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Mayor Reed responds to Occupy Atlanta protestors

12:15 PM, Oct 12, 2011   |    comments
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ATLANTA -- The Police Department and Mayor's Office appear to be taking a hands-off approach to the dozens of protesters encamped in Woodruff Park in Downtown Atlanta, even after the group led a noisy demonstration outside the Bank of America building.

Outfitted with signs, make-shift drums and several chants, more than 50 people marched to the building Tuesday afternoon. One protestor said they chose the building because it is a local representation of their national message: speaking out against big banks and other corporations.

RELATED: Full Occupy Atlanta/Occupy Wall Street coverage

During their mile-long walk up Peachtree Street, many cars honked and waved, while police officers were stationed in several spots along the route.

Mayor Kasim Reed said he understands the protestors' frustration.

"I think that people wanted focus and attention and passion on jobs, and I think that the group Occupy Wall Street really is the other end of the spectrum," he said.

Speaking before an audience Monday night during Chicago Ideas Week, the mayor went on to say that despite the possibility of bad press surrounding the group's stint in Woodruff Park, he believes they are bringing much-needed energy.

"I'm really OK with it because I think the country needs more passion, and it needs a big fight," Reed said.

By early evening, the group had returned to the park. It remains unclear how long they will be allowed to stay there; Woodruff Park closes at 11 p.m. and overnight tenting is not allowed.

Atlanta Police stationed several dozen officers two blocks from the park and were poised to shut down the Occupy Atlanta demonstrations Monday night, but appeared to rethink the decision allowing protestors to remain.

The mayor's office has said the protestors will be given a chance to leave peacefully, but did not say how long or if the city would take action.

The demonstration, like many across the country, is an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began four weeks ago in New York.

The gatherings have drawn criticism from some, including U.S. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor who called them "mobs." While most of the protests have been peaceful, some have been marred by scuffles with police.

The rallies have also drawn praise from experienced organizers including union leaders and long-time activists. Despite a snub over the weekend, U.S. Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) has said "their activism is inspiring."

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President Barack Obama has said the demonstrators are giving a voice to those frustrated with the financial system.

Speaking at a White House news conference last Thursday, the president also defended the country's financial sector, which appears to have taken the brunt of protester criticism.

"We have to have a strong, effective financial sector in order for us to grow," he said.

Vice President Joe Biden also weighed in, comparing the protesters to the origins of the tea party, a grassroots political movement that has advocated reductions in government spending and efforts to curb corruption.

"What is the core of that protest? And why is it increasing in terms of the people it's attracting?" Biden asked rhetorically. "The core is the bargain has been breached with the American people."

"There's a lot in common with the tea party," he added.

The two movements have drawn commentary from liberal and radical conservatives, who in both cases have said there is something fundamentally wrong with America's financial and political systems.

"Occupy Wall Street is saying, 'We will not take it anymore,'" Rep. Lewis said in a statement Friday. "They are saying we must not forget about those in need, about those who work for starvation wages, those who bear their burden in the heat of the day and in the darkness of the night. These people are important too, and they make a massive contribution to our society. Their voices must be heard."

"We hope that our message continues to resonate with everyone who has felt disenfranchised by the current state of our country," said Tyler Combelic, a spokesman for the Occupy Wall Street group.

He said they plan to "continue the protest until the message reaches every house in the United States."

(CNN contributed to this report.)

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