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In other areas, though, the independent nature of the work teams has allowed them to act efficiently and quickly. From its first days, the protesters have had an aggressive media outreach program. The finance committee worked out an agreement with a nonprofit group in Washington, D.C., that has begun allowing the movement to accept credit card donations online.

To date, some of the biggest events associated with the demonstration have been put in motion by the work teams, rather than the assembly. For example, the group’s march several weeks ago to the Brooklyn Bridge — a demonstration that ended in hundreds of arrests and raised the movement’s profile — was planned by the direct action working group, said Brooklyn schoolteacher Matt Presto, one of a few dozen “facilitators” who specialize in moderating general assembly meetings, and other large discussion groups.

And people are demonstrating leadership, even if they don’t have a formal title, activists said.

“There is not a classification in leaders. But there are people whose voices are respected, and who people want to listen to,” said one organizer, Marina Sitrin.

The commitment to consensus on big issues has prevented the group from settling upon a single list of demands to present to the public, protesters say. But they insist that’s OK.

“When the civil rights movement started, people didn’t come out right out with a big list of demands — they came out in the streets and just said, ‘We’re not going to accept society the way it is,’” said Ed Needham, 43, a public relations manager from Cambridge, Mass. “That’s the stage we’re in right now.”

A sign near the edge of the protest camp Friday echoed that sentiment.

“We’re here, we’re unclear, get used to it!” it said.

The movement against nuclear power in the 1970s eschewed big-name leaders or national organizations. So did the early feminist movement, where organizational meetings favored consensus over strong leadership. Quakers have been using the consensus model for hundreds of years, he said.

But political experts say there are drawbacks.

With outsiders not quite certain who is in charge, or who has authority to speak for the group, there is a possibility that the press or public could become confused about what the demonstrations stand for, said John Krinsky, a political science professor at the City University of New York.

Core groups of leaders will eventually emerge, said Gabriella Coleman, an assistant professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communication at New York University who has been studying Occupy Wall Street and also participated in some of its early planning meetings.

“What happens often is that, sometimes when a tight-knit working group gets to know each other quite well, newcomers, like six months down the line, have a harder time getting involved. There is already a culture, friendship, and it is hard to break into that core group,” Coleman said.

The bigger hurdle for the Occupy movement may not be the lack of strong leaders but the large philosophical differences between the small group of demonstrators and the much larger — but less radical — group of outsiders who have been supportive of the protests from afar, said Gitlin.

The young people at Zuccotti Park “really think they are headed for no future. No jobs. Ice caps are melting. Misery in the offing … You want a new civilization,” Gitlin said.

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