Several unions joined students demonstrating in New York's financial district Wednesday in what have become known as the Occupy Wall Street protests.
National Nurses United, the Chinatown Tenants Union and the Transit Workers Union, the liberal group MoveOn.org, and community organizations like the Working Families Party and United NY were among those who joined the demonstration and a march in Lower Manhattan.
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After gathering at Foley Square, an area encircled by courthouses and named for "Big Tom" Foley, a former blacksmith's helper who became a prominent state Democratic leader, they marched to Zuccotti Park, the protesters' unofficial headquarters.
Across the country, students at several U.S. colleges walked out of classes in solidarity.
Sterling W. Roberson, vice-president for the United Federation of Teachers, said union members shared the same ideals as activists who have been camped out in sleeping bags for more than two weeks.
"The middle class is taking the burden but the wealthiest of our state and country are not," he said.
Thousands of protesters packed the square, standing behind police barricades in front of the courthouse buildings. Some wore union T-shirts, others were in business attire, and many had left work early to be there.
Several Democratic lawmakers threw their support behind the protests Wednesday. "We share the anger and frustration of so many Americans who have seen the enormous toll that an unchecked Wall Street has taken on the overwhelming majority of Americans while benefitting the super wealthy," representatives Raul Grijalva and Keith Ellison said in a joint statement.
The protests started on Sept. 17 with a few dozen demonstrators who tried to pitch tents in front of the New York Stock Exchange.
Since then, hundreds have set up camp in the park nearby and have become increasingly organized, lining up medical aid and legal help and printing their own newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal.
Canadian protests planned
Protests are planned in Canadian cities such as Vancouver, Montreal and Calgary. On Oct. 15, a group plans on staging a sit-in in Toronto’s financial district.
Chatter on social media suggests a similar event is planned for Vancouver’s financial district on the same day.
Other groups have periodically gathered and protested in spots throughout the U.S.
One of the larger demonstrations Wednesday was in Boston, where about 200 Northeastern University students gathered on campus to condemn what they called corporate control of government and the spiralling costs of their education.
The protesters have varied causes but have reserved most of their criticism for Wall Street.
They've called for higher taxes on the rich and a tax on trades of stocks, bonds, derivatives, credit default swaps, and similar financial transactions to raise government revenues.
"We have to start by making Wall Street pay to undo the damage that has caused immeasurable suffering while the high rollers on Wall Street, who created this crisis, are rewarded with bailouts, bonuses, tax cuts, and regulatory rollbacks," the executive director of National Nurses United, Roseann DeMoro, said.
NNU is the largest union and professional association of nurses in the U.S., with 170,000 members.
"I think they're capturing a feel of disempowerment, feeling like nobody is listening to them," said Camille Rivera, executive director of United NY. "What do you do when no one is listening to you? You speak up, you take action."
MoveOn.org is planning a "virtual march" on its website by encouraging people to post photos of themselves with the caption: "I'm the 99 per cent" — a reference to those people not among the wealthiest one per cent of Americans and the debate over whether they should be taxed more.
About 700 protesters were arrested and given disorderly conduct summonses for spilling into the roadway of the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday despite warnings from police.
It's not clear whether the protesters meant it as civil disobedience; some say they were tricked by police into entering the road and were wrongly arrested. Police video shows officers with bullhorns telling them to keep off the road.