New York City police arrested 182 Occupy Wall Street protesters celebrating the movement’s first birthday as events drew fewer participants than similar demonstrations in May.
Hundreds of marchers took to the streets just after dawn today from Lower Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park, the physical birthplace and symbolic heart of the global movement. Police on foot, motorcycle and horseback trailed them at every turn.
The protests failed to keep the markets from opening as scheduled, though some commuters in the largest U.S. city were inconvenienced as police blocked off parts of the Financial District near the New York Stock Exchange and asked transit officials to close the Broad Street subway station. Richard Swensson, a 24-year-old college graduate, said he missed a job interview.
“I couldn’t even get near the building and had to call to say I wouldn’t make it,” Swensson said in Battery Park. He said he understood the frustrations of the protesters but wished they would “think a little bit more instead of just getting all rallied up.”
Today’s numbers contrast with Occupy Wall Street’s last major public event, on May 1, which drew tens of thousands of demonstrators across the U.S. as protesters sang in Manhattan’s Union Square, smashed windows in Seattle and seized a vacant building in San Francisco. In New York, 34 were arrested in the May Day rallies.
Most of today’s arrests were for disorderly conduct for impeding vehicular or pedestrian traffic, and follow more than 40 others over the weekend, said Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department. Police are “accommodating lawful protests” and making arrests for crimes such as blocking traffic, Browne said in an e-mail.
Dozens of police, some in riot helmets, arrested people, including a purple-cassocked bishop, at the Broadway entrance to Wall Street. A man with an acoustic guitar on his back was thrown to the ground by five officers near the intersection of Nassau and Pine streets. Picketers at the plaza at 140 Broadway sang Woody Guthrie’s “Why, Oh Why” with a ukulele.
“I’ve been arrested four times now and I’ll get arrested 1,000 times more until we see some change,” said Barry Knight, a 44-year-old actor from Massachusetts. “We’re fighting for nothing less than the future of our country. Do you want your kids to grow up in ‘corptocracy’ or in a democracy?”
Members of the movement are seeking to revive the energy and emotion generated when thousands took to the streets to protest income disparity, corporate greed and the influence of money on politics. Protesters say the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans benefit at the expense of the rest.
Corporate targets of today’s disruption include the Broadway retail branches of Bank of America Corp. (BAC:US) and JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM:US), along with Deutsche Bank AG (DB:US), the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Liberty Street and American International Group Inc. (AIG:US), according to planning materials. Events are scheduled in at least 15 other cities, including Asheville, North Carolina, and Hilo, Hawaii.
Andrew Landau, who works in marketing for a medical evaluation company in New York, called the crowds “a pain in the butt.”
“I realize there’s freedom of speech and everything else, but to upset everything on a daily basis and inconveniencing people with the economy being so bad, it affects people going to work,” said Landau, 63. “There are other ways of taking care of this problem without upsetting the whole neighborhood.”
Adam Said, 35, who runs a coffee and doughnut stand on Wall Street and Broadway, said the protests may have cost him 10 percent of his daily business.
At a rally at Bowling Green, a group of singers performed a rendition of “Down by the Riverside” with kazoos, a snare drum and trumpet. Around 11:15 a.m., hundreds sat under a cloudless sky in Battery Park for a midday organizing meeting. As individuals described picketing bank branches, interrupting traffic and losing friends to arrest, the crowd responded with cheers, laughter and whistles. They tossed green balloons and red confetti.
The Occupy anniversary marks a test of the movement after its public presence diminished amid what organizers called flagging interest bordering on burnout.
The movement’s New York City General Assembly, which made decisions for the group by consensus, ceased functioning in April because of infighting, ineffectiveness and low turnout, according to organizers and minutes of meetings. The group’s funds were frozen to preserve money for bail, ending most cash distributions, they said.
Occupy units across the U.S. coalesced last year to protest high foreclosure and unemployment rates that hurt average Americans while bankers and financial executives received bonuses and taxpayer-funded bailouts. Similar groups, using social media and other tools, spread around the globe to Europe, Asia and Latin America. Governments responded with concussion grenades, gas, riot gear, pepper spray and arrests.
Outside New York, demonstrators gathered in San Francisco’s Financial District before converging at 555 California St., the skyscraper housing offices of Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS:US), Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. (MS:US)
The smell of marijuana was in the air and a group of protesters shouted, “Whose streets? Our streets!”
In Oakland, California, site of some of the most violent clashes between protesters and police, the local Occupy chapter announced it will celebrate next month.
Before this weekend, there had been more than 2,000 arrests related to Occupy Wall Street since its inception. About 352 cases were still pending as of Sept. 12, Erin Duggan, a spokeswoman for Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s office, said in an e-mail. More than 790 of them accepted offers to have their charges dismissed if they aren’t arrested within six months, while more than 240 pleaded guilty.
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