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Wall Street protests roil Gotham

700 protesters arrested on Saturday trying to cross Brooklyn Bridge

Tensions have been rising between the Occupy Wall Street protesters and the NYPD; on Saturday, hundreds of demonstrators were detained trying to cross the Brooklyn Bridge. The group was allowed onto the bridge by the police and then corralled and forced back onto the Manhattan side, where some 700 people were arrested and held.

The protest, loosely organized by activist group Anonymous, has spawned sympathy movements in Boston, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and Portland, Ore. The group has made no demands, but has camped out in Zuccotti Park at the corner of Cedar and Trinity in Manhattan’s financial district for nearly three weeks. On Friday, rumors of an appearance by politically active band Radiohead spread through the media, but ultimately turned out to be false.

“If I was planning this, I’d tell people Jesus was coming,” said one young woman at the protest, who did not offer her name.

The group seems to have prepared for the long haul, despite not having made any concrete demands. Steve Smith, 24, told Variety that he was at the rally “because my whole life I was told, ‘go to college or you won’t get a job. I went to college and I don’t have a job, and corporations are making more and more and not even paying taxes.” Smith’s story was repeated with slightly different details by many members of the crowd. One woman knitted and sold grocery bags and middle-finger-only gloves. “It’s the only job I’ve got right now,” she said. “I give half the money to the kitchen.”

The “kitchen” was a loosely-assembled collection of food that various cooks handed out, free of charge, to anyone who asked. The group also had medical facilities and “comfort,” which provided blankets and pillows. The only essential not provided was the bathroom. “The people at McDonald’s have been really nice,” said Smith. “Burger King refuses to serve us.”

Generally, the protest is against the influence of corporate America on the country’s government; signs range from the reasonable (“People who profit from the suffering of others are immoral!”) to the downright strange (“Glenn Beck was fired for exposing the Fed, so… who runs this country?”).

The arrests are only the latest flare-up between protesters and city officials; last week, a police officer was caught on video allegedly pepper-spraying several twentysomething women who appeared to have already been subdued.

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