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Occupy Wall Street marks first year with roving carnival

September 17, 2012|Bloomberg News

Occupy Wall Street, the protest movement that sparked a global revolt against economic inequality, began celebrating its one-year anniversary today with a "roving carnival of resistance."

Police blocked off parts of Lower Manhattan's Financial District before nonviolent civil disobedience beginning near the New York Stock Exchange at 7 a.m. local time. Today's arrest tally reached 50 by about 9:30 a.m., said Moira Meltzer-Cohen, a volunteer for the New York City chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, which supports the protest.

Hundreds gathered near Zuccotti Park, the physical birthplace and symbolic heart of the movement. 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, which began one year ago in Zuccotti Park, 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. and JPMorgan Chase & Co., along with Deutsche Bank AG, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York on Liberty Street and American International Group Inc., according to planning materials.

Also on the schedule are a rally at Bowling Green and marches around the city's downtown as night falls. Events are planned in at least 15 other cities, including Asheville, North Carolina, and Hilo, Hawaii.

"This is just the beginning of year two," which will be about teaching people "that they have the power to change society through public protest," said Linnea Palmer-Paton, a 24-year-old organizer.

Occupiers began gathering in New York over the weekend to kick off the protests and continue planning today's events.

Police are "accommodating lawful protests" and making arrests for crimes such as blocking traffic, Paul Browne, a spokesman for the New York City Police Department, said in an e- mail. He said about 42 people were arrested over the weekend, mostly for disorderly conduct but some for resisting arrest and assault.

Officers blocked all members of the media at the intersection of Pine and Wall streets, preventing the journalists from moving.

"The cameras need to stop," said one officer.

The Occupy anniversary marks a test of the movement after its public presence had 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 plan to gather in San Francisco's Financial District beginning at 1 p.m. local time, before converging at 555 California St., the skyscraper housing offices of Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Bank of America and Morgan Stanley. In Oakland, site of some of the most violent clashes between protesters and police, the local Occupy chapter announced it will celebrate next month.

Occupy Wall Street's last major public event was on May 1, when demonstrators took to the streets across the U.S., sending a singing "Guitarmy" to Manhattan's Union Square, smashing windows in Seattle and seizing a vacant building in San Francisco.

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