With no sign of the Occupy Wall Street protests losing steam and similar campaigns sprouting up nationwide, politicians are starting to pick sides, even the president himself.
"It expresses the frustrations that the American people feel that we had the biggest financial crisis since the Great Depression, huge collateral damage all throughout the country, all across Main Street," President Barack Obama said during a news conference Thursday touting his jobs bill.
On the other side, Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain was one of several high-profile conservatives to slam the hundreds that have been camping out at Zuccotti Park for three weeks.
"Don't blame Wall Street, don't blame the big banks, if you don't have a job and you're not rich, blame yourself,” Cain told The Wall Street Journal.
Fordham political science professor Costas Panagopoulos said the movement has grown so large that politicians “ignore them at their own risks.”
“What we may be seeing here is a movement that will be a powerful force in the 2012 election cycle,” Panagopoulos said. “This is not going away and politicians have to get ahead of the story and get on the right side of the story before they pay a price at the polls."
Despite the president’s comments, some protesters said they were still disappointed by his policies and corporate money’s influence in politics.
Richard Gurchin, 59, who said he has been homeless in Manhattan since 1972, said, “I would believe Obama supports us if he showed up and spent the night.”
Protester Nan Terrie, of Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., had harsher words for the president.
“I blame those in power — I do blame Obama,” Terrie, 18, said. “I’m ashamed to have him as a president.”
Obama’s statement comes after the group’s largest rally yet on Wednesday, where thousands of people from unions, community groups and college campuses marched to Zuccotti Park, near Wall Street, demanding changes to social and economic policies to benefit all Americans — not just the upper class.
As has been the case during other demonstrations, there were at least 23 arrests, police said. While most were for disorderly conduct, one protester was charged for rioting during a “melee” near Wall St., where five people tried to charge at a line of cops, they said. Another was charged with assault after shoving a cop off a moped. Online videos show cops allegedly pepper-spraying and swinging their batons to control the crowd.
There have been as many as 1,000 arrests in the past few weeks, and police commissioner Ray Kelly said Thursday the NYPD has paid about $2 million in overtime monitoring the protests.
Despite the violence between protesters and police, Mayor Michael Bloomberg said the NYPD was acting appropriately.
“You don’t have a right to charge police officers like a group did the other day,” Bloomberg told reporters Thursday, later adding, “I think our police department conducted themselves the way they should.”
(With Amanda Dallas)