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On day 4, protesters still ponder options

Honing message about economic imbalance

Occupy Boston protesters remained in their tent village in the Financial District yesterday, though their numbers dwindled to about 100 participants. Some say they plan to stay put indefinitely. Occupy Boston protesters remained in their tent village in the Financial District yesterday, though their numbers dwindled to about 100 participants. Some say they plan to stay put indefinitely. (Josh Reynolds/Associated Press (Above); Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff (Below))
By Todd Wallack and Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / October 4, 2011

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For the fourth straight day, economic activists yesterday occupied a small park across from South Station to protest the nation’s financial inequality and the growing power of large corporations, but they’re still not sure what should be done about it.

“We’re working on our message and demands,’’ said Acacia Brewer, a member of the media team for the Occupy Boston protest, which is described by participants as a “leaderless group.’’ Participants are encouraged to voice their suggestions at morning meetings, Brewer said.

“We have a lot of options,’’ she said. “Through the next couple days, we’ll compile a list.’’

As many as 1,000 people took part in the protest when it began Friday night. By yesterday, the group appeared to have dwindled to about 100 participants - most of them young - who have pitched tents in Dewey Square. Some say they plan to stay put indefinitely.

While their complaints about government and business vary, most of the protesters regularly repeat one talking point: They say 1 percent of the US population controls about half its wealth.

“We’re bringing our message to the 99 percent of Americans that feel that their ability to provide for themselves has been eroded and that their representation in government has been undermined,’’ said Nadeem Mazen, 28, of Cambridge, a spokesman for the group. “Of the 1 percent, a lot of them are using that wealth to subvert the democratic process.’’

Occupy Boston has not targeted specific banks or other corporations for criticism, just the general policies and practices of the federal government and private companies. It’s inspired by a larger antigreed movement in New York called Occupy Wall Street.

On Saturday, New York police made about 700 arrests, charging Occupy Wall Street participants with blocking the Brooklyn Bridge.

Similar protests about economic imbalance, corporate greed, and high unemployment have sprung up in cities across the country, including in Chicago and Los Angeles.

Michael Heaney, a University of Michigan professor who has studied the antiwar movement and other social causes, said the Wall Street protests appear to be made up of a loose network of people on the political left who care about a wide range of political issues.

“The most difficult problem they face is how to get attention to these problems,’’ said Heaney, an assistant professor of organizational studies and political science in Ann Arbor. “They look for opportunities to get noticed.’’

But Heaney said he doubts the activists will try to work with political parties in the same way many Tea Party movement members have aligned themselves with conservative Republicans, because they harbor too much distrust of mainstream political institutions. Even so, Occupy Wall Street could potentially have an impact on elections if Democratic or Republican candidates decide that many voters share the same resentment and incorporate those concerns into their own platforms, he said.

Yesterday, the Boston protesters marched to Beacon Hill to deliver a symbolic letter to the State House addressed to the top 1 percent: “Get out of our government, we want our country back - the 99 percent.’’

They then headed to the nearby television studios of Fox 25, where they pressed their faces and posters against a window as Doug VB Goudie went on the air inside.

In a separate Boston demonstration Friday afternoon, 24 people were arrested on trespassing charges after refusing to leave the lobby of Bank of America Corp.’s downtown offices. That protest, organized by a coalition of groups called the Right to the City Alliance, faulted Bank of America for foreclosing on homes across the country and contributing to the financial crisis.

By contrast, the Occupy Boston protest so far hasn’t sparked any arrests. Participants said they have adopted a nonconfrontational policy.

“There have been no arrests and largely no issues,’’ said Boston Police Department spokeswoman Elaine Driscoll.

Several financial organizations located near Dewey Square said the protesters haven’t interfered with their employees or operations.

They “appear to be peaceful and well behaved,’’ said Thomas Lavelle, a spokesman for the Federal Reserve Bank of Boston, which is across the street from the protest.

The economic protests here and elsewhere come as Republicans and Democrats have been battling over whether to raise taxes on wealthier Americans to help offset the nation’s deficit.

President Obama has proposed raising taxes on people earning $1 million a year. A Gallup Poll last month found two-thirds of people favored raising income taxes on families earning at least $250,000 annually, and 70 percent supported eliminating tax deductions for corporations. But Republican leaders have argued that raising taxes now will further weaken the economy and discourage investment at a time when the US unemployment rate remains stuck at 9 percent. Some have also accused Obama of inciting “class warfare.’’

At Dewey Square yesterday, some passersby on their way to work paused to snap pictures. Others briefly joined the protest. One woman handed over the homemade cookies she had intended for her co-workers.

“It was a humanitarian gesture,’’ said Wendy Nicholas, regional director of a local nonprofit agency, “but then I realized, yeah, I support what these folks are campaigning for.’’

Todd Wallack can be reached at twallack@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @twallack. Brian R. Ballou can be reached at bballou@globe.com.