Occupy Wall Street protests spread to Main Street

Occupy Wall Street protests spread to cities across the United States Thursday, including St. Louis, Dallas, San Francisco, and Philadelphia. Wall Street protestors were arrested in St. Louis.

REUTERS/Stephen Lam
An Occupy Wall Street protestor scuffles with a police officer as authorities remove all camping materials outside the Federal Reserve Bank in San Francisco, Calif., on Oct. 6, 2011

What began on Wall Street is now spreading to Main Street in cities across the United States

On Thursday morning, Occupy Wall Street (or 99 percent) protestors gathered in St. Louis, Dallas, Philadelphia and other large and small cities nationwide.

Hundreds of protesters marched in Dallas, Houston and Austin to join the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations demanding an end to corruption in politics and business.

Several hundred marchers worked their way to the Federal Reserve Building in Dallas. A similar number marched from the J.P. Morgan Chase building in Houston to City Hall. Several dozen demonstrators also gathered at Austin's City Hall.

Organizers of the protests say they plan to occupy those locations for as long as possible. The main Occupy Wall Street protests began Sept. 17 and have spread across the country.

Protesters are asking supporters to close accounts in major banks and to move money into credit unions. They also want reforms to campaign finance

In Philadelphia, several hundred protesters carrying signs gathered peacefully outside City Hall on Thursday as part of an "Occupy Philadelphia" rally modeled after similar protests in New York and other cities aimed at condemning the influence of big corporations on government.

The group, which included people of a wide variety of ages, milled about in front of the historic building and carried signs bearing slogans over a host of complaints, including the bank bailouts and the war in Afghanistan, while calling for the government to answer more to individuals and less to big businesses. Police said no arrests had been reported by late morning.

May Chan, 32, a science researcher at the University of Pennsylvania, carried a sign that read "Accountability & Jail Time for Wall Street Fat Cats," featuring a drawing of an imprisoned — and portly — feline.

"I'm outraged by the whole bailout," said Chan, who lamented that she thinks there was no accountability for the business leaders responsible for the recession. "I think someone should go to jail."

Organizers said Thursday's demonstration is meant to be a stand against corporate greed. Without a megaphone, rally leaders called out instructions to protesters encouraging them to be peaceful and find a police officer if there was any problem — and dozens of police officers milled about among the crowd. Over the weekend, about 700 protesters in New York were arrested as they tried to march over the Brooklyn Bridge.

In Philadelphia, protest leaders said those at the gathering may camp there and plan to give out food to the homeless. The event appeared peaceful Thursday morning, with people carrying homemade signs that read "Bail Out Students Not CEOS," ''Smash Capitalism," ''Listen to Your Granny — we want a peace economy," ''People Over Profit," ''End Corporate Greed" and other slogans.

Mindy Noble, a retired school teacher from Philadelphia, wore a sign that read: "The rich get bailed out, the poor get sold out."

"The split between the rich and the poor is getting greater and greater," said Noble, a Democrat who said corporations have far too much influence on politics. "The country is on a decline, a very serious decline."

Another protester, Ben Walls, 22, of Philadelphia, said he was working as a temp six months after graduating from Muhlenberg College in Allentown, with a degree in political science and music.

Walls, who recently switched his registration from Democrat to Independent, said the bailouts were a good deal for the banks, but did nothing to help regular folks. He also lamented that the economic stimulus package didn't do enough to help.

"We need to show government that the people are mad," said Walls, who said big business has way too much influence on all levels of politics. "You pay to play, that's what corporations do."

In St. Louis, police arrested nearly a dozen demonstrators with the group OccupySTL early Thursday for curfew violations at a downtown St. Louis park, after they ignored warnings to vacate the park by 10 p.m.

St. Louis police spokeswoman Katie O'Sullivan said 10 members of the group were arrested at 12:20 a.m. in Kiener Plaza. Colleen Kelly of OccupySTL said the number was 11 counting a homeless person who supports the movement.

O'Sullivan said there was no violence or resistance during the arrests.

By late morning, all but one of those arrested remained jailed, Kelly said. And she hinted that more arrests were possible in the days to come because the group feels it has the right to stay in the public park as long as it chooses.

"Our plan is to maintain a constant presence," she said.

OccupySTL has conducted several demonstrations outside financial institutions, including a gathering of several dozen protesters Wednesday outside a downtown bank office as baseball fans passed by on the way to the Phillies-Cardinals playoff game at Busch Stadium. It is part of a movement in support of Occupy Wall Street in New York. Protesters have varied causes but have spoken largely about unemployment and economic inequality.

OccupySTL has a permit to gather at Kiener Plaza during the hours the park is open — 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. But in a posting on its website Tuesday, the group warned that police had issued a notice that "occupiers must vacate Kiener Plaza at 10pm tonight. They have threatened to issue citations to anyone who refuses to comply."

By midnight, 65 to 100 members of the movement were gathered at Kiener Plaza when roughly two dozen police cars arrived. One of those arrested, Derek Wetherell, a 21-year-old student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, said officers were polite and gave demonstrators the option of leaving or being arrested.

"I felt like being arrested was necessary to send a message that I'm not going to give up my ground and my right to stand up for my beliefs, wherever it may be," Wetherell said.

O'Sullivan said it was the first time OccupySTL protesters have been arrested. Six protesters were given citations, but not arrested, Tuesday for a curfew violation at Kiener Plaza.

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