NEW YORK - About 400 Occupy Wall Street protesters carrying what they said were 7,000 letters of complaint marched Friday in groups to offices of banks they accuse of corporate greed.
The letters, collected through the occupytheboardroom.org website, were written by people including some who had lost their homes through foreclosures during the economic crisis, said protester Harry Waisbren, of Milwaukee.
"We're hoping the banks will see the damage they've wrought," Waisbren said.
He spoke as demonstrators gathered next to the stone lions on the steps of the New York Public Library in Manhattan. He wore a cheese-shaped hat, a symbol of Wisconsin, and carried a sign that said one bank "spread bad mortgages, then foreclosed on thousands."
A nearby sign told another bank: "Withdraw your money, cut them down to size."
One protester was dressed like a drum majorette. Four others were costumed as pirates; they rode bicycles decorated like pirate ships, complete with anchors, masts and pirate flags.
"Aargh! We're the people's pirates, and we're going to get the money from the corporate pirates and give it to the credit unions and the good banks!" shouted Barbara Ross, wearing a frilly dress and a tri-cornered hat and waving a plastic sword.
Ross, of New York, said she was laid off last year from her job as a personnel manager at the U.S. offices of France Telecom.
Richard Kershenbaum, a retired information technology manager from Lawrence, Kan., said he decided to join the march while visiting friends in New York. He said he had seen workers' rights eroded during his time as a manager at the University of Kansas and was worried that politicians were increasingly influenced by corporate interests.
"They're running the government for their own benefit, not the benefit of the people," he said. "We have to do something about it if we want to protect democracy in this country."
One group of protesters headed down a Fifth Avenue sidewalk, chanting, "You've got mail! You've got mail!" About 50 police officers accompanied them, on foot and in vehicles.
The marchers stopped at a Citigroup office on Park Avenue. A building employee accepted a few letters but declined the rest. So the marchers folded them into paper airplanes and tossed them at a Citibank sign out front.
One message, from LaShuna Garcia, in the Tucson, Ariz., area, told how her parents lost their jobs through downsizing and budget cuts.
"Savings are difficult to accrue when the ends don't even come close to meeting," Garcia's letter said. "Please help keep the American people alive."
Jeremy Wattles, in the Geneva, N.Y., area, wrote that he was concerned about a U.S. Supreme Court ruling guaranteeing the free speech rights of corporations, which many protesters say has encouraged corporate campaign donations.
"Corporations ought not be equal with a person under the law," Wattles wrote. "There ought to be a way for us to coexist financially. For you to make a profit and for responsible citizens to have a fair opportunity to achieve a middle class lifestyle."
The marchers chanted, "Everybody pays their tax, everyone but Goldman Sachs!"
Reaction was mixed from passers-by.
Jason Patel, an analyst at a bank, said he sympathized with the protesters but said they should be directing their anger at lawmakers. He said reforms are needed to ensure banks pay interest on bailout money loaned to them by taxpayers.
"This is fantastic, but I think there's a better way," he said as he watched the protest. "I think it would help if they went to Washington. Those are the people to talk to."
Earlier Friday, authorities said safety hazards at the protest encampment in Manhattan's Zuccotti Park were removed during a fire department inspection. Mayor Michael Bloomberg said protesters voluntarily surrendered six generators and a dozen gasoline cans, which he called illegal safety hazards.
Protest volunteer Iana Dikidjiea said the generators were used for a kitchen, emergency lights and media equipment.
The protesters were "rethinking how that's going to work," she said, but "we'll deal with it."
Many of the protesters were still sleeping when the inspection began around 8 a.m.
Bloomberg, speaking on his weekly show on WOR Radio, said the protesters can stay as long as they obey the law. But he added: "Quality of life is something that we worry about."