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Riding National Wave, Occupy San Francisco March Swells

by Vivian Ho

SAN FRANCISCO -- Hundreds of people marched through downtown San Francisco on Wednesday, joining a growing movement whose followers believe the nation's financial system is broken and its distribution of wealth unfair.

Demonstrators march in San Francisco to show dissatisfaction with how the nation's wealth is concentrated and to express solidarity with Occupy Wall Street protesters. (Noah Berger / Special to The Chronicle) The demonstrators, who at one point peaked at about 800, held a peaceful march through the Financial District that included chants, "The banks got bailed out, we got sold out," and "We are the 99 percent," in reference to their argument that 1 percent of the U.S. population controls the wealth.

The Occupy SF movement began on Sept. 17 with six people gathering outside the former Bank of America center on California Street in solidarity with protesters in New York who set up camp in Zuccotti Park near Wall Street that day.

In the two weeks since, support for the movement - both nationally and locally - has swelled. Participants of Occupy SF demonstrate in solidarity with the core values of Occupy Wall Street in New York, as do many of the other "Occupy" movements that have sprung up across the country.

Occupy Wall Street began as a protest against what demonstrators describe as economic inequality and corporate greed. Protesters in New York took to the streets about the same time as protesters in San Francisco on Wednesday.

In New York, thousands of people waved signs and marched through Lower Manhattan in what was considered the movement's biggest march yet. Among them were various labor groups, including transportation union workers, nurses and teachers.

The Occupy SF protesters have set up camp outside the Federal Reserve Bank on Market Street, where a large group gathered before the start of Wednesday's march, listening to speakers on bullhorns lay down the ground rules. To make sure everyone heard the message, the crowd chanted back the speakers' rules of no drugs, smoking or drinking during the march.

Police on motorcycles escorted the protesters down Market Street to City Hall and up to the former Bank of America center, creating minor traffic disruptions at cross streets but overall keeping the roadways clear.

The protesters stayed upbeat and energetic throughout the march, waving signs and gesturing at onlookers to join them. Some bystanders cheered the protesters and high-fived them as they passed.

Charlie Richard, 64, of Antioch marched in his International Union of Painters and Allied Trades Local 376 jacket.

"My son's an electrician, a union electrician," he said. "He only worked four months last year, not because he was injured or lazy. There just weren't any jobs. And he's not alone."

City College student Allie List, 21, just joined the camp Tuesday night and was helping direct the march to the intended locations on Wednesday.

"I think people are really upset with how their tax dollars are being used," she said. "They don't agree with the massive bailouts that have happened with these major financial firms. We're upset with how money is being spent."

The camp outside the Federal Reserve Bank has become what the protesters call a "city within a city." Despite the rain that soaked the camp this week, more protesters join the camp each day. A makeshift bookstore sat on display facing the sidewalk. A woman pushing a baby in a stroller stopped to hand Michael Clift, an artist from San Diego who is a camp regular, a mat and a tent before the march.

"This camp is growing exponentially; this movement is growing exponentially," Clift said. "The time will come when the 99 percent of the population realizes that they can actually do something about the 1 percent that controls it all."

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