Thousands of workers and poverty activists marched to Wall Street on Thursday, bringing Main Street's anger with bank bailouts to the doorstep of the country's financial industry.
"We're hoping to show that Americans are angry at the way the financial industry has abused its power," said Jordan Estevao, an organizer for the National People's Action network in an interview after the rally. People who oppose regulation of the banking industry, he said, "are on the wrong side of the fight."
Estevao estimated they exceeded their goal of 5,000 people for the afternoon's event. Protesters lined both sides of Broadway and some of the side streets, stretching from Chambers Street to City Hall.
One of the protesters, Eugene Hammond, 65, a resident of the Bronx, said he came out to express disgust after seeing the boarded up stores and scores of people out of work in his neighborhood while big banks got billions in bailout money.
"Working people have been screwed over enormously," said Hammond, a retired government employee. "People have lost jobs, houses, futures."
The Showdown on Wall Street was a joint effort of the NPA and union the AFL-CIO. The NPA brings together 25 community organizations from 16 states and has been organizing rallies against banks all over the country, most recently a protest by over 400 people in Kansas City.
On Thursday, many of the protesters came from New York City and upstate New York, and others from surrounding states, such as Connecticut, Massachusetts and Wyoming. A number also came from Brooklyn and the Bronx, linked to organizations such as Brooklyn Congregations United, the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and Make the Road, as well as local unions and public schools. Members of the Brooklyn-based mock protests group Billionaires for Wealthcare were also in attendance in fake pearls and suits.
The protesters convened in the late afternoon for speeches by religious leaders, ordinary people impacted by banking practices and foreclosures, and union officials.
"The poor person is poor because the rich person is rich," said Rabbi Ellen Lippman, of Cholot Elaiyanu synagogue in Brooklyn. In the borough, "I see those who have been seeking work for months."
The loudest cheers were reserved for AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, who led the crowd in a chant challenging bankers to "fix the mess that you made."
After the speeches, and just in time for the five o'clock rush hour in the Financial District, the protesters made their way down Broadway towards Wall Street. They filled the barricaded streets for blocks, issuing calls for "real jobs now." Workers in suits emerged the Chase Bank building, but brushed past the crowd with eyes averted. Other passersby stopped to give the protesters the thumbs up sign.
"We're spending billions for nothing," said another protester, Justyn Brown, 29, an Iraq war veteran who lives in Brooklyn. "Obama should be spending the money he's spending on the war on veterans. No one is taking care of their well-being."
Another veteran agreed, "Bank bailouts are like leaving the fox in charge of the hen house," said William J. Gilson, 74, "because we're giving them the money to make the same mistakes again."
Many echoed his calls for more regulation, citing the financial regulation bill currently before Congress.
"We're sick of greed," said Buzz Roddy, 50, a resident of the Bronx and member of the Actors' Equity union. "[Greed] has become institutional in America. It's time for the government to step up and regulate the way things are."
The next march will take place in Washington in May.. Estevao calls it the "showdown on K. Street."
"We want to show it's about people," he said, "Not fat cat lobbyists."