Several hundred protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement converged on the West Lawn of the Capitol to decry the influence of corporate money in politics and voice myriad other grievances.
Organizers had touted Tuesday’s rally, known as Occupy Congress, as the largest national gathering of Occupy protesters to date and secured a permit that would have allowed up to 10,000 people to participate. By mid-afternoon, the protest appeared to have fallen far short of those goals.
Still, participants said they were optimistic about the strength of the Occupy movement, which began in September when protesters pitched tents in a Lower Manhattan park. The movement has since spread to dozens of cities, including Washington. While many cities have moved to evict the protesters, the National Park Service has allowed encampments to remain in two public squares near the White House.
“I’m encouraged,” said Jon Wynn, 63, of Snow Camp, North Carolina, who traveled to Washington to attend the protest and visit friends. “There’s energy here, even if there’s not a whole lot of people.”
The protest comes amid numerous polls that show 84 percent of Americans disapprove of the job Congress is doing, near an all-time low.
While the rally was mostly peaceful, there were some scuffles between police and protesters along walkways leading to the Capitol. By mid-afternoon on Tuesday, four people had been arrested, US Capitol Police said, one for allegedly assaulting a police officer and three accused of crossing a police line.
The Occupy movement includes activists who want to change government from within and anarchists who oppose all government. Tension between the two camps was evident at Tuesday’s gathering, where some taunted police while others participated in earnest group discussions about how to influence their elected representatives.
Anne Filson, 71, a retired teacher from Madison, New Hampshire, said she was disappointed by the turnout and said Occupy protesters needed to stick to their core message of narrowing the gap between rich and poor.
Protesters did not help the cause by carrying profane signs and antagonizing police, she said.
“Later on Tuesday, small groups of protesters entered the House of Representatives’ office buildings in a bid to meet with individual members of Congress. Participants later in the evening marched to the Supreme Court and the White House.
As hundreds of Occupy protesters massed outside the gates of the White House, an apparent smoke bomb was thrown over the fence on Tuesday night, forcing authorities to disperse the crowds. US President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama were not in the White House when it happened — he was taking her out for a night on the town to celebrate her 48th birthday.
There were no arrests in the incident, US Secret Service spokesman George Ogilvie said.