Obama, Occupy marchers mark Martin Luther King holiday

Reuters News

1/16/2012 5:33:50 PM - Reuters News

By Lily Kuo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Barack Obama led Americans on Monday in honoring slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., while the Occupy Wall Street movement staged a new march protesting economic injustice.

Obama, the first African-American president, joined his wife, Michelle, and daughter Malia in helping build a library reading nook at a school in Washington.

Speaking beneath a sign with the words, "United we serve," Obama said service and diversity strengthened America.

"At a time when the country has been going through some difficult economic times, for us to be able to come together as a community, people from all different walks of life, and make sure that we're giving back, that's ultimately what makes us the strongest, most extraordinary country on earth," he said.

On the first King holiday since the Occupy movement reignited debate in the United States over inequality, hundreds of protesters marched in wintry temperatures in Manhattan, stopping at a Bank of America branch to shout, "The banks got bailed out, we got sold out."

Protest leaders said in a statement the march was held "because Dr. King dedicated the last months of his life to planning a campaign for the right of all to a decent-paying job." At least two protesters were put in a police van.

King, a Baptist pastor who advocated for nonviolence, racial brotherhood and equal rights and won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, was assassinated in 1968 as he stood on his motel balcony in Memphis, Tennessee, where he had gone to support striking sanitation workers.

"I came here on the one hand to honor (King's) birthday, but also for the things that he stood for," Jim Glaser, a retired teacher from Nyack, New York, said at the march. "We have to have a government that's responsive to people ... a government that people can have some influence on."

Protesters in the Occupy movement complain that billions of dollars in bailouts were given to banks while many Americans suffer from joblessness and housing foreclosures. They say minorities are disproportionately affected by predatory lending practices.

(Additional reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst Karen Brooks and James B. Kelleher; Editing by Peter Cooney)