NEW YORK – In a sign that it is shifting from a loose-knit fringe group to a bloc that could draw in mainstream America, the movement called Occupy Wall Street brought thousands of people to the streets of New York on Wednesday after major labor unions gave their backing to its anti-greed message.
The march, from Occupy Wall Street’s makeshift headquarters at a small park in the financial district to Foley Square in lower Manhattan, was the largest since the group launched its movement Sept. 17. At its peak, the crowd of several thousand filled Foley Square and covered the steps of the courthouse across the street as speakers from several labor groups railed against corporate America.
“Every one of us is here because of corporate greed,” yelled Christopher Shelton, the vice president of the regional branch of the Communication Workers of America. “It’s time not to occupy Wall Street, but to take back Wall Street.”
Shelton spoke to a crowd waving signs that reflected their varying ages, backgrounds and professions. Teachers and nurses mixed with students holding placards lamenting soaring tuition and their inability to repay student loans. Veterans complained of being out of work and homeless. Senior citizens lamented the hardships facing their grandchildren.
There were signs protesting racism, Obama, Republicans, Democrats, hunger, and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. There were as many signs supporting workers’ rights, hunger-striking prisoners, higher taxes for millionaires and an overhaul of the country’s financial system.
“Wall Street needs an enema,” read one sign. “Corporations are NOT people,” read another, a dig at Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s statement during a campaign appearance in August that “corporations are people.”
“It’s hard because there are so many issues at stake,” said Melanie Hamlett, 33, when asked what her main gripe was. “But it all comes down to money.”
Hamlett had come from her home in New Paltz, Pa., to take part in Wednesday’s protest and she spoke from Zuccotti Park, where dozens of Occupy Wall Street supporters have been camped since Sept. 17.
“I’ve been waiting for this to happen for years. Finally, an awakening,” she said as a group of protesters meditated in Zuccotti Park.
The protests have spread across the country but drawn far smaller crowds than in New York. They also have spawned movements such as Stop the Machine, which was planning a protest today in Washington, D.C.