New York police on Thursday prevented protesters from shutting down Wall Street with an Occupy Wall Street rally that led to over 100 arrests but drew fewer than expected demonstrators.
Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters took to the streets in rainy New York and elsewhere in the United States for a day of action seen as a test of the momentum of the two-month-old grassroots movement against economic inequality. In New York, organizers and city officials had expected tens of thousands to turn out.
We certainly want to see more people mobilise and show up, said Occupy Wall Street spokesman Jeff Smith, who nevertheless said there was a fantastic turnout.
Police barricaded the narrow streets around Wall Street, home to the New York Stock Exchange, and used batons to push protesters onto the sidewalk as they marched through the area to try and prevent financial workers getting to their desks.
Workers were allowed past barricades with identification and the New York Stock Exchange opened on time and operated normally. Police and protesters scuffled and by 2 p.m. (7 p.m. British time) Thursday over 100 people had been arrested.
Protesters banged drums and yelled We are the 99 percent -- referring to their contention that the U.S. political system benefits only the richest 1 percent. Some chanted at police: You're sexy, you're blue, now take off that riot suit.
I wanted to see more people. I had watched this on the news and hoped for more. I wasn't satisfied with the numbers (at the protest), said Sadat Hadzijic, 20 from the Bronx.
Protesters were dealt a blow on Tuesday when authorities shut their camp headquarters in New York's Zuccotti Park. When protesters took over the space on September 17 they sparked occupations of public spaces across the United States and re-energized similar movements elsewhere in the world.
Protesters are also planning to take their protest to 16 subway hubs later on Thursday, then return to City Hall for a rally before marching across the Brooklyn Bridge. Last month, more than 700 people were arrested during a similar march across the bridge after some protesters blocked traffic.
The support of labour unions and liberal group Moveon.org could boost numbers at the New York City Hall rally.
I don't think the weather helped at all (this morning) but the 5 p.m. rally is crucial, said Zach Zook, 27, from Brooklyn. If we are looking for tens of thousands that's where we will get it.
GET A JOB
In Los Angeles, hundreds of protesters and union members marched through downtown chanting Whose streets? Our streets in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Police said 23 people were arrested for blocking a street.
Erik Santiago, 29, who works as a stage manager, marched in Los Angeles to open a platform between us and our government, because it seems like it's been broken down.
In Dallas more than a dozen people were arrested when police shut down their six-week-old camp near City Hall.
In New York, some were growing weary of the protests. Taxi driver Mike Tupea, a Romanian immigrant, said his car was stuck amid the protesters for 40 minutes.
I have to make a living. I pay $100 (63 pounds) for 12 hours for this cab. I am losing money every minute, he said. I have all my sympathies for this movement but let me do my living, let working people make a living.
Protesters say they are upset that billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks during the recession allowed a return to huge profits while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and a struggling economy.
They also say the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share of taxes.
As he tried to get to his financial district office, Paul Layton, a trial lawyer, said he hoped that through (the protesters') efforts they can convince government to regulate the financial industry.
Derek Tabacco was not happy as he tried to get to the offices of his financial technology company and was carrying a sign with a message for the protesters that read Get a job.
The clearing of the Occupy camp in New York followed evictions in Atlanta, Portland and Salt Lake City. Unlike action in Oakland, California, where police used tear gas and stun grenades, most protesters left voluntarily.
Before dawn on Thursday, police cleared away a protest camp from a plaza at the University of California, Berkeley, where 5,000 people had gathered on Tuesday night.
Megyn Norbut from Brooklyn said she holds down three jobs and that she joined the protest on Thursday because we got kicked out of Zuccotti and we need to show that this is a mental and spiritual movement, not a physical movement.
It's not about the park, said Norbut, 23.
(Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles, Laird Harrison in Oakland and Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, writing by Michelle Nichols; editing by Doina Chiacu and Cynthia Osterman)