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Two-year-old Occupy Wall Street has 'lost momentum'

Protesters affiliated with Occupy Wall Street demonstrate near the NYSE this week.
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Protesters affiliated with Occupy Wall Street demonstrate near the NYSE this week.

With the two-year anniversary of Occupy Wall Street in lower Manhattan this week, many would argue that the movement is far from dead: Nationally, the fast-food industry and other service businesses have increasingly activist workforces. And New York, where Occupy was born, looks likely to elect a populist, very liberal mayor in November.

But a visit to the spot where Occupy Wall Street sprang up to protest corporate power and greed in the financial sector clearly reveals a movement that has less intensity—and certainly less media attention—than it once did.

Hundreds gathered to commemorate the anniversary, with a bowl of concrete steps in Zuccotti Park served as a makeshift clamshell from which activists addressed an attentive audience.

"The prison-industrial complex is profiting out of criminalizing our youth," one speaker declared.

"No one has the right to look at your email, your fe-mail, or your he-mail," roared a second, to appreciative laughter.

(Slideshow: Occupy Wall Street: Who the protesters are)

"On the 26th of this month, I am scheduled to be evicted," another announced.

Jack Jozevz, a Coney Island resident who sported an Uncle Sam hat, a Colonel Sanders beard and a collection of signs addressing fair wages, drones and the possibility of war with Syria, tried to distill the movement into a core message.

"In one word, Occupy is about destiny," he said. "In two words, it's 'apocalyptic sunrise.' "

His explanation in three words used some unprintable language about the "1 percent."

'You have to have discipline'

Some say that creating that view of things—the 1 percent versus the 99 percent—has been Occupy's defining achievement.

"I do believe that there has been a change in the way that people think," said Bill Johnsen, an Occupier who has been a social activist since he returned from the Vietnam War. "At least there are questions that people are asking now. At least they realize that Occupy Wall Street is a legitimate movement that has made very on-the-mark comments concerning our society."

(Slideshow: Where the '1 percent' live)

But the lack of a sufficient framework to convert ideas into action has paralyzed Occupy's development, Johnsen said.

"I'm from the old school, where you have to have discipline, where you have to have more vertical leadership than Occupy has with its horizontal mechanism, which tends to take the onus off of any person from taking the leadership role," he said.

This horizontal mechanism, which requires complete consensus from all parties before anything gets done, was on full display in the park when Dallas Carter, an IT worker and longtime Occupier, took the stage.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke was scheduled to announce a decision on the continuation of quantitative easing the next day, and Carter said he would like to somehow disrupt the proceedings.

(Read more: Occupy Wall Street—what's it really like?)

"I think it would be awesome," Carter said, "if we arranged a 'noise demo' down there at the New York Fed tomorrow afternoon."

"What time?" asked voices from the crowd.

Carter stepped back from center stage, seemingly blindsided by the question.

"I don't know. You cannot ask me that," he said haltingly as he made his exit. "I'm not just going to pull it out of my butt. Let me know. Talk to me."

"Well, that's not helpful," murmured one of the questioners.

'A lot of the momentum was lost'

Gabriel Ruiz, a bookstore employee and sometime Occupier, said he's seen a decline in enthusiasm among members of the group.

"I'm a little bit on the fence because I feel like a lot of momentum was lost," he said.

As midnight approached and the crowd began to thin, Milo Gonzalez sat on a park bench, pensively strumming an acoustic guitar.

(Read more: Occupy Wall Street: New Book Details Movement's True Impact)

"It was a different vibe when we were in the park," he said. "It was so revolutionary, I guess."

Now working as a horticulturist, Gonzalez said he camped out at Zuccotti for two months in 2011, from the movement's first day in September until mid-November. Nostalgia brought him back for the anniversary, he said.

"And then today it felt kind of like, homesick," said the native New Yorker. "Like the feeling you get when you want to be somewhere, and you can't be there."

—By CNBC's Adam Molon

Contact Economy

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