New York, Oct 15: Americans protesting corporate greed and inequality faced down authorities in parks and plazas across the country ahead of what organizers describe as 24 hours of public action planned Saturday in cities around the world.
Groups spanning the globe from Asia to Europe—and in every U.S. state—announced demonstrations and other actions. The rapidly growing movement could link a protest that started in New York's financial district together with longer-standing anti-austerity demonstrations that have raged across Europe amid a roiling economic crisis.
Demonstrators from San Francisco to New York resisted police, with some forming human chains and heckling corporate leaders. Hundreds have been arrested on minor charges in cities across the U.S. since the protests started about a month ago.
Protesters at the heart of the “Occupy Wall Street” movement in New York exulted Friday after beating back a plan they said was intended to clear them from the privately owned park where they have slept, eaten and protested for the past month. They said their victory will embolden the movement across the U.S. and beyond.
“We are going to piggy-back off the success of today, and it's going to be bigger than we ever imagined,” said protester Daniel Zetah.
The owners of Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan had announced plans to temporarily evict the hundreds of protesters before dawn Friday so that the grounds could be power-washed and inspected. But protesters feared it was a pretext to break up the demonstration and swelled their ranks by several thousand, recruiting through Facebook, Twitter and word-of-mouth.
Minutes before the appointed hour, the word came down that the park's owners, Brookfield Office Properties, had postponed the cleanup. Brookfield, whose board includes New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's girlfriend, said in a statement that it had decided to delay the cleaning “for a short period of time” at the request of “a number of local political leaders.”
As protesters celebrated, about 15 people in a breakaway group were arrested nearby in a clash with police. A legal observer marching with the group refused to move off the street for police and was run over by an officer's scooter. He fell to the ground screaming and writhing and kicked over the scooter to free his foot before police flipped him over and arrested him.
In San Francisco, protesters from the Occupy Wall Street movement heckled News Corp. CEO Rupert Murdoch during a speech at an education forum, accusing the media mogul of trying to profit from public education.
“Corporations own all the media in the world. Why should they not own all the education as well?” an activist who identified himself as Joe Hill yelled sarcastically.
Murdoch appeared unfazed.
“It's OK, a little controversy makes everything more interesting,” he said to audience applause before continuing his speech.
In Denver, dozens of police in riot gear herded protesters away from the Colorado state Capitol grounds, dragging some and arresting about two dozen as they dismantled the encampment the protesters have held for three weeks.
In Trenton, the New Jersey state capital, protesters were ordered to remove tents near a war memorial. Organizers in Des Moines, Iowa, warned of a possible “big conflict” Friday night after the state denied their permit to continue overnight protests at the state Capitol.
San Diego police used pepper spray to break up a human chain formed by anti-Wall Street demonstrators at a downtown plaza where they have camped for a week.
In Philadelphia, protester Matt Monk, a freelance writer, was elated by the news out of New York.
“That means at the very least, the powers-that-be, wherever they are, know that they have to contend with us in a less heavy-handed way,” he said.
A call for mass protests on Saturday originated a month ago from a meeting in Spain, where mostly young and unemployed people angry at the country's handling of the economic crisis have been demonstrating for months. It was reposted on the Occupy Wall Street website and has been further amplified through social media.
South Korean activists have pledged to bring 1,000 people into the capital's Yoeuido financial district and in front of Seoul City Hall to protest inequality.
Rome is girding for major protests Saturday by demonstrators known as the “indignati.” As Premier Silvio Berlusconi survived a no-confidence vote in Parliament, protesters outside shouted “Shame!” and hurled eggs toward the legislative building.
Italian TV reports from Milan showed about 20 young people trying unsuccessfully to enter a building where Goldman Sachs has an office, and spraying red paint on the entrance.
Protesters in London vowed to occupy the London Stock Exchange on Saturday. Nights of rioting rocked the British capital in August after the fatal police shooting of a 29-year-old man.
In Canada, protests were planned for Saturday in cities including Montreal and Vancouver. In Toronto, demonstrators plan to gather at Canada's main stock exchange.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said he doubted Canadians would be as angry as their neighbors to the south as Canadian banks have not received a U.S.-type bailout. He declined to comment when asked if he was concerned about a possible repeat of street violence that Toronto experienced at the G-20 summit last year.
In the United States, politicians in both President Barack Obama's Democratic Party and the opposition Republican Party struggled to come up with a response to the growing nationwide movement. Democrats have been largely supportive but also wary of endorsing criticism of Obama's rescue of big banks in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. The bank bailout was launched in the last months of President George W. Bush's administration.
Republicans at first criticized the demonstrations but have shifted their tone in recent days. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor warned of “growing mobs” but later said the protesters were “justifiably frustrated.” In Tuesday's Republican presidential debate, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich referred to the protesters as “left-wing agitators.”
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made a reference to the New York protest in a speech at The Economic Club of New York.
“The protests happening just a few miles from here ought to be a reminder to all of us that we have a great deal of work to do to live up to the expectations of the American people,” she said Friday.
And a group of 100 authors including Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman and Pulitzer Prize-winning novelists Jennifer Egan and Michael Cunningham signed an online petition declaring their support for “Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy Movement around the world.”