NEW YORK - Hundreds of Occupy Wall Street protesters marched through New York's financial district toward the stock exchange Thursday to protest economic inequality at the heart of the American capitalism.
Scores of police barricaded the narrow streets around the stock exchange and used batons to push the protesters onto the sidewalk as they marched from a nearby park in a bid to prevent financial workers from getting to their desks.
"I feel like this is a beautiful moment to take back our streets," said Rachel Falcone, 27, from Brooklyn. "We need to prove we can exist anywhere. It's gone beyond a single neighborhood, it's really an idea."
Police rebuffed their attempts, however. Helicopters hovered overhead as at least 1,000 protesters filled the streets of the Financial District near the NYSE and Zuccotti Park, the symbolic home of the movement that police this week cleared of tents and other gear.
By 7 a.m., metal barricades blocked access to Wall Street and Broad Street, home of the NYSE, and workers were being asked to show identification to enter the area. By 11 a.m., hundreds had made their way back to Zuccotti.
“It’s a huge waste of taxpayer money to pay all these police overtime for two months,” Ken Polcari, a floor trader and managing director at ICAP Corporates, said by telephone from the NYSE, where he’s worked for 28 years. “The Big Board isn’t going to succumb to a bunch of kids with no message.”
At one point, police wrestled with protesters outside 60 Wall St., the U.S. headquarters of Deutsche Bank AG, as office workers waiting to get through filmed the action with smart phones. One protester’s sign read: “Debt -- the only thing still made in the U.S.”
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Dozens of protesters sat on sidewalks in plastic handcuffs and were hauled away in police vans. About 60 arrests were made in connection with the protests, mostly for disorderly conduct, said Martin Speechley, a New York Police Department spokesman.
Trading at the NYSE opened “as usual” at 9:30 a.m. local time, said Ray Pellecchia, a spokesman for NYSE Euronext.
Protesters had planned to “raise a ruckus and clog up the works” in Lower Manhattan before fanning out on trains throughout the five boroughs, said Mark Bray, a spokesman for Occupy Wall Street. They’ll end with a 5 p.m. rally at Foley Square, for which they have a permit, and march across the Brooklyn Bridge.
Last month, police halted a march over the Brooklyn Bridge and took hundreds of activists into custody for blocking traffic.
Howard Wolfson, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s deputy for government relations, said at a City Hall briefing yesterday that forces would be deployed accordingly to deal with tens of thousands of people “aimed at significant disruption.”
The Occupy Wall Street protests, which began in New York Sept. 17, have spread to cities on four continents, including London, Sydney, Toronto, Rome and Tokyo. The demonstrators refer to themselves as “the 99 percent,” a reference to Nobel Prize- winning economist Joseph Stiglitz’s study showing the richest 1 percent control 40 percent of U.S. wealth.
“Zuccotti Park will remain open to all who want to enjoy it, as long as they abide by the park’s rules,” Bloomberg said in a statement after lawyers for the demonstrators failed to persuade a judge to reverse the eviction.
Camps have also been shut down by officials in cities including Oakland, California, and Portland, Oregon. A judge yesterday ordered Boston to refrain from removing protesters from Dewey Square until Dec. 1.
Protesters in New York said they remained unbowed by the city’s move to ban sleeping bags, tarps and tents.
Expulsion from the park “was the best thing that could have happened to us strategically” because “it looks bad for a system that continually uses violence against non-violence,” said Daniel Zetah, 35, from Minnesota, who’s slept in the park most nights. “It’s going to galvanize people” and inspire more to attend today’s events, he said by telephone.
The city has spent $6 million on protest-related costs, excluding the Nov. 15 raid, said Wolfson and Caswell Holloway, deputy mayor for operations. Protesters won’t be allowed to camp at any other city parks, Wolfson said.
New York’s demonstrators will be joined by advocacy groups and unions in a “nationwide ‘We Are The 99%’ day of action,” Daniel Mintz, campaign director of MoveOn.org, said in an e- mailed statement. The online organization was started in opposition to President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and became an advocate for overhauling health care.
Protests in almost every state will call on members of a congressional supercommittee looking for spending reductions “to protect vital programs like Medicare and Social Security, and finally make the super-rich pay their fair share instead of supporting a deal chock full of job-killing cuts,” Mintz said.
Taxi driver Mike Tupea, a Romanian immigrant, said he had been stuck on the street for 40 minutes.
"I have to make a living. I pay $100 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."
Most rallies by the 2-month-old movement in New York have been attended by hundreds of people, but a spokesman for the protesters and city officials said on Wednesday that they expected tens of thousands to turn out for the day of action.
Megyn Norbut, from Brooklyn, said she holds down three jobs and that she joined the protest 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.
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