Wall Street Protest Continues This Week

fromWNYC

A protest on Wall Street is in its second week, with more people showing up every day. The group is still working on its message, and it doesn't really have any demands. But the protesters say they are tired of struggling to make a living while the big banks get help from the government.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTERS CHANTING)

NORRIS: The protest known as Occupy Wall Street are now on their 11th day, with hundreds of demonstrators eating, sleeping and rallying on an outdoor plaza in downtown Manhattan.

Arun Venugopal, of member station WNYC, reports the protesters have come from all over the country and show no sign of going home.

ARUN VENUGOPAL: Until a couple weeks ago, 34-year-old Casey O'Neill worked as a data manager in Oakland, California. Now, he lives in a park next to ground zero.

CASEY O'NEILL: I actually quit my job and got a one-way ticket out here for the protests. I just felt like it was really - in a lot ways, this was the last hope for some sort of real change.

VENUGOPAL: O'Neill and others feel the American political system is being gamed by corporations and the wealthy, what they call the 1 percent. The demonstrators have no leader and so far, they don't have any solutions, either. But amid the air mattresses and sleeping bags scattered across the park, they discuss everything from income disparities to keeping their camp clean.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: We also propose...

CROWD: We also propose...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...that it is disgusting...

CROWD: ...that it is disgusting...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...to be spitting your toothpaste...

CROWD: ...to be spitting your toothpaste...

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: ...anywhere you please.

CROWD: ...anywhere you please.

VENUGOPAL: At each general assembly, demonstrators echo every word a speaker says, in lieu of loudspeakers. When the crowd likes what it hears, they raise their hands over their heads and wiggle their fingers, like jazz hands. To outsiders passing through, it can look a little strange. But everyone seems to have found a role for themselves, from the men who sweep up the park while riding their skateboards...

(SOUNDBITE OF A SKATEBOARD MOVING)

VENUGOPAL: ...to volunteer Anj Ferrara, who's serving up some of the food bought with donations.

ANJ FERRARA: Well, today for lunch we had ratatouille, we had couscous and chickpeas, and we had...

VENUGOPAL: Some demonstrators stay for just a day or two, like Elena Spence, a young military widow and single mom from Buffalo. She barely earns minimum wage, like some of her friends.

ELENA SPENCE: I'm talking about people who have master's degrees, in a lot of cases, who have to work $8-an-hour jobs because there are just no jobs. My generation - I'm 23 - my generation is really like the lost generation.

VENUGOPAL: Demonstrator Nathan Schneider says the hope is that all this frustration can be channeled into a national movement, one that's free of party politics.

NATHAN SCHNEIDER: You don't hear a lot of talk about Obama. You don't hear talk about Sarah Palin or even someone like a Dennis Kucinich. People are not pinning their hopes on political candidates; they're pinning their hopes on themselves, and that's the strength.

VENUGOPAL: Over the weekend, police arrested 80 protesters during a march. But they now stand along the perimeter of the park, watching. As for the Wall Street workers who pass through, some are bemused while others admire how well-behaved the group is.

But Mayor Michael Bloomberg says the protesters are playing the blame game.

Mayor MICHAEL BLOOMBERG: Our problem today is we keep going and vilifying the banks. They're not going to make any loans. If they don't make any loans, companies don't expand. If companies don't expand, people don't have jobs.

VENUGOPAL: As to how long this occupation can last, demonstrator Justin Wedes, a local school teacher, says the company that owns the park property has made it clear it wants them out. But for now, everyone is sitting tight.

JUSTIN WEDES: The reality is that we're deep in our work, and we're not planning to leave anytime soon.

VENUGOPAL: The Occupy Wall Street protests have started spreading to other cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and Boston.

For NPR News, I'm Arun Venugopal in New York.

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