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In Lower Manhattan, protesters split anger among banks, Washington, joblessness

By Tomoeh Murakami Tse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, April 29, 2010; 9:35 PM

NEW YORK -- The official target was big banks, but the message was aimed at Washington as much as Wall Street.

Thousands of union workers, students and unemployed New Yorkers angry over high unemployment, reckless financial industry practices and billion-dollar bailouts gathered Thursday to march in the financial district in Lower Manhattan, one of a series of rallies organized by a coalition of labor and community groups.

Although the anger was clearly directed at Wall Street, the protesters directed much frustration toward lobbyists and lawmakers in Washington, where the Senate had hours earlier begun floor debate on the regulatory reform bill after Republicans ended a three-day filibuster.

Amid the sea of signs depicting pigs with cigars and berating Wall Street bonuses and greed were slogans such as "Financial Reform Now" and "Eliminate the Budget Deficit."

Michael Mulgrew, president of the trade union of teachers in New York City, kicked off the two-hour event by leading the elbow-to-elbow crowd in a call for employment opportunities.

"Good jobs for all!" he shouted, with the crowd chanting back in a roar.

After a few rounds, Mulgrew said, "Did they hear it on Wall Street?"

"Yes!" the crowd answered.

"Did they hear it down in Washington, D.C.?"

"Yes!" the crowd shouted.

One by one, speakers, including teachers, those on government housing assistance and religious leaders, called for legislative action to spur banks to lend more to small businesses and pay more in taxes. One young mother of five, who said she could not find a job because of the economic downturn, called for a tax on speculative bets made on Wall Street.

"We need financial reform so we can graduate high school and go to college," said Adolfo Abreu, a 17-year-old student at the Bronx Center for Science and Mathematics.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, the nation's largest organization of unions, said the No. 1 message was for Wall Street to "take some responsibility for what it did and call off the lobbyists in D.C."

The financial industry has ramped up its lobbying in the face of the most comprehensive overhaul of the regulatory landscape in decades. Among the measures most fiercely opposed by large banks is a proposal introduced by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, that would force them to spin off their lucrative derivatives-trading desks.

"That would be like the first step to take," Balthazar Becker, 29, an English student at City University of New York, said of the measure as he marched down Broadway to the financial district with a sign reading "Bust Up Big Banks."

Wanda McEwen, 56, of Trenton, a procurement specialist for the state of New Jersey, said she has been forced to take 10 unpaid furlough days as a result of budget cuts.

"I'm frustrated," she said of the actions taken so far in Washington to boost the economy. "They have not helped us any, because I don't see jobs being created."

Before the rally, about 100 protesters made stops at several banks in Midtown, where most of the large Wall Street financial firms have relocated over the years. At J.P. Morgan Chase, they entered the lobby, where they protested for about 20 minutes before they made their way to the New York offices of Wells Fargo. No arrests were made, New York police said.

"They wanted to deliver a letter to John Stumpf," said Fran Durst, a Wells Fargo spokeswoman, referring to the company's chief executive. "Security has the letter and they will get it to Mr. Stumpf . . . It was unnerving, obviously."

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