- Associated Press - Wednesday, October 12, 2011

NEW YORK (AP) - As the nearly monthlong Occupy Wall Street protests have grown, they’ve attracted the support of celebrities.

Kanye West and Russell Simmons most recently visited the protests in lower Manhattan on Monday. They followed visits from documentary filmmaker Michael Moore, actress Susan Sarandon, actor Mark Ruffalo, comedian Roseanne Barr, actor Tim Robbins, rapper Talib Kweli and “Gossip Girl” actor Penn Badgley.

Their involvement suggests broadening cultural support for the protests, which take on Wall Street companies and denounce what the demonstrators see as corporate greed. Protesters have been camped out in New York’s financial district for 3 1/2 weeks, and crowds have gathered in cities including Washington, Boston and Los Angeles, as well as abroad.

“I’m so impressed by what I’m seeing here,” Moore told protesters at one of the demonstration sites. “It’s not just the hundreds or thousands that have come down here to Liberty Plaza, it is millions of Americans who have suffered as a result of the decisions made by the people in these buildings.”

On Tuesday, protesters marched past the homes of wealthy residents, singling out buildings where media mogul Rupert Murdoch, banker Jamie Dimon and oil tycoon David Koch have homes. They decried the impending expiration of New York’s 2 percent “millionaires’ tax” in December.

When Barr attended, she gave a speech in which she proposed “a new capitalism, one not fueled by wars, one that doesn’t pass out its wealth to handful of white guys and call that free trade.”

Simmons, the hip-hop mogul, last week dispensed 500 bottles of water to protesters, calling them “sweet kids.”

Sarandon, the Academy Award winner who often lends help to left-wing causes, offered some advice on how the protesters could organize themselves and urged people to participate in the political process. She called the protests “incredibly moving.”

“I don’t know that much about Wall Street, but if I was running a business and I made that big of a mistake and lost that many people’s future, I don’t think I would get a bonus or even keep my job,” Sarandon told reporters. “So something’s wrong.”

Because a focal point of the protests is to highlight the growing gap between the rich and the poor, some have questioned whether wealthy entertainers who are among the top 1 percent in income have a place in the protests. The protesters claim to represent “the other 99 percent.”

Critics have cited that West ranked No. 3 on Forbes’ list of top earners in hip-hop. The rapper didn’t make a speech when he attended the protests but simply walked through the throngs, who warmly greeted him.

Disdain for Wall Street is far from unique to any income bracket, though. President Barack Obama has called the demonstrations representative of wider feelings.

“I think people are frustrated and the protesters are giving voice to a more broad-based frustration about how our financial system works,” he said last week.

The blog Celebrity NetWorth has listed what it claims are the top 10 richest celebrities supporting the protests. Others have pointed out the corporations some of the supportive celebrities endorse.

Yoko Ono, Alec Baldwin and Jane Fonda have voiced support for the protests. Baldwin is a pitchman for Capital One Bank.

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