The Occupy Wall Street protesters came to Washington, where they were compared favorably to the Tea Party by Vice President Joe Biden while House Majority Leader Eric Cantor called them “growing mobs” dividing the country.
President Barack Obama also weighed in, expressing empathy with the demonstrators in the nation’s capital while stopping short of endorsing their movement.
“The American people understand that not everybody’s been following the rules, that Wall Street is an example of that,” Obama said yesterday at a White House press conference. Occupy Wall Street began three weeks ago in Lower Manhattan and has spread to cities from Houston to San Francisco with the help of postings on Twitter and websites.
Several thousand protesters set up camp yesterday in Washington’s Freedom Plaza, two blocks from the Treasury Department. They staged drumming circles, set up sign-making tents, held a mini-rock festival and spoke against Wall Street excesses. Then they marched past the White House, rallied outside the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and for a time blocked traffic along K Street, where some lobbying firms are located.
Nationwide, the protesters have criticized the government for propping up major banks such as Citigroup Inc. and Bank of America Corp. with a $700 billion taxpayer-funded bailout. They also called for more government aid to create jobs for the unemployed and voiced anti-war and anti-trade sentiment.
Cantor, a Virginia Republican, discussed the marches today at a “Value Voters Summit” in Washington organized by the Family Research Council’s advocacy arm.
“I, for one, am increasingly concerned about the growing mobs occupying Wall Street and the other cities across the country,” Cantor said. “Believe it or not, some in this town have actually condoned the pitting of Americans against Americans.”
Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain told reporters in Houston yesterday that the Wall Street protesters are “trying to disrupt the whole country.”
“This is an attempt by the left to create a distraction from the failed policies of this administration,” Cain said.
The protests have “a lot in common with the Tea Party,” Vice President Biden said yesterday.
“What are the people up there on the other end of the political spectrum saying?” Biden said. “The same thing: ‘Look guys, the bargain is not on the level anymore.’ In the minds of the vast majority of the American -- the middle class is being screwed.”
Richard Fisher, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas told an audience in Fort Worth, Texas, yesterday, that he was “somewhat sympathetic” to the protests.
“We have too many people out of work,” Fisher said. “We have very uneven distribution of income.”
National union leaders based in Washington moved to embrace the protests as they reached the capital. Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the largest U.S. labor federation, told reporters this week that the demonstrations were reminiscent of a union march on Wall Street last year.
Speakers at a rally in Washington yesterday said their efforts were inspired by union-backed protests in Madison, Wisconsin, this year against Republican moves to curb union benefits.
“Madison was our inspiration,” Gloria English, 51, a bartender and housecleaner from Owings, Maryland, said in an interview. “The country noticed.”
Not all participants in the Washington march were ready to usher union leaders to the head of the protest parade.
’’This is much bigger than my union affiliation,’’ Lisa Oberg, a 32-year-old actor from Baltimore who joined in the Washington protests, said. “This is about the people. My union has nothing to do with why I’m here.”
In New York, where the Occupy Wall Street protests continued yesterday, Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “A lot of people are feeling the pain, and when people are feeling the pain they look for an outlet, and that’s what I think you’re hearing from the protesters.”
The causes run from opposition to the death penalty to income inequality, according to Cuomo, who defended Wall Street’s role in the New York economy.
“Wall Street is a major economic engine for the state,” he said at a press conference. “When all is said and told, 20 to 25 percent of the state’s income comes from Wall Street.”
New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly told reporters yesterday that the protests have cost his city about $2 million in overtime so far.
‘Tax Wall Street’
In Sacramento, California, yesterday, about 100 demonstrators gathered in a small park downtown named after labor organizer Cesar Chavez.
“Fight Back,” and “Heal America: Tax Wall Street” were among the signs held by demonstrators.
“They are right, this is class warfare,” Nathan Appete, who said he was a 24-year-old nursing student from Fresno, said. “This is a war against the middle class by those big banks.”
About 300 protesters participated in Austin, Texas. In Houston, Dustin Phipps, a 24-year-old premed student, was among the organizers of several hundred protesters who had met online. They gathered in a downtown park and walked four blocks to the JPMorgan Chase Tower.
“They got bailed out; we got sold out,” was among the chants Phipps led over a red megaphone.
‘Get a Job’
Watching from across the street, Peggy Chilton, a 52-year-old oil industry accountant, said, “I came to mock them. They need to get a job. These are rich, white college students whose professors don’t like the Tea Party.”
In San Francisco, police and city crews dismantled an encampment outside the Federal Reserve Bank’s building in the Financial District early yesterday that had been set up by Occupy SF protesters.
“This department always facilitates the right to protest and engage in free speech,” San Francisco Police officer Albie Esparza said. “That wasn’t the problem. However you have to do that while being within the law, and it came down to violations of local ordinances and state laws.”