By Patrick Wall and Tom Liddy
MANHATTAN — To this protest group, Wall Street profits are just bull.
Dozens of protesters descended on Lower Manhattan Saturday to "occupy" Wall Street in a circus-like show of disdain for the banking system complete with costumes, signs and rants against bailouts.
The loosely organized event drew together people from around the country to demand that profits from the financial center of the world be sent back to Main Street.
"Whose street? Our street!" they chanted as they marched around the famed "Charging Bull" sculpture that stands in Bowling Green Park.
Many big banks and corporations received bailouts in 2008 after the housing market collapsed. According to Bloomberg News, banks and other companies received $1.2 trillion in public funds in the time following the crash.
Morgan Stanley, Citigroup and Bank of America all took in more than $90 billion each and portion of the cash also went to foreign companies such as the Royal Bank of Scotland and UBS, the report said.
In many cases the banks recovered quickly. Goldman Sachs, for instance, posted more than $3 billion in profits in 2009 after taking $10 billion in bailout funds.
Chris Otten, 36, of Washington, DC, ditched his job as a stock analyst on Wall Street in the '90s to join AmeriCorps, a national community service organization.
“I just got tired of the greed," he said. "I realized it was all just gambling and I could do better in a casino.”
Otten is now working with consumer advocate and former Green Party presidential candidate Ralph Nader on a public library campaign.
"The big thing is the disparities between the rich and poor," he said. "You have CEOs making more in one year than what their companies pay in taxes.”
Gavin Prouty, 33, of Seattle, a custom home builder, said that he lost his business, house and car in the 2008 economic downturn.
“I lost my car, my business, my house, everything during the crash,” he said.
"I want [the banks] to know that the same laws that apply to us apply to them," he said, referring to bankruptcy.
And Rafael Gomez, 31, a doctoral candidate at SUNY Albany from the Bronx, said that he joined the march " to send a message that we’re paying attention and that we want the system to change."
Some members of the group planned to camp out and brought sleeping bags and backpacks.
"On September 17, we want to see 20,000 people flood into lower Manhattan, set up tents, kitchens, peaceful barricades and occupy Wall Street for a few months. Once there, we shall incessantly repeat one simple demand in a plurality of voices," read a message on a Facebook page for the event.
The message, addressed to "you redeemers, rebels, radicals and utopian dreamers out there" and signed by "Culture Jammers HQ" touts a "worldwide shift in revolutionary tactics" for the event, which is supposed to last until Dec. 31, according to the Facebook page.
Marisa Egerstrom, 30, a PhD student at Harvard, was part of a group dressed in white robes carrying around a cardboard cutout of a cross.
“Jesus didn’t come to offer us another credit card we can’t afford but to liberate the poor and oppressed," she said.