A rag-tag group of protesters who say they are
fed up with Wall Street and the inequity of U.S. capitalism has
gathered force, with backing from labor unions and hundreds of
others in the third week.
The army of homeless, jobless, artists and anarchists has spawned protests in the U.S. capital as well as far-flung places like Dallas, Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles. One man in Dallas carried a sign, "People before Profits."
Even President Obama got into the act on Thursday, saying the protests expressed "the frustrations" of the American people that the bailed-out finance industry, whose "derivative cocktails" nearly brought down the U.S. economy, "fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place."
Stubborn 9.1 percent unemployment has forced millions of people below the povery line amid the sagging economy that also presents a major challenge for Obama's reelection.
At the opposite end of Obama's White House clout, Lauren Starr, 27, who is encamped with hundreds of other protesters in Zucotti Park, near Wall Street, views the protest as an occasion to tell her story as a homeless New Yorker since the tender age of 12.
"The rich in this country get richer, and poor get poorer," Starr told dpa. "I agree with the protesters who came here to stake their demands."
The Occupy Wall Street movement is led by 200 to 300 people, who have shown no sign of budging to police pressure that rings the park, where they have camped since Sept. 19. Ironically, the site is owned by the Wall Street firm Brookfield Financial Properties, one of the very targets of the protests.
The movement has various voices and directions and ulterior motives, but the people living in the park speak for themselves. And Wall Street and corporate America is their target, as so eloquently put by Obama himself.
Starr has survived by going to MacDonald's restaurants and asking people to buy her a hamburger. But at Zuccotti Park, donations poured in daily, with groups or organizations bringing in food and drink, used clothes and blankets, plastic sheets and cardboard for the park's residents to survive the cold nights.
Aaron Griffin, who is self-employed, came from West Virginia a week ago to join the movement.
"I belong to a radical community in the East Coast and I am here to support the anti-Wall Street protests to show the world that fundamental change is needed in this country," Griffin said. "I have no plan for the future."
The Occupy Wall Street movement swelled this week after a health care union in New York, with 200,000 members, sent nurses to take care of the residents in Zuccotti Park. The Transport Workers Union, which represents 38,000 employees of New York City's transit system, also joined the protesters.
Thousands marched on Wednesday, from City Hall headed to Wall Street, but were stopped by New York police from reaching the heart of the U.S. financial district, which has become a fortress with steel barricades blocking all traffic.
On Saturday, about 400 protesters were arrested as they tried to cross the Brooklyn Bridge, also in lower Manhattan.
While support from unions provided momentum, some of the Zuccotti Park protesters had a different view, which is that union workers have jobs, a home and family. At the end of each rally, union workers return to their work and houses.
"I was arrested and jailed for one week just for sitting in Thompson Park (in Manhattan's Lower East Side). Police said I was drunk," complained Starr.
Another man, who gave his name only as Guy S. and wanted a dollar to be interviewed, said he came from Boston 20 days ago.
"There's a lot of support around here in the park," he said, referring to food and clothing donations. "If things don't change in America, all I have is my backpack."
"The union people have jobs and homes, the rest of us are cold and hungry," he said. He claimed he had been maced and punched by police during protests in past weeks.
Before the interview ended, a police officer came forward and with his boot pushed Guy's backpack a few centimeters away from the red line marking the public sidewalk and the privately owned park where he was sitting.
Despite the seemingly leaderless and decentralized activities, all participants have agreed on a five-point slogan: Occupy, spread the word, donate, follow the occupation and educate yourself.
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