Police close NYC park, move Occupy protesters out
Sunday, March 18, 2012
NEW YORK (AP) — Chanting and cheering down Wall Street on Saturday to mark six months since the birth of the Occupy movement, some protesters applauded the Goldman Sachs employee who days ago gave the firm a public drubbing, echoing the movement’s indictment of a financial system demonstrators say is fueled by reckless greed.
“I kind of like to think that the Occupy movement helped him to say, ‘Yeah, I really can’t do this anymore,”’ retired librarian Connie Bartusis said of the op-ed piece by Goldman Sachs manager Greg Smith, who claimed the company regularly foisted failing products on clients as it sought to make more money.
Carrying a sign with the words “Regulate Regulate Regulate,” Bartusis said the loss of governmental checks on the financial system helped create the climate of unfettered self-interest described by Smith in his piece, although Goldman’s leadership suggested he had not portrayed the bank’s culture accurately.
“Greed is a very powerful force,” Bartusis said. “That’s what got us in trouble.”
On Saturday, six months after the protesters first took over Zuccotti Park near the city’s financial district, the protesters gathered there again, drawing slogans in chalk on the pavement and waving flags as they marched through lower Manhattan.
The observance ended at the park where the movement began when police declared the park closed Saturday night and swept through the excited and sometimes agitated crowd, arresting some protesters as they went. A spokesperson for Occupy Wall Street estimated dozens of protesters were arrested.
With the city’s attention earlier focused on the huge St. Patrick’s Day parade many blocks uptown, the Occupy rally at Zuccotti drew hundreds of people, with many gathering in the park into the evening hours.
Documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, who had given a speech at a nearby university, also made an appearance at the park, milling around with protesters.
With the barricades that once blocked them from Wall Street now removed, the protesters streamed down the sidewalk and covered the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial. There, steps from the New York Stock Exchange and standing at the feet of a statue of George Washington, they danced and chanted, “We are unstoppable.”
Police say arrests had been made, but they don’t have a full count yet.
As always, the protesters focused on a variety of concerns, but for Tom Hagan, his sights were on the giants of finance.
“Wall Street did some terrible things, especially Goldman Sachs, but all of them. Everyone from the banks to the rating agencies, they all knew they were doing wrong. ... But they did it anyway. Because the money was too big,” he said.
Dressed in an outfit that might have been more appropriate for the St. Patrick’s Day parade, the 61-year-old salesman wore a green shamrock cap and carried a sign asking for saintly intervention: “St. Patrick: Drive the snakes out of Wall Street.” He, too, praised Smith’s editorial and said it came just as the Occupy movement is again gaining ground.
It was a sentiment echoed by others. Stacy Hessler held up a cardboard sign that read, “Spring is coming,” a reference, she said, both to the Arab Spring and to the warm weather that is returning to New York City. She said she believes the nicer weather will bring the crowds back to Occupy protests, where numbers have dwindled in recent months since the group’s encampment was ousted from Zuccotti Park by authorities in November.
But now, “more and more people are coming out,” said the 39-year-old, who left her home in Florida in October to join the Manhattan protesters and stayed through much of the winter. “The next couple of months, things are going to start to grow, like the flowers.”
Some have questioned whether the group can regain its momentum. This month, the finance accounting group in New York City reported that just about $119,000 remained in Occupy’s bank account — the equivalent of about two weeks’ worth of expenses.
But Hessler said the group has remained strong, and she pronounced herself satisfied with what the Occupy protesters have accomplished over the last half year.
“It’s changed the language,” she said. “It’s brought out a lot of issues that people are talking about. ... And that’s the start of change.”
Samantha Gross can be reached at www.twitter.com/samanthagross
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