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Occupy Wall Street reaches 1-month birthday

By Verena Dobnik

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Oct. 17 2011 1:10 a.m. MDT

Many of the largest of Saturday's protests were in Europe, where those involved in long-running demonstrations against austerity measures declared common cause with the Occupy Wall Street movement. In Rome, hundreds of rioters infiltrated a march by tens of thousands of demonstrators, causing what the mayor estimated was at least €1 million ($1.4 million) in damage to city property.

U.S. cities large and small were "occupied" over the weekend: Washington, D.C., Fairbanks, Alaska, Burlington, Vt., Rapid City, S.D., and Cheyenne, Wyo. were just a few. In Cincinnati, protesters were even invited to take pictures with a couple getting married; the bride and groom are Occupied Cincinnati supporters.

More than 70 New York protesters were arrested Saturday, more than 40 of them in Times Square. About 175 people were arrested in Chicago after they refused to leave a park where they were camped late Saturday, and there were about 100 arrests in Arizona — 53 in Tucson and 46 in Phoenix — after protesters refused police orders to disperse. About two dozen people were arrested in Denver, and in Sacramento, Calif., anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan was among about 20 people arrested after failing to follow police orders to disperse.

Activists around the country said Saturday's protests energized their movement.

"It's an upward trajectory," said John St. Lawrence, a Florida real estate lawyer who took part in Saturday's Occupy Orlando protest, which drew more than 1,500 people. "It's catching people's imagination and also, knock on wood, nothing sort of negative or discrediting has happened."

St. Lawrence is among those unconcerned that the movement has not rallied around any particular proposal.

"I don't think the underlying theme is a mystery," he said. "We saw what the banks and financial institutions did to the economy. We bailed them out. And then they went about evicting people from their homes," he said.

In Richmond, Va., about 75 people gathered Sunday for one of the "general assembly" meetings that are a key part of the movement's consensus-building process. Protester Whitney Whiting, a video editor, said the process has helped "gather voices" about Americans' discontent.

"In regards to a singular issue or a singular focus, I think that will come eventually. But right now we have to set up a space for that to happen," Whiting said.

Some U.S. protesters, like those in Europe, have their own causes. Unions that have joined forces with the movement have demands of their own, and on Sunday members of the newly formed Occupy Pittsburgh group demanded that Bank of New York Mellon Corp. pay back money they allege it overcharged public pension funds around the country.

New York's attorney general and New York City sued BNY Mellon this month, accusing it of defrauding clients in foreign currency exchange transactions that generated nearly $2 billion over 10 years. The company has vowed to fight the lawsuit and had no comment about the protesters' allegation about pensions.

Lisa Deaton, a tea party leader from southern Indiana, said she sees similarities between how the tea party movement and the Wall Street protests began: "We got up and we wanted to vent."

But the critical step, she said, was taking that emotion and focusing it toward changing government.

The first rally she organized drew more than 2,500 people, but afterward, "it was like, 'What do we do?'" she said. "You can't have a concert every weekend."

Associated Press writers Suzette Laboy in Miami, Steve Szkotak in Richmond, Va., Kevin Begos in Pittsburgh, Laurie Kellman and Stacy A. Anderson in Washington, Tom LoBianco in Indianapolis, Sophia Tareen and Carla K. Johnson in Chicago contributed to this report.

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