ATLANTA — The Rev. Jesse Jackson and a group of Occupy Atlanta protesters took over the lobby of SunTrust Plaza in downtown Atlanta for about an hour Friday afternoon as workers left for the day.
The building was shut down as the protesters sang songs and prayed inside the Atlanta-based bank’s headquarters.
Jackson, in town for a conference with his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, said he was there to protest economic conditions and foreclosure rates across the country.
The protest came a day after Jackson met with Occupy Atlanta demonstrators to encourage them to focus on financial institutions rather than arguing with City Hall.
“The issue is not the mayor – it’s the banking community. It’s the insurance community. It’s the investment community,” Jackson said Friday after the protest at SunTrust. “The few are getting wealthier and wealthier while the people are suffering more and more.”
Jackson has visited with protesters in other cities around the country, including in New York, Chicago and Detroit. He has called the Occupy movement “a gallant stand for social justice for all people” that represents the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots.
For weeks, the Occupy Atlanta movement was based at Woodruff Park in downtown before police arrested more than 50 people Oct. 25 after Mayor Kasim Reed revoked an executive order that had allowed the protesters to remain in the park overnight. Authorities have since been enforcing the 11 p.m. curfew for public parks, and the protesters have not been allowed to sleep there.
Occupy Atlanta organizer Tim Franzen said the movement is “fluid” and will not be focused in one place.
“This is a liquid movement. We’re all over the city,” said Franzen, wearing an Oakland A’s jacket. “We’re not going to be handcuffed to a hunk of dirt. It’s not about a hunk of dirt. It’s about a statement.”
He said he’s been working to train protesters in nonviolent techniques to avoid the tense clashes with police that have been seen in Oakland, Calif.
The group plans to have more training with officials from the King Center today, he said.
Occupy Atlanta organizers say they plan to gather in Woodruff Park – which they renamed for Troy Davis, the Georgia prisoner executed last month for the shooting death of a police officer – today and are prepared to be arrested again.
A nearby homeless shelter has become their headquarters.
Jackson said the effort reminds him of the Poor People’s Campaign that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was just beginning before he was killed in April 1968.