been a month since protesters started Occupying Wall Street, and many Americans still don't know what to make of it -- including a lot of politicians, who are being careful not to get to close, or far away, from the demonstrators.

Case in point: Last night's Republican Presidential Debate on CNN. Moderator Anderson Cooper asked former Governor Mitt Romney what he
really thought.

Anderson Cooper: You originally called the protests dangerous -- you said it was "class warfare." You recently sounded more sympathetic. Where do you stand now? What is your message to those people protesting?

Mitt Romney: Look, we can spend our time talking about what happened three years ago, and what the cause was of our collapse. But let's talk about what's happened over the last three years. We've had a president responsible for this economy for the last three years, and he's failed us.

I believe that in politics, that's what they call "a dodge."

Former Godfather's Pizza CEO Herman Cain was a little more direct. He said the protesters are
misdirecting their frustrations.

Herman Cain: What are the people who are protesting want from bankers on Wall Street -- to come downstairs and write them a check? This is what we don't understand.

Well, to help us understand more about the protests, we're joined now by Todd Gitlin. He's perhaps best known for his role as president of
Students for a Democratic Society, which was a major force in the big liberal demonstrations
of the 1960s. Now he's a professor at Columbia University. Todd Gitlin, good morning.

Todd Gitlin: Good morning.

Hobson: Well you have some experience in the protest department. When you look at the Occupy Wall Street protesters, do you think this is a movement, a big deal or, as some have said, this is going to fizzle when it starts getting colder outside?

Gitlin: I think it's a big deal. Whether it's a movement yet will depend on what turns up, because there are a lot of moving parts. But think about it this way: This has all happened in a month. There is nothing like this that happened in the '60s, with this rapidity.

Hobson: But when you look at the actual numbers, you see maybe 1,000 people here or 5,000 people there. And I'm thinking back to like the protests before the Iraq war, you were seeing two million people in the streets of London, for instance. Is this really as big as you say?

Gitlin: This is different. The issue here is not a one-off eventuality like going to war. What's at issue here is the growing power and wealth of the top 1 percent. And this took decades to arrive, and therefore, it's not going to be settled overnight. So one has to think of this as a movement that at least aspirationally is going after bigger game.

Hobson: Well, there's been a lot of talk that these protesters really need to come up with a set of demands if this thing is to move forward. Do you think that's the case?

Gitlin: I think somebody needs to -- I don't think it necessarily has to be the people occupying the parks. But look at what this movement has accomplished in one month without demands. I think that it's actually a huge success to get some number of people -- not just a few thousands, but many larger thousands -- actually discussing what to do about economic inequality rather than discussing the necessity of cutting the social safety net.

Hobson: How will you know a year from now if this thing has been a success?

Gitlin: We'll have a richer and more informed discussion of some of these matters, and people like us will take it as a measure of the reality principle of the parties, whether they're actually addressing the real clear problems of the economic system. We've gotten off the debt obsession, and we've gotten onto a more sophisticated version of the regulation discussion, and we're growing up.

Hobson: Todd Gitlin, professor at Columbia University. Thanks so much for talking with us.

Gitlin: You're quite welcome.

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