Channeling widespread populist anger at seemingly never ending bank bailouts and excessive executive compensation, hundreds of demonstrators converged on Wall St. this afternoon for a rally and march through the financial district, even as a steady rain continued throughout the day.
Organized by the Bail Out the People Movement (BOPM), protesters held signs and posters reading “Bail Out the Unemployed,” and “King’s Dream: A Job or Income For All,” in reference to the 41st anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, which will be commemorated tomorrow by a United for Peace and Justice march that targets the culprits of the financial crisis as well. The UFPJ march is calling for cuts in military spending to address the economic crisis.
“It’s wrong that working people are being kicked out of their homes and are losing their jobs, while the rich get bailed out. It’s disgusting. It’s creating a depression, a worldwide depression,” said Jeremy Radabaugh, of BOPM and a former organizer for the United Electrical Workers, the union that organized the Chicago factory occupation at Republic Windows and Doors last December.
Demonstrators came from around the country, including Baltimore, Seattle, Philadelphia and Buffalo.
BOPM used the protest to demand numerous measures to combat the economic crisis, including a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, an end to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the passage of the Employee Free Choice Act and more.
Underscoring the urgency for action to combat the economic crisis, the protest came on a day when newly released unemployment figures showed that over 660,000 jobs were lost in March, increasing the official unemployment rate to 8.5 percent. The actual rate of unemployment is much higher, as the federal government’s numbers do not include people who have given up searching for jobs or part-time workers who would much rather work full-time.
Early on during the rally, the NYPD arrested four protesters who reportedly were walking down the middle of Broadway. A statement in response to the arrests on bailoutpeople.org read, “The real criminals are in the boardrooms and executive offices on Wall Street, not the people marching for jobs, health care, and a moratorium on foreclosures.”
“I don’t think it’s fair that we bail out billionaires but we don’t help the working people. And I’m somebody that lost their job, so I’m really affected by this,” said Tsehai Hiwot, an activist with World Can’t Wait and the International Action Center, as she was holding up a long banner that read, “International Working Women’s Day ’09 Coalition.” She continued, saying, “Why do I have to pay my taxes [that go] into the pockets of people that made greedy investments?”
After a long slew of speakers from various organizations, including anti-war and health care advocates, protesters started marching down Pine St., chanting, “Bail out the people, not the banks,” as NYPD officers on motorcycle followed.
The marchers stopped in front of the offices of the American International Group (AIG), the insurance behemoth that has earned the scorn of millions of Americans for paying executives exorbitant amount of bonuses while the federal government pumps bailout money into AIG. AIG’s Financial Products division is a main culprit in the financial crisis, due to its dealings with credit default swaps.
With beefed up police presence blocking the entrance of the AIG building, demonstrators shouted, “AIG has got to go,” and “Jail them, don’t bail them.”
“[This action is] directed at the bosses of the government, who are down here on Wall Street,” said Dustin Langley, media coordinator for BOPM. “Since our government doesn’t listen, we sometimes have to go over their heads and straight to management. So we’re talking to their managers now: AIG, CitiGroup, Bank of America, and Bear Stearns.”
The marchers also made stops in front of Bank of America offices, chanting, “Bank of America, give back our homes,” and shouting epithets at the onlookers inside the building.
The demonstration winded down late in the afternoon, and ended with speakers at Foley Sq., near Chinatown.
At mention of the recent protests surrounding the G-20 summit meeting that concluded yesterday, the crowd broke out in applause. “They’ll know that anger is on this side of the ocean,” said Larry Holmes, an organizer with BOPM.
“The banks don’t look out for the interest of the people. They look out for themselves,” said Brandon King of the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. “And the government is in cahoots with the banks, using our money, our taxpayer money, to bail out the banks when they have big bonuses like AIG did. There’s mad homeless people on the street, and there’s also massive loss of jobs. People need a bailout, banks don’t need that shit.”
Sarah Secunda contributed reporting for this article.