The protesters arrived on Wall Street on Wednesday night carrying bedrolls, quilts and blankets. They spread pieces of cardboard on the sidewalks. Then, as several police officers stood nearby, the protesters made signs with anticorporate slogans.
“It’s really exciting to see people actually occupying Wall Street,” said Embi Weitzel, 25, a nanny from Colorado, who came with earplugs, apples, a flashlight, a bottle of water and an orange sleeping bag. “Finally, here we are, in the belly of the beast.”
For the third consecutive night, Occupy Wall Street protesters used a tactic that many of them hope will emerge as a replacement for their encampment at Zuccotti Park, which was disbanded by the police in November.
Norman Siegel, a prominent civil-rights lawyer who visited the protesters on Wednesday night, said a decision by a federal court in Manhattan arising from a lawsuit in 2000 allowed the protesters to sleep on sidewalks as a form of political expression so long as they did not block doorways and took up no more than half the sidewalk.
The protesters first cited that ruling last week while sleeping outside bank branches near Union Square, but said this week that they wanted so-called sleep-outs to occur nightly around the New York Stock Exchange.
An organizer, Austin Guest, said protesters had scheduled such events for Friday night at four other spots, each related to the Occupy Wall Street message that the financial system benefits the rich and corporations at the expense of ordinary citizens.
The protesters’ presence on and near Wall Street has drawn the attention of the police, but officers have not dislodged them.
Dozens of Occupy encampments around the country were forcibly cleared months ago by police forces, and organizers in New York have acknowledged that it would be difficult to mount a new occupation of a park or plaza. Instead, many of them said, they would rather establish these sleeping spots.
“It takes a tremendous amount of resources to maintain a camp,” Mr. Guest said Wednesday night. “But sidewalks are everywhere.”
Another organizer, Jo Robin, said that by moving to Wall Street, the protesters hoped to address a new audience that would most likely not support the movement’s message. She added that over the past week, protesters in Boston, Philadelphia and Washington had begun sleeping near financial institutions.
About 75 protesters gathered on Wednesday night in Lower Manhattan. About 15 slept on Wall Street. Most of them stretched out on Nassau Street, just north of Wall Street. Others unrolled their sleeping bags on Broad Street, across from the illuminated colonnade of the stock exchange.
“The conversations that were happening in Zuccotti Park are happening again,” said Ray Leone, 26, from the Lower East Side. “We were separated for so long.”
Around 2 a.m. on Thursday, several protesters kicked a soccer ball across the cobblestones of Nassau Street. A large dump truck lifted a metal container with a clang and emptied its contents.
A couple of hours later, most protesters were asleep, curled under blankets, some wearing hats and scarves.
Nearby, in Zuccotti Park, empty except for a security guard, there was the hiss of sprinklers watering tulips.
By 5:30 a.m., the sound of stainless-steel coffee carts clattering over cobblestones could be heard. Workers began hosing the sidewalk across the street from Federal Hall. By 6 a.m., protesters were waking up.
As the sky brightened, workers in suits or high heels began walking down Wall Street, and a young protester offered them pamphlets.
Many ignored the literature. Some accepted, leafing through the pamphlet as they walked or shoving it into their pockets as they hurried to their jobs.