Friday October 7, 2011
Wall St protests spread, unlikely sympathy from Fed
By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Protests that began in New York against U.S. economic inequality spread around America on Thursday as the growing movement found unlikely support from a top official of one of its targets -- the Federal Reserve.
The "Occupy Wall St" movement was sparking similar rallies, underway or planned, in Austin, Texas; Tampa, Florida; Washington, D.C.; Trenton and Jersey City, New Jersey; Houston, Texas, and Philadelphia, among other cities.
Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher told a group of business people in Fort Worth, Texas: "I am somewhat sympathetic - that will shock you."
The Fed played an important role in one of the protesters' targets, the 2008 Wall Street bailout which critics said let banks enjoy huge profits while average Americans suffered under high unemployment and job insecurity.
"We have too many people out of work," Fisher said. "We have a very uneven distribution of income. We have too many people out of work for too long. We have a very frustrated people, and I can understand their frustration," he said.
And President Barack Obama acknowledged the protesters on Thursday.
"I think people are frustrated and, you know, the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works," Obama said at a news conference.
In Philadelphia, protesters chanted and waved placards reading "I did not think 'By the People, For the People' meant 1 percent," a reference to their argument that the country's richest have too much of its wealth and political power.
College students, blue collar workers and some union organizers said they came together to press the message calling for economic change.
"I'm here to support a movement for people who are losing their houses, losing their jobs. Everyone is sick and tired of it," said Dezeray Rubinchik, 33, who works in a pawn shop.
About 5,000 people marched on New York's financial district on Wednesday, the biggest rally so far, swelled by nurses, transit workers and other union members. Dozens of people were arrested and police used pepper spray on some protesters.
With support from unions boosting the protesters' ranks, organizers predicted that backing would keep the momentum building across the country.
"This is the beginning," said John Preston in Philadelphia, business manager for Teamsters Local 929. "Teamsters will support the movement city to city ... We bailed out the banks, and they are not giving back to bail out U.S. citizens."
While demonstrations outside New York have remained mostly peaceful, 10 protesters were arrested in St. Louis late on Wednesday for violating curfew. There was no resistance from demonstrators, whose flyers said "Our government is corrupted. Both parties have sold us out to Wall Street."
About 200 people gathered for an "Occupy Houston" demonstration in front of City Hall in downtown, just blocks from the former headquarters of Enron Corp, the once prominent energy company that collapsed in bankruptcy and scandal in 2001.
Demonstrators marched through the Houston streets carrying signs like "Greed is not good" and "Where's my bailout?" and chanting "hey hey, ho ho, corporate greed has got to go" and "We are the 99 percent," another reference to the idea that the top 1 percent of Americans have too much.
In San Antonio, Texas, about 50 people gathered on Thursday at the city's Confederate War Veterans Monument chanting "the banks got bailed out, we got sold out."
"This is bringing to light government corruption and all the evils that corporations have done," protester Michael Evans said. "The people are tired of it and are not going to put up with it any more."
(Additional reporting by Bruce Olson in St. Louis, Jim Forsyth in San Antonio, Dave Warner in Philadelphia and Chris Baltimore in Houston; Writing by Michelle Nichols and Barbara Goldberg; Editing by Jerry Norton and Vicki Allen)
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