NEW YORK (Reuters) - Occupy Wall Street celebrated its one-year anniversary on Monday with a day of demonstrations that resulted in dozens of arrests but failed to produce the turnout or fervor that first propelled the movement into the national conversation.
The demonstrations attracted roughly 1,000 activists, down sharply from last fall, highlighting the challenge the movement has faced in trying to sustain interest in protesting against what it calls an unfair economic system.
The New York Police Department, which set up a broad perimeter to block access to the New York Stock Exchange by anyone other than exchange workers, said it arrested around 124 demonstrators by midday on Monday. Police patrolled outside major banks and government buildings, and guarded Wall Street’s landmark Charging Bull, a 7,100-pound (3,220-kg) bronze sculpture.
“A lot of media is saying that Occupy is dying down, but I think the fact that over 100 people were arrested this morning shows that Occupy is still part of the conversation,” said one protester, Caleb Maupin, 24, of Queens.
“We’ve been locked out, people my age don’t have much chance of getting a job, so we have to do something to get people’s attention,” Maupin said.
Occupy Wall Street protesters, who popularized the phrase “We are the 99 percent,” kicked off the demonstrations early Monday near Zuccotti Park, where a spontaneous encampment became their unofficial headquarters last year, but were again barred access by police.
Several protesters held signs, one saying “END the FED,” another reading: “We Are Students, Not Customers.”
“What happened here a year ago was a process that cannot be stopped,” Pulitzer prize-winning author Chris Hedges said. “What happened here a year ago will ultimately spell the doom of the corporate state.”
Crowds grew steadily over the course of the day, with protesters briefly disrupting the morning commute and drawing a smattering of onlookers, both New Yorkers making their way to the office and tourists taking in the financial district on a warm fall day.
Confrontations between protesters and the police were largely peaceful.
“It seems that Occupy Wall Street is losing momentum,” said Vincent Smorto, 63, a network engineer from Brooklyn who stopped briefly to watch the protests. “In the 60s when people were protesting the Vietnam war they knew exactly what they wanted. These folks do not seem exactly clear on what it is they want.”
The grassroots movement caught the world by surprise last fall with a spontaneous encampment in lower Manhattan that soon spread to cities across North America and Europe.
Occupy Wall Street briefly buoyed a spirit of U.S. social activism, and drew attention to economic injustice. But as weeks and months passed, donations to the flagship New York chapter have slowed to a trickle, polls show public support waning and media attention dropping precipitously.
The group this weekend sponsored a series of activities, attended by crowds that never exceeded the hundreds, aimed at re-igniting the movement. New York police arrested about three dozen people at those events.
Writing by Paul Thomasch; Editing by Vicki Allen and Eric Walsh