Protesters who began demonstrating in New York three weeks ago as Occupy Wall Street plan to march alongside labor and environmental groups today as the movement spreads to cities including Boston, Chicago, Denver and Seattle.
The groups will join those already gathered downtown for a march beginning at City Hall and heading to Wall Street, Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, said in an e-mail. The party is a coalition of more than 60 community organizations and labor unions that advocates affordable housing and universal health care.
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“It’s very much evocative of Woodstock and all of the demonstrations against the Vietnam War and for civil rights,” said Richard Koral, 62, an attorney from Westchester County who joined hundreds of demonstrators yesterday in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. “I’m really hopeful that this is an emerging movement with a message that’s been percolating around the country for a good couple of years.”
The website www.occupytogether.org lists events planned in more than 45 states. In downtown Boston yesterday, protesters sat alongside about 200 tents of various sizes, makes and colors jammed together on a piece of parkland about the length of a city block. About 100 people were camped out in a grassy area in front of Los Angeles City Hall, following previous demonstrations that began Oct. 1.
Last weekend, New York City police halted a march over the Brooklyn Bridge and took hundreds of activists into custody for blocking traffic.
Tea Party Cited
Signs and slogans have voiced opposition to everything from bank foreclosures and corporate influence in politics to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and insufficient job prospects. The coalition has the potential to become the “Tea Party of the Left” if the protesters can transform their disparate list of grievances into targeted policy prescriptions, said Brayden King, who’s written on social and political movements at Northwestern University.
“They have to figure out what it is they are about in order to become the force of change in the Democratic Party like the Tea Party has been in the Republican party,” King, an assistant professor of management at the Kellogg School of Management, said by telephone from Evanston, Illinois. “Without that, it will be hard for politicians to figure out how to position themselves without just saying that ‘we’re mad too.’”
The protesters have the public’s attention and are well- mobilized, he said.
“From the activist point of view, they don’t want to waste this moment,” said King, whose research has appeared in the American Journal of Sociology, Administrative Science Quarterly and the publication Social Forces.
The Tea Party, a loosely organized group that aims to shrink the size of government and cut federal spending, began mobilizing amid President Barack Obama’s drive to overhaul U.S. health-care laws. Sixty U.S. representatives out of 435 now identify themselves as party members.
Occupy DC, which has an encampment in McPherson Square, is planning marches in the nation’s capital this week, according to its Twitter feed.
In Chicago, Jeff Adler, a 54-year old preacher, called for increased banking regulation and bemoaned public bailouts as he joined the 200 or so protesters outside the Chicago Board of Trade yesterday.
“The movement will keep going ‘til we wake people up and accomplish things,” Adler said. “We’re counting on the Democratic Party to grow a spine, and that’s a pretty tall order.”
Celebrity supporters include activist and filmmaker Michael Moore, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and musician Peter Yarrow of the folk group Peter Paul and Mary, who had a hit recording of Bob Dylan’s protest anthem “Blowin’ in the Wind” in the early 1960s.
“This is us literally taking to the streets and fighting for justice,” said a 23-year-old unemployed engineer from Troy, New York, who identified himself only as Plato and had joined demonstrators yesterday outside the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. “There’s 99 percent of us who have to abide by the decisions made by the other 1 percent because they have a lot of money and money buys power and influence.”
In Boston, twenty-one people were arrested last weekend as about 3,000 demonstrators converged on a Bank of America Corp. office building, protesting the largest U.S. lender’s foreclosure practices.
“We are here to show America we can live differently than the way we’re living, without capitalism,” said Oscar Franco, an 18-year old student at nearby Bay State College who’s been living at the protest site for three days. He said he plans to stay until it’s over, whenever that may be.
Sit-ins are planned in at least four cities in Colorado in the coming weeks, according to an Occupy Denver organizer. The group, which hopes to attract 1,000 people for a march Oct. 8, started camping out in front of the state Capitol 11 days ago. Discussion topics among the crowd gathered in Denver last weekend included currency devaluation and the 1913 Federal Reserve Act.
“We’re working together as people who are in a tough spot,” said Mitch Shenassa, 30, a self-employed web designer who’s been helping to organize. “It makes you feel like you can do something.”
‘Anger and Frustration’
Representative Brad Miller, a North Carolina Democrat, was among those attending an Occupy Raleigh event. He said he showed up unannounced to see what the buzz was all about.
“I could sense the anger and frustration,” said Miller, who introduced a bill aimed at protecting individual consumers from what he sees as excessive fees charged by banks. “Our economy can’t go on the way it is.”
In Los Angeles yesterday, a couple of dozen protesters gathered in a circle around a conga drum and were asked to state why they were there: causes ranged from fixing inner-city schools to “establishing economic fairness within civilization.”
“Something in my gut tells me this is it,” said Tony Zinnanti, a 44-year old attorney from the Los Angeles suburb of Santa Clarita who attended the Oct. 1 rally. “This is the populist movement that is going to take hold.”
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