NEW YORK - About 500 Occupy Wall Street protesters marched from a New York park on Thursday to the stock exchange for a protest that the movement against economic inequality hoped would attract tens of thousands of people.
City officials were also prepared for a large crowd to converge around Wall Street in a bid to disrupt workers from getting to their desks in the financial district.
Scores of police were on duty and streets around the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street had been barricaded off. The protesters had acknowledged that they were unlikely to get too close to the heart of American capitalism.
The march is due to kick off a day of action at the birthplace of the Occupy Wall Street movement two days after police cleared a camp of hundreds of protesters from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan on Tuesday.
"I feel like this is a beautiful moment to take back our streets, especially after the eviction. We need to prove we can exist anywhere. It's gone beyond a single neighborhood, it's really an idea," said Rachel Falcone, 27, from Brooklyn.
Most rallies by the 2-month-old movement have numbered in the hundreds of people in New York. A spokesman for the protesters said on Wednesday they expected tens of thousands for this one.
Peter Cohen, 47, anthropologist from New York, wore a suit for the protest in a bid to improve the movement's image.
"I have a job and (the suit) on because I'm tired of the way this movement has been characterized as a fringe movement," he said. "I'm not looking for money, I'm not looking for a job, I'm not a professional activist, just a normal citizen."
Inspired by the Arab Spring, the Occupy Wall Street protesters set up camp in Zuccotti Park on September 17 and became the epicenter for the movement, sparking rallies and occupations of public spaces across the United States and re-energizing similar movements elsewhere in the world.
Protesters say they are upset that billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks during the recession allowed a return to huge profits while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and a struggling economy.
They also believe the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share of taxes.
The clearing of the Occupy camp in New York followed recent evictions in Atlanta, Portland and Salt Lake City. Unlike action in Oakland, California, where police used tear gas and stun grenades, most protesters left voluntarily.
Megyn Norbut, 23, from Brooklyn, said she holds down three jobs and joined the protest on Thursday "because we got kicked out of Zuccotti and we need to show that this is a mental and spiritual movement not a physical movement."
"It's not about the park," Norbut said.
(Writing by Michelle Nichols, editing by Doina Chiacu)