MILWAUKEE (AP) — Joining an internationally growing movement, hundreds of protesters marched through downtown Milwaukee on Saturday decrying corporate greed and demanding stricter regulation over the U.S.’s banking industry.
Protesters carried signs reading, “Tax the rich” or “Mr. Obama, Tear Down That Wall Street,” and many criticized the lack of government control over banks that played a role in the nation’s financial crisis. The demonstration, dubbed Occupy Milwaukee, was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York City before spreading to cities nationwide, from Boston to Seattle.
Even protesters in Europe, Asia and Australia took up the cause Saturday.
The Milwaukee-based group gathered at a park and marched several blocks to bank buildings. Marchers chanted “We are 99 percent,” a reference to the world’s richest 1 percent who control billions of dollars in assets while others struggle to make ends meet.
Among the sign-wielding protestors was retired teacher Albert Siemsen, who said he grew angry watching Milwaukee schools lose funding while banks and corporations gained more influence in government.
“I would like to see more government control of financial institutions,” the 81-year-old Milwaukee man said. “The far right is taking over our country, and that has to stop.”
Other protesters held yellow crime-scene tape in front of the entrances of buildings housing Chase and M&I Bank branches, with police silently standing at the doors.
A police spokeswoman said there were no immediate reports of arrests or violence.
Although the Occupy movement has been criticized for failing to articulate a clear set of demands, protester Peg Backus, 56, said she was clear on what needs to change. The psychotherapist from Greendale who carried a sign reading, “Separation of Corporation and Government,” said Congress needed to reduce corporate rights.
“They need an amendment to overturn Citizens United,” she said, referring to the 2010 Supreme Court ruling that overturned a ban on corporate spending in federal elections. “They need to implement regulations on Wall Street.”
Critics of tightened regulations argue that the free market should be allowed to operate with minimal government interference. Corporations help create jobs, they say, and efforts to rein in corporate power will only limit their ability to hire more people.
“Ridiculous,” 62-year-old John Parkes said in response to those claims. Holding a sign that said, “Keep your corporate hands off my government,” the unemployed computer programmer from Bayside said the economy grew just fine from World War II through the 1970s even when regulations were in place.
It was when deregulation took off and corporate greed spun out of control that the government stopped representing the people, he said.
“We need to take back the government from the corporations,” Parkes said.
“Absolutely,” chimed in his wife, Ann Parkes. “Stop protecting Wall Street. What do they produce? Nothing. They move money around and they line their pockets with it. No, it’s time to return the government to the people.”
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