Concerns over Wall Street practices and economic inequality that have led to rallies across the US reverberated up to the White House on Thursday, with US President Barack Obama saying the protesters are expressing the frustrations of the American public.
Thousands of protesters, including many in union T-shirts, marched the day before in Manhattan. Protests continued on Thursday in several cities, with about 500 union members, students, activists and others marching through Los Angeles. Police arrested a group who entered a Bank of America branch, one focus of some protesters’ anger, during that demonstration.
The protests have slowly grown in size and attention over more than two weeks from their sleeping bag-strewn base in a city park, with Obama’s acknowledgment a sign they might be forming into a political movement.
Obama told a news conference he understood the public’s concerns about how the nation’s financial system works and said people in the US see Wall Street as an example of the financial industry not always following the rules.
“It expresses the frustrations that the American people feel that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street,” the president said. “And yet you’re still seeing some of the same folks who acted irresponsibly trying to fight efforts to crack down on abusive practices that got us into this problem in the first place.”
He said, though, that the US must have a strong and effective financial sector for the economy to grow and that the financial regulation bill he championed ensures tougher oversight of the financial industry.
The Occupy Wall Street protests started on Sept. 17 with a few dozen demonstrators who tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange. Since then, hundreds have set up camp nearby in Zuccotti Park and have become increasingly organized, lining up medical aid and legal help and printing their own newspaper.
The protesters have varied causes and no apparent demands, but have spoken largely about unemployment and economic inequality, reserving most of their criticism for Wall Street.
“We are the 99 percent,” they chanted on Wednesday, contrasting themselves with the wealthiest 1 percent of people in the US.
“The great thing about Occupy Wall Street is that they have brought the focus of the entire country on the middle class majority,” said George Aldro, 62, a member of the United Auto Workers, as he carried the union’s flag over his shoulder. “We’re in it together, and we’re in it for the long haul.”
The unions were donating food, blankets and office space to the protesters, said Dan Cantor, head of the Working Families Party, but he said the young protesters would continue to head their own efforts. The movement lacks an identified leader and decisions are made during group meetings.
“They’re giving more to us than we’re giving to them,” Cantor said. “The labor movement is following the youth of America today and that’s a good thing.”
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