NEW YORK – Protests against Wall Street spread across the country Monday as demonstrators marched on Federal Reserve banks and camped out in parks from Los Angeles to Portland, Maine, in a show of anger over the wobbly economy and what they see as corporate greed. In Manhattan, hundreds of protesters dressed as corporate zombies in white face paint lurched past the New York Stock Exchange clutching fistfuls of fake money. In Chicago, demonstrators pounded drums in the city’s financial district. Others pitched tents or waved protest signs at passing cars in Boston, St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo.
The arrests of 700 protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend galvanized a slice of discontented America, from college students worried about their job prospects to middle-age workers who have been recently laid off. Some protesters likened themselves to the tea party movement — but with a liberal bent — or to the Arab Spring demonstrators who brought down their rulers in the Middle East. “I’ve felt this way for a long time. I’ve really just kind of been waiting for a movement to come along that I thought would last and have some resonation within the community,” said Steven Harris, a laid-off truck driver in Kansas City.
Harris and about 20 other people were camped out in a park across the street from the Kansas City Federal Reserve building, their site strewn with sleeping bags, clothes and handmade signs. Some passing drivers honked in support. The Occupy Wall Street protests started on Sept. 17 with a few dozen demonstrators who tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Since then, hundreds have set up camp in a park nearby and have become increasingly organized, lining up medical aid and legal help and printing their own newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal. About 100 demonstrators were arrested on Sept. 24 and some were pepper-sprayed. On Saturday police arrested 700 on charges of disorderly conduct and blocking a public street as they tried to march over the Brooklyn Bridge. Police said they took five more protesters into custody on Monday, though it was unclear whether they had been charged with any crime.
Wiljago Cook, of Oakland, Calif., who joined the New York protest on the first day, said she was shocked by the arrests. “Exposing police brutality wasn’t even really on my agenda, but my eyes have been opened,” she said. She vowed to stay in New York “as long as it seems useful.” City bus drivers sued the New York Police Department on Monday for commandeering their buses and making them drive to the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday to pick up detained protesters. “We’re down with these protesters. We support the notion that rich folk are not paying their fair share,” said Transport Workers Union President John Samuelsen. “Our bus operators are not going to be pressed into service to arrest protesters anywhere.” The city’s Law Department said the NYPD’s actions were proper.
On Monday, the zombies stayed on the sidewalks as they wound through Manhattan’s financial district chanting, “How to fix the deficit: End the war, tax the rich!” They lurched along with their arms in front of them. Some yelled, “I smell money!” Reaction was mixed from passers-by. Roland Klingman, who works in the financial industry and was wearing a suit as he walked through a raucous crowd of protesters, said he could sympathize with the anti-Wall Street message. “I don’t think it’s directed personally at everyone who works down here,” Klingman said. “If they believe everyone down here contributes to policy decisions, it’s a serious misunderstanding.”
Another man in a suit yelled at the protesters, “Go back to work!” He declined to be interviewed. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire who made his fortune as a corporate executive, has said the demonstrators are making a mistake by targeting Wall Street. “The protesters are protesting against people who make $40- or $50,000 a year and are struggling to make ends meet. That’s the bottom line. Those are the people who work on Wall Street or in the finance sector,” Bloomberg said in a radio interview Friday. Some protesters planned to travel to other cities to organize similar events. John Hildebrand, a protester in New York from Norman, Okla., hoped to mount a protest there after returning home Tuesday. Julie Levine, a protester in Los Angeles, planned to go to Washington on Thursday. Websites and Facebook pages with names like Occupy Boston and Occupy Philadelphia have also sprung up to plan the demonstrations. Hundreds of demonstrators marched from a tent city on a grassy plot in downtown Boston to the Statehouse to call for an end of corporate influence of government. “Our beautiful system of American checks and balances has been thoroughly trashed by the influence of banks and big finance that have made it impossible for the people to speak,” said protester Marisa Engerstrom, of Somerville, Mass., a Harvard doctoral student.
The Boston demonstrators decorated their tents with hand-written signs reading, “Fight the rich, not their wars” and “Human need, not corporate greed.” Some stood on the sidewalk holding up signs, engaging in debate with passers-by and waving at honking cars. One man yelled “Go home!” from his truck. Another man made an obscene gesture. “We lean left, but there have been tea party people stopping by here who have said, ‘Hey, we like what you’re doing,'” said Jason Potteiger, a media coordinator for the Boston protesters. In Chicago, protesters beat drums on the corner near the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. In Los Angeles, demonstrators hoping to get TV coverage gathered in front of the courthouse where Michael Jackson’s doctor is on trial on manslaughter charges. Protesters in St. Louis stood on a street corner a few blocks from the shimmering Gateway Arch, carrying signs that read, “How Did The Cat Get So Fat?,” ”You’re a Pawn in Their Game” and “We Want The Sacks Of Gold Goldman Sachs Stole From Us.”
“Money talks, and it seems like money has all the power,” said Apollonia Childs. “I don’t want to see any homeless people on the streets, and I don’t want to see a veteran or elderly people struggle. We all should have our fair share. We all vote, pay taxes. Tax the rich.” Verena Dobnik, Karen Matthews, Cristian Salazar and Jennifer Peltz in New York; Jim Suhr in St. Louis; David Sharp in Portland, Maine; Mark Pratt in Boston; Patrick Walters in Philadelphia; Bill Draper in Kansas City, Mo.; Carla K. Johnson in Chicago, and Christina Hoag and Robert Jablon in Los Angeles contributed to this report. – Yahoonews