Economic protesters target Washington lobbyists

Friday, 9 December 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

WASHINGTON (Reuters): Police arrested economic protesters in Washington on Wednesday as they blocked streets and disrupted traffic in an area famous as a center for the offices of lobbyists.

The demonstrators said the lobbyists represent the corporations that -- along with the country’s richest people -- they think have too much of the nation’s power and wealth.

The Washington actions came as elsewhere in the country authorities continued to move against encampments of the Occupy movement that aims to change the U.S. economic system.

Police dismantled a tent city of Occupy protesters in downtown San Francisco early on Wednesday, arresting more than 50 people as they shut down the largest remaining Occupy encampment on the West Coast.

In Denver, a federal judge on Wednesday denied Occupy Denver’s request for a restraining order against police, rejecting the group’s contention police had illegally enforced ordinances to suppress its protest.

San Francisco authorities had repeatedly warned Occupy protesters to move from the public plaza at the foot of Market Street in recent weeks and tried unsuccessfully to negotiate a move to another location.

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr said there were about 100 people in the camp when the police moved in early on Wednesday, and about 100 officers took part in the action.

Authorities in many U.S. cities, often citing health and safety conditions, have dismantled protest camps that sprang from the original Occupy movement in New York against economic inequality and perceived excesses of the U.S. financial system.

An exception to that is Washington, D.C., where Occupy encampments have remained in place and on occasion the protesters have been joined by other groups with similar aims.

This week union and church organizations, among others, are participating in a “Take Back the Capitol” effort that saw sit-ins at Congressional offices on Tuesday. Undeterred by sporadic rain, the protests concentrated on K Street, where many corporate lobbyists have offices.

Occupy DC protesters had announced a march of their own in the same area. Some Occupy protesters are wary of too closely identifying themselves with groups such as unions, which they see as politically partisan.

At one corner, Occupy protesters tried to build a barricade. They pushed tents, garbage cans and newspaper vending machines into the intersection.

Police on horseback forced the crowd out of the street and clear of the debris. They issued warnings and started making arrests, as some of the group laid down in the street.

The crowd chanted “Whose streets? Our streets” and “This is what democracy looks like.”

A Reuters reporter saw dozens of protesters being removed by police. In late afternoon police said they were still tallying the arrest total but that it was more than 11. More arrests could come later in the day, with Occupy planning actions at the White House and Supreme Court.

“This is the only thing we have. The world is the only thing we have and we need to protect it. We need to protect the environment and each other because it’s the only home we have,” said Haley Freeman, an Occupy protester from Florida.

Separately from the Occupy group, representatives of “Take Back the Capital” marched on five locations of lobbying firms protesting against alleged corporate greed and the interaction of government with corporations.

Jerome Wilson, 52, an environmental services worker from Pittsburgh, told Reuters he had come to Washington with a church group for the protests.

Asked why, he said: “It’s about strengthening the people because that one percent is taking away everything from us. We’re basically back in debtors’ prison again.”

The “one percent” is a common reference among protesters to the idea that a tiny minority in the country has more wealth and power than is fair, at the expense of the majority.

As authorities have moved against Occupy encampments in an increasing number of cities, some local activists say they are now turning their attention to the foreclosure crisis and will “occupy” homes to prevent evictions.