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Occupy Wall Street marks second anniversary with quiet rally

An Occupy Wall Street protester chants slogans along 47th Street in New York September 17, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Lott
An Occupy Wall Street protester chants slogans along 47th Street in New York September 17, 2013. REUTERS/Joshua Lott

By Victoria Cavaliere

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Two years after getting its start in a downtown Manhattan park, Occupy Wall Street, the populist movement protesting economic inequality, marked its second anniversary on Tuesday with a protest near the New York Stock Exchange and a march near the United Nations.

The group, which inspired dozens of spin-offs around the world with its "We are the 99 percent" slogan but drew criticism for its unclear goals, focused Tuesday's events on a new objective: calling for a tax on Wall Street financial transactions, organizers said.

Dubbed the "Robin Hood Tax," the levy of 0.5 percent would be imposed on stock and bond trades. The money collected would be earmarked for different funds and non-profit organizations and in turn distributed to schools, hospitals and local governments, according to Occupy organizers and proponents of the tax law.

Andrew Smith, an Occupy organizer, said similar Robin Hood tax laws have been imposed in 11 euro zone countries, including Germany and France.

"This kind of tax stream has globally become a very accepted form of revenue generation," he said.

Three people were arrested on Tuesday for wearing masks at the downtown rally, which drew a crowd of about 100 activists, a far cry from the thousands the group attracted in its heyday.

About 1,000 people assembled for a rally near the United Nations and a march that stopped at the headquarters of JPMorgan Chase & Co and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, New York City's mass transit agency.

The lively but orderly protest ended with a concert in a Midtown Park. More than 2,600 arrests were made in connection with Occupy in 2011.

Tuesday's anniversary drew both newcomers and veterans of the 2011 protests.

"Inequality makes us sick. Economic insecurity causes disease," said Steve Auerbach, a New York City pediatrician who said he wants to see more healthcare reform.

The rallies come two years after Occupy demonstrators first set up camp in Zuccotti Park near the NYSE to call for changes in how financial institutions are regulated. The movement quickly spread to cities around the world and spinoff "Occupy" groups have been set up to address everything from disaster relief to human rights.

The inhabitants of the Occupy Wall Street camp in New York City were finally evicted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in November 2011.

In focusing attention on the "Robin Hood Tax," Occupy organizers also hope to counter criticism that the Occupy Wall Street movement was too broad and lacked a clear goal.

"Occupy broke the crust in giving people broad narratives about income disparity," Smith said. "Now people want answers and I think the Robin Hood Tax is an answer."

Critics of the tax say the law it would decrease the volume of financial transactions on Wall Street, prompting companies to move overseas, taking jobs and money with them.

With the passage of a financial transaction tax "thousands of high-paying jobs would leave the U.S., sharply reducing employment at hundreds of non-financial companies that depend on these customers," the conservative Heritage Foundation said in a report released earlier this year.

(Editing by Edith Honan and Eric Walsh)

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