Hundreds of protesters took to the streets of Manhattan's financial district early Monday to mark the 1-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement -- choking traffic and crowding the area around the New York Stock Exchange but being met at most turns by walls of police who stopped them from occupying anything.
The crowds were far smaller than those that took part in the marches last year. Those protests quickly evolved into a 2-month-long occupation of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan and spawned similar Occupy protests across the nation. Further, this year, unlike a year earlier, commuters appeared unfazed by the crowds that began forming shortly after 7 a.m. on a plaza across the street from Zuccotti Park.
As marchers' attempts to get close to the Stock Exchange were foiled, they began breaking off into smaller groups and heading in different directions, playing a cat-and-mouse game with officers who quickly set up blockades at intersections in marchers' paths. Some protesters were seen being arrested, but there were no early signs of violence or clashes with police.
Critics say the Occupy movement has fizzled because it failed to adopt a political platform or get behind a particular candidate in this election year.
"I think they're idiots. They have no agenda," Robert Nicholson, who works on Wall Street, said Monday morning as he stood outside his office building watching a handful of protesters march by. "They have yet to come out with a policy statement, and now, who are they disrupting? People who are working, people who are trying to pay a mortgage or put their kids through school."
But the movement's loyalists say policy statements never were part of the plan. "In my mind, it didn't set out to accomplish x, y and z," said Mikell Kober of Brooklyn, who on Monday morning had joined a break-off group of protesters outside a Bank of America branch on Broadway. Rather, she said, it "was about creating a public space where people could gather and have a conversation about the things that need to change."
Kober said that being pushed out of Zuccotti Park in November by the police hurt the movement by denying it a public conversation spot. She also acknowledged that Occupy's refusal to become mainstream by appointing "leaders" had led to some fracturing of the group and the muddying of its ultimate anti-greed message.
"It does become a sounding board for a lot of anger, which can be misdirected. 'I don't have a job so I'm just going to yell,'" she said.
Although the crowds appeared smaller than in the past, they were no less boisterous or entertaining. One man dressed in a mesh swimsuit, high heels and a jock strap marched along while carrying a large cross. Some marchers wore party hats in honor of the movement's birthday, and one group sang "Happy Birthday" as they blocked an intersection, preventing taxis and delivery truck drivers from getting through.
Some protesters wore masks, and a few stopped mid-march to scrawl anti-greed graffiti on walls and sidewalks. Several blew horns as the crowds moved through the streets, giving the event more of a festive than revolutionary feel.
Organizers vowed to make the anniversary a day-long event, and said it might move the protests up to midtown Manhattan if police made it impossible to march in the financial district.