San Francisco protesters target financial district on Friday

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 Weeks after their eviction from several area encampments, anti-Wall Street activists in San Francisco, including a former Pacific Stock Exchange president, are vowing to disrupt the city's financial district on Friday with a series of protests.

Plans for the day include demonstrations at various bank branches starting early in the morning, an attempt to take over an unspecified foreclosed building and a bit of street theater by Iraq war veterans who have embraced the San Francisco spinoff of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

 "Business is coming to a standstill we hope," said organizer Lisa Guide, 32, a nurse who volunteers with Occupy San Francisco in her spare time. "Business as usual is exploiting large numbers of people."

The San Francisco protests will coincide with more than 100 planned demonstrations on Friday at federal courthouses across the country to mark the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which protesters say opened the floodgates to unlimited corporate money in U.S. elections.

Driven from tent camps in a wave of November and December evictions around the country, Occupy Wall Street protesters have struggled to return to the public eye with their movement against economic inequality and the excesses of the U.S. financial industry.

A demonstration on Tuesday in Washington, D.C., which hosts the last remaining Occupy camp in a major U.S. city, drew more than 1,000 participants but fell short of organizers' hopes for a record-setting crowd.

Occupy San Francisco suffered from internal dissent in the weeks leading up to a police raid that swept away its last ragtag camp on the edge of the financial district on December 7.

Similar camps in Oakland and Berkeley, California were also dismantled. Critics of the movement have accused its activists of lacking organization, a coherent message, or unified goals.

The last act of mass protests staged by Occupy activists on the West Coast, an attempt to blockade several major ports in the region on December 12, succeeded in closing several cargo terminals but fell well short of realizing organizers' hopes of causing major disruptions to commerce.

In recent weeks the protesters have tried some new approaches, including a polished YouTube video that depicts dancers in a Wells Fargo branch singing a protest song to the tune of Lady Gaga's hit "Telephone."

On Wednesday, the protesters held a carefully-scripted press conference in front of the former world headquarters of Bank of America.

A half dozen activist groups, including the California Nurses Association and Iraq Veterans Against the War, held up identical "Occupy Wall Street West" signs as they stood in a semicircle around a bank of broadcasters' microphones. One person dressed up as a giant squid to symbolize the global reach of Goldman Sachs, the Wall Street investment giant.

The speakers included Vivian Richardson, a San Francisco homeowner who credited the Occupy movement with helping her resist foreclosure, and R. Warren Langley, 69, who served as president of the now-defunct Pacific Stock Exchange until 1999.

Langley's grew up in Alabama and served in the U.S. Air Force before beginning his career in finance.

As an executive at Hull Trading in Chicago, he lobbied for the deregulation of financial services, he said. But as he contemplated the future of his grandchildren, he rejected the positions of his former colleagues.

"It's not that these people are doing anything illegal," he said. "It's just that the laws have been set up for them. The game has been rigged. This is the last chance to level the playing field so my grandchildren can enjoy the kind of opportunities I enjoyed."

Langley said he planned to demonstrate in front of a Bank of America branch on Friday.

Other activists are planning more dramatic protests involving the bank. According to a list of actions released at the press conference, members of the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and the Rainforest Action Network plan to "shut" bank branches and issue "arrest warrants" to bank executives.

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Laird Harrison
Thursday, January 19, 2012

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