Los Angeles police arrested 10 anti-Wall Street demonstrators who entered a Bank of America during a downtown march Thursday. The ongoing protest is one of several that took place in cities around the U.S., and included members of the Occupy L.A. movement and local unions.
Thursday afternoon's march through the financial district has been peaceful, with several hundred protesters pouring into downtown L.A.'s financial district, flanked by LAPD 'containment lines'.
The protesters gathered at the Bank of America and Wells Fargo adjacent to Water Court Plaza on Grand Avenue while some chanted "Banks are just bad investment firms." A small group then split away and entered the bank before being arrested.
Proclaiming themselves the majority – not the one percent they say owns much of the country’s wealth - they circled corporate office towers in the financial district as employees on their lunch hour glanced at them from the Water Court plaza.
Security personnel carrying two-way radios were out in force to keep the demonstrators at distance. Still, some of the marchers managed to squat inside the lobby of a Bank of America branch. There, they tried to cash a $673 billion check - the amount they say the banks owe the people of California.
Captain Dennis Kato with the LAPD said that’s when his officers took action.
“Just ten people were arrested inside that bank, for trespassing," he said. "It’s all cleared out now and the people will get processed over at the jail over at Parker Center.”
Organizer Melvina Bogan said too many big banks like Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Chase and Citibank are foreclosing on families in areas hit hard by the economic crisis.
“People are losing their homes... Lost their jobs," said Bogan. "And so if you don’t have a job, you’re not going to have a home. We’re all just a month away from foreclosure.”
Demonstrators have also been camping out at Los Angeles City Hall for the past week in solidarity with demonstrations in New York.
The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began last month with a small number of young people pitching a tent in front of the New York Stock Exchange, has expanded nationally and drawn a wide variety of activists, including union members and laid-off workers. Demonstrators marched Thursday in Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Los Angeles and Anchorage, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., where protesters took their messages Freedom Plaza, just down the street from the White House.
Members of the movement say they want to pressure big banks to help restore hard-hit communities by keeping families in their homes and paying their share of taxes. One D.C. protester, Paul Khan, held a homemade sign with a cartoon pirate jumping on a man in a U.S.A. sweater.
"We’re all feeling that we’ve been ripped off by all these CEO’s who even though they failed, rewarded themselves with big bonuses [and] government support," he said. "And it’s our money."
Larry Maxwell of Veterans for Peace, another protester, said small protests are only the beginning. "These things, they always start small. Everything starts small. And sometimes they finish big, really, really big," he said. Behind him the plaza less than 200 protesters gathered, a few with sleeping bags and tents.
The protests are in some ways the liberal flip side of the tea party movement, which was launched in 2009 in a populist reaction against the bank and auto bailouts and the $787 billion economic stimulus plan.
But while tea party activists eventually became a crucial part of the Republican coalition, the Occupy Wall Street protesters are cutting President Barack Obama little slack. They say Obama failed to crack down on the banks after the 2008 mortgage meltdown and financial crisis.
"He could have taken a much more populist, aggressive stance at the beginning against Wall Street bonuses, and exacting certain change from bailing out the banks," said Michael Kazin, a Georgetown University history professor and author of "American Dreamers," a history of the left. "But ultimately, the economy has not gotten much better, and that's underscored the frustration on both the right and the left."
Obama on Thursday acknowledged the economic insecurities fueling the nearly 3-week-old Wall Street protests. But he pinned responsibility on the financial industry and on congressional Republicans he says have blocked his efforts to kick-start job growth.
"I think people are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works," he said at a nationally televised news conference. "The American people understand that not everybody has been following the rules, that Wall Street is an example of that ... and that's going to express itself politically in 2012 and beyond."
The president has been pushing for a $443 billion jobs plan to be paid for in part through a tax on the wealthy. Republicans have resisted such tax increases.
GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Herman Cain have criticized the anti-Wall Street protests. All the Republican contenders have also pushed back against the demonization of Wall Street. They accuse the Obama administration of setting regulatory policies that have stifled job creation and say his health care overhaul will prevent many businesses from hiring new workers.
In Zuccotti Park, the center of the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, activists expressed deep frustration with the political gridlock in Washington. While some blamed Republicans for blocking reform, others singled out Obama.
"His message is that he's sticking to the party line, which is 'we are taking care of the situation.' But he's not proposing any solutions," said Thorin Caristo, an antiques store owner from Plainfield, Conn.
But Robert Arnow, a retired real estate worker, said the Republicans need to tell their congressional leaders, "You're standing in the way of change."
Quayzy Cayusso, a Web designer, didn't watch Obama's news conference even though it was broadcast on TV monitors at the protest site in New York.
"He's a cool president, but he was given a hard task," Cayusso said. "He should get some gratitude for what he's done so far, but he's been overlooking jobs and not putting much effort into that until now."
This story incorporates information from the Associated Press.