New York: The arrests of 700 people on Brooklyn Bridge over the weekend fuelled the anger of anti-Wall Street protesters camping in a Manhattan park and sparked support elsewhere in the country as the campaign entered its third week.
Occupy Wall Street started with fewer than a dozen college students spending days and nights in Zuccotti Park, a plaza near the city`s financial centre. But a day after Saturday`s mass arrests, hundreds of protesters were resolute and like-minded groups in other cities had joined in.
New York City officials "thought we were going to leave and we haven`t," 19-year-old Kira Moyer-Sims of Portland, Oregon, said. "We`re going to stay as long as we can."
Police said the department will continue its regular patrols of the area. And "as always, if it is a lawful demonstration, we help facilitate and if they break the law we arrest them," NYPD spokesman Paul Browne said.
A map of the country displayed on the plaza identified 21 places where other protests were organised.
Wall-Street style demonstrations with names like Occupy Los Angeles, Occupy Chicago, and Occupy Boston were staged in front of Federal Reserve buildings in those cities. A group in Columbus, Ohio, also marched on the capital city`s street. And signs of support were rearing up outside the US. In Canada, a Wall Street rally is planned for later this month in Toronto.
"It was chaos here" two weeks ago, said Jackie Fellner, a marketing manager from Westchester County, north of the city.
Now campers take turns organising a "general assembly" on the plaza where they divide tasks among themselves. They have "a protocol for most things”, Moyer-Sims said, including a makeshift hospital and getting legal help for people who are arrested. They rally around a website called OccupyWallSt.org, and they even started printing a newspaper — the Occupied Wall Street Journal.
Police watched on Sunday as activists awoke in their makeshift beds. Later, members of the NYPD moved in and ordered some of them to dismantle what police said were "dwellings”.
"A dozen officers came walking toward us with NYPD video cameras pointed at us," said John Dennehy, who was back in the park after spending hours in police custody.
He flashed a police desk appearance ticket charging him with disorderly conduct and prohibited use of a roadway. On Saturday, the 29-year-old United Nations employee joined thousands of protesters who tried to cross the bridge after marching through Manhattan`s Financial District.
Dennehy and three others had built what they called their "box castle" using cardboard mailing boxes to delineate their space on the plaza. But police told them to remove the structure, they said. Plastic tarps they were using to stay dry in a pouring rain also were not acceptable, they said.
Under clear skies on Sunday afternoon, protesters could help themselves to food that unnamed supporters donated to keep the encampment running. Some ate pizza they said was ordered for them by a man in Egypt who phoned a local shop to have the pies delivered.
The campers also have been fuelled by encouraging words from well-known figures, the latest actor Alec Baldwin, who posted videos on his Twitter page that had already been widely circulated. One appeared to show police using pepper spray on a group of women, another a young man being tackled to the ground by an officer.
"This is unsettling," Baldwin wrote. "I think the NYPD has a PR problem."
Fellner said she has an issue with "big money dictating which politicians get elected and what programs get funded."
But "we`re not here to take down Wall Street," she insisted. "It`s not poor against rich."
Still, the protesters chose Wall Street as their physical rallying point, speaking against corporate greed, social inequality, global climate change and other concerns.
School teacher Denise Martinez said most of the children she teaches in Brooklyn live at or below the poverty level, and her classes are jammed with up to about 50 students.
"These are America`s future workers, and what`s trickling down to them are the problems — the unemployment, the crime," she said. She blamed Wall Street for causing the country`s financial problems and said it needed to do more to solve them.
Beside the mass arrest on Saturday, police arrested about 100 people September 24 when protesters marched to other parts of the city and got into a tense standoff with officers.
Some said protesters on the Brooklyn Bridge were lured onto the roadway by police, or they didn`t hear the calls from authorities to head to the pedestrian walkway. Police said no one was tricked into being arrested, and that those in the back of the group who couldn`t hear were allowed to leave.
The NYPD released video footage on Sunday to back up its stance. In one of the videos, an official uses a bullhorn to warn the crowd. Marchers can be seen chanting, "Take the bridge."