- Demonstrators in Freedom Plaza protest against U.S.-led wars
- Protesters also blame Wall Street for economic inequality
- Some rally in front of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building
As anti-Wall Street protests continued across the country, several hundred people gathered Thursday in the nation's capital in a scheduled anti-war demonstration that also adopted new overtones in decrying economic disparities.
Demonstrators first congregated in the shadow of Congress, at its height filling about half of Washington's Freedom Plaza, which is about the size of a city block. Many carried placards and listened to speeches from activists railing against inequality, corporate greed, as well as the American-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The protest came a day before America marks the 10th anniversary of the start of the Afghanistan conflict, and a day after the release of a Pew Research Center survey in which American veterans expressed ambivalence about both wars.
Half of the 712 who have served since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks said they felt the Afghanistan war was worth it, while 44% made the same assessment about the Iraq conflict. This aspect of the poll had a margin of error of 5.7 percentage points.
Yet military conflict was just one of the topics addressed Thursday. Others focused on economics, in the same spirit of demonstrations that have cropped up in more than a dozen U.S. cities. The hub of the "Occupy Wall Street" movement fittingly has been in New York City, with many rallying and camping out there and elsewhere to protest on a wide range of mostly economic issues.
The Washington protesters, for one, spelled out the number "99" with a human chain that seemed to loop around Freedom Plaza. It is a reference to the group's claim that 99% of Americans are underrepresented in the country's current political and financial systems, while the other 1% of the population wields too much influence.
By late afternoon, part of the group broke off and headed toward the U.S. Chamber of Commerce building. There, in front of a two-story banner in front of the building that reads "JOBS: Brought to you by American free enterprise," the demonstrators chanted, "Where are the jobs?"
Speaking at a news conference earlier Thursday, President Barack Obama said demonstrators -- in Washington, as well as those in New York and other cities nationwide -- "are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works."
But Obama also defended the country's financial sector, saying, "We have to have a strong, effective financial sector in order for us to grow."
Thursday's demonstration is not the first in Washington about economic matters. A day earlier, several hundred union and progressive activists sought to capitalize on the growing "Occupy Wall Street" protests with a Capitol Hill rally demanding new public spending on job creation and an end to federal budget cuts.
The event, led by former White House clean energy adviser Van Jones, highlighted growing liberal frustration with a public policy agenda increasingly dominated by deficit reduction efforts and difficulty in implementing more traditional economic stimulus measures as well as revenue increases.