Thousands of union members and community activists rallied in downtown New York City Thursday afternoon for what was billed as a March on Wall Street, led by the the presidents of the NAACP and the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor group. They carried signs and chanted populist slogans as they marched down Broadway past Wall Street an hour after the markets had closed for the day.
Several thousand union members and activists rallied near City Hall, and then marched through the financial district to protest unemployment and the taxpayer-funded rescue of Wall Street and big banks.
The demonstration was organized by community groups and the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest labor group, representing about 11 million workers. The AFL-CIO is urging Congress to create a $900 billion government jobs program and to tax securities trades and bankers' bonuses to pay for it. Business groups oppose the tax, saying it would hurt the economy.
The protesters carried signs saying, "Good Jobs Now, "Hold Banks Accountable," and "Save Our Homes." They chanted, "Main Street - Not Wall street." A few were dressed as pirates - or held cardboard caricatures of capitalists in top hats, with the faces of pigs.
Protester Teddy Aravidis, an electrician, says he has been out of work for five months. "You know, I'm a person that has a mortgage, has a family, has to live - banks are getting richer from what I see, and we're just ending up getting poorer and poorer. I just hope things are going to turn around real quick," he said.
Darwin Petrone, an operating engineer, said he has been jobless for three months. "It's terrible, probably one of the worst feelings because you lost part of your identity with your job," he said.
Lee Eck of Albany was there with other members of the painters and glaziers union from upstate New York. "This year is the worst year we've seen since the early 80s. we have upwards of 7.7 unemployment in our area, Albany, and we've seen nothing like this for years," he said.
City University English professor Paulette Henderson said her job is safe, but she was marching to stand up for others. "There's just been a huge inequality in this country for a long time, the rich are getting richer, the poor are getting desperate, and the middle class is evaporating," she said.
The rally ended at a symbol of Wall Street prosperity - the bronze bull a few blocks from the American Stock Exchange. Standing next it, AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said the day had been a success. "Wall Street got the message: No more business as usual. They destroyed 11 million jobs, they're going to pay for those 11 million jobs," he said.
Earlier in the day, more than 100 protesters entered a building in midtown Manhattan where the banking company JP Morgan Chase has offices. They chanted, "Bust up big banks!" and "People Power," before police escorted them outside. They then pushed into another building lobby nearby where the Wells Fargo and Wachovia bank have offices, reportedly delivering a letter of demands before leaving.