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Without leadership, Occupy foundering

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NEW YORK — Occupy Wall Street began to disintegrate in rapid fashion last winter, when the weekly meetings in New York City devolved into a spectacle of fistfights and vicious arguments.

Punches were thrown and objects were hurled at moderators' heads. Protesters accused each other of being patriarchal and racist and domineering. Nobody could agree on anything and nobody was in charge. The moderators went on strike and refused to show up, followed in quick succession by the people who kept meeting minutes. And then the meetings stopped altogether.

In the city where the movement was born, Occupy was falling apart.

"We weren't talking about real things at that point," said Pete Dutro, a tattoo artist who managed Occupy's finances before becoming disillusioned by the infighting. He walked away months ago. "We were talking about each other."

The trouble with Occupy Wall Street, a year after it bloomed in a granite park in lower Manhattan and spread across the globe, is that nobody really knows what it is anymore. To say whether Occupy was a success or a failure depends on how you define it.

Occupy is a network. Occupy is a metaphor. Occupy is still alive. Occupy is dead. Occupy is the spirit of revolution, a lost cause, a dream deferred.

"I would say that Occupy today is a brand that represents movements for social and economic justice," said Jason Amadi, a 28-year-old protester who now lives in Philadelphia. "And that many people are using this brand for the quest of bettering this world."

On Monday, protesters will converge near the New York Stock Exchange to celebrate Occupy's anniversary, marking the day they began camping out in Zuccotti Park. Marches and rallies in more than 30 cities around the world will commemorate the day.

About 300 people observing the anniversary marched Saturday. At least a dozen were arrested, mostly on charges of disorderly conduct, police said.

But the movement is now a shadow of its mighty infancy, when a group of young people harnessed the power of a disillusioned nation and took to the streets chanting about corporate greed and inequality.

Back then it was a rallying cry, a force to be reckoned with. But as the encampments were broken up and protesters lost a gathering place, Occupy in turn lost its ability to organize.

The movement had grown too large too quickly. Without leaders or specific demands, what started as a protest against income inequality turned into an amorphous protest against everything wrong with the world.

"We were there to occupy Wall Street," Mr. Dutro said. "Not to talk about every social ill that we have."

The community that took shape in Zuccotti Park still exists, albeit in a far less cohesive form. Occupiers mostly keep in touch online through a smattering of websites and social networks. There are occasional conference calls and Occupy-affiliated newsletters. Meetings are generally only convened to organize around specific events, like the much-hyped May Day event that ultimately fizzled last spring.

The movement's remaining $85,000 in assets were frozen, though fundraising continues.

"I don't think Occupy itself has an enormous future," said Mark Naison, a professor at Fordham University in New York City. "I think that movements energized by Occupy have an enormous future."

Across the nation, there have been protests organized in the name of ending foreclosure, racial inequality, stop and frisk, debt: You name it, Occupy has claimed it. Occupy the Bronx. Occupy the Department of Education. Occupy the Hood. Occupy the Hamptons.

Protesters opposing everything from liquor sales in Whiteclay, Neb., to illegal immigration in Birmingham, Ala., have used Occupy as a weapon to fight for their own causes. In Russia, opposition activists protesting President Vladimir Putin's re-election to a third term have held a series of Occupy-style protests. Young "indignados" in Spain are joining unions and public servants to rally against higher taxes and cuts to public education and health care.

"All around the world, that youthful spirit of revolt is alive and well," said Kalle Lasn, co-founder of Adbusters, the Canadian magazine that helped ignite the movement.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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