NEW YORK -- On Wednesday afternoon, about one hundred Occupy protesters gathered outside the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in midtown Manhattan, where former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney was appearing at a luncheon fundraiser that cost upward of $1000 per plate. They marched around the block, holding signs and shouting, "Romney is the 1 percent." Some were dressed like caricatures of rich people, in sequins and high heels and slinky black dresses.
Occupy activists tend to describe themselves as nonpartisan, and they've been critical of both President Barack Obama and the nation's political system in general. But this bunch, at least, was especially contemptuous of Romney. Although as one bystander pointed out, Romney is hardly the only wealthy candidate for president this year, he's a more obvious target for anger about Wall Street greed than most politicians, thanks to his stated position on issues like corporate personhood and his background as a private-equity chief.
The protesters came up with a nickname for him: "Mr. 1 Percent." Whether it proves as catchy as the more famous Occupy memes -- "We are the 99 percent," "Occupy X," the idea of the movement itself -– remains to be seen.
It's been a while since Occupy Wall Street was a top news story, and activists have been fighting to keep up the morale and the momentum, to draw crowds, to stay in the conversation. Last week it was reported that the movement is running out of money. Many worry that it's running out of energy and confidence.
Aaron Black, one of the organizers of Wednesday's protest, said he had hoped 1,000 people would show up. At its peak, the turnout was no higher than a few hundred. Black put a positive spin on things, saying that those who did show up were well-informed. The movement has gotten more focused and issue-oriented, he said.
But he also admitted that the numbers disappointed him. "I'm hoping we can get that traffic we had in the park to start coming to these actions," he said.
Is the Occupy movement in trouble? Certainly not everyone at the protest seemed to think so. George Martinez, the founder of the Global Block Foundation, a group that uses hip-hop as a community-organizing tool, is one of several "Occupy candidates" who have recently announced a campaign for Congress; he's aiming to run against Rep. Nydia Velasquez of Brooklyn in a Democratic primary. As he walked around the Waldorf, he talked about getting money out of politics, and refuted the notion that candidates need lots of money to compete.
Social media, he argued, is a "game changer. " "How much money did it cost for people to camp out in the park?" he asked rhetorically. He pointed out that it didn't cost much for him to make an Occupy-themed hip-hop video that generated more than 20,000 views.
Some protesters were with the New York State Leadership Council, a group that is pushing for passage of the Dream Act. They included Yohan Garcia, a student at Hunter College who came to America nine years ago from Mexico. He said he opposed Romney because of the governor's campaign promise to veto the legislation, which would allow the children of some undocumented immigrants to attend college and pay in-state tuition. "He's not in favor of the immigrants, nor of the working class or poor people," Garcia said.
In the lobby of the Waldorf Astoria, Todd Shapiro introduced himself as a Romney supporter. He said he'd bought five tickets to the fundraiser. "If you ask [the protesters] what the number one issue is about, it's about jobs," he said. "The man who is in office right now, they should probably be protesting his fundraisers."
Justin Wedes, one of the protesters, pointed out that Occupy activists have in fact rallied outside of several Obama fundraisers. "It's not about the person," he said. "It's about the idea."
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