Thousands Join In Occupy Wall Street Protests

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Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Manhattan's financial district Wednesday night. They came to show support for Occupy Wall Street, a demonstration that is now in its third week. Some of the marchers represented labor unions and other organizations, but many were just ordinary New Yorkers who came to voice their support for the populist protest.

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

Thousands of protesters filled the streets of Manhattan's financial district last night. They came to show support for Occupy Wall Street, a demonstration that's now in its third week. Some of the marchers represented labor unions and other organizations, but as NPR's Joel Rose reports, many were just ordinary New Yorkers who came to voice their support for the populist protests.

JOEL ROSE, BYLINE: What started out as a few dozen activists in New York's Zuccotti Park, swelled into a sea of protesters on Wednesday.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTESTORS CHANTING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (chanting) Banks got bailed out.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (chanting) We got sold out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (chanting) Banks got bailed out.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (chanting) We got sold out.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (chanting) Banks got bailed out...

ROSE: Thousands of demonstrators marched through Lower Manhattan at rush hour, chanting slogans like banks got bailed out, we got sold out, and we are the 99 percent. Many of the marchers wore jackets and t-shirts emblazoned with union logos. Tom Lenane from the Transit Workers Union says the Occupy Wall Street protesters have a lot in common with organized labor.

TOM LENANE: We're paying for all the mistakes that the rich made. That's what we're doing at this point in time. And we'll continue to pay their dues. They bailed out the banks, they bailed out Wall Street. And we're paying for the bailout.

ROSE: But while unions have been trying to get that message out for years without a great deal of success, it took Occupy Wall Street just over two weeks to capture the attention and imagination of thousands of protesters in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and other cities. Nelson Rios had never attended a protest before this week.

NELSON RIOS: It's like, everyone I know, every single person is getting like poorer and poorer every day. And like, I have a job, I'm not a hippie. You know, I'm not unemployed. And I see their stock going up. And it's like, my pay just keeps going down.

ANNE BAXTER: It's touched me, this entire enterprise. And I think I've, kind of, been waiting for something like this.

ROSE: Anne Baxter says she's glad that Occupy Wall Street is calling attention to the role of corporate money in politics.

BAXTER: The frustration with money in politics is being spoken about. And it's an enormous problem.

ROSE: Baxter thinks the country needs tougher campaign finance laws. Other protesters held up signs advocating more regulation of Wall Street, higher taxes on the rich, universal health care, and a lengthy list of other progressive environmental and social causes.

Critics have dismissed the organizers of Occupy Wall Street as naïve and unfocused. But at least one analyst thinks they're missing the point.

DORIAN WARREN: I think it has the potential a social movement, one that we haven't seen in at least a couple of decades in this country. It's clearly a broad, populist movement right now.

ROSE: Dorian Warren, who teaches political science at Columbia University, went downtown to watch the protest. He says the big turnout reflects a significant level of support for Occupy Wall Street.

WARREN: I think why it's resonated so quickly is because unions and other groups have been raising these issues for decades. It's what they've been doing and what they've been trying to do, but it just took a spark from an organic set of organizers and protesters to make it happen.

ROSE: Occupy Wall Street first caught the attention of the wider public when more than 700 protesters were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge last weekend. Protesters filed a lawsuit, yesterday, claiming that police lured them onto the bridge in order to arrest them. Compared to that, this march was relatively peaceful with only a few dozen arrests reported.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

ROSE: The march ended in Zuccotti Park, where George Gresham, president of the local healthcare workers union, led the demonstrators in a chant. Later, Gresham was quick to point out that Occupy Wall Street was in charge, not the unions.

GEORGE GRESHAM: Well, we want to take leadership from them, I think they've done a good job. We hope that this thing catches on in the country. And that those who are in power can understand that working peoples' voice will be heard in this country again.

ROSE: For at least one night, you could hear those voices loud and clear in lower Manhattan.

Joel Rose, NPR News, New York.

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