* Ban on sleeping in park cuts numbers dramatically
* Big protest set for Thursday at New York Stock Exchange
* Momentum of movement faces test
By Chris Francescani and Basil Katz
NEW YORK, Nov 16 (Reuters) - Occupy Wall Street protesters hope to rebound on Thursday with a march on the New York Stock Exchange to show their battle against economic inequality still has life after they were evicted from a nearby park.
Most rallies by the two-month-old movement have numbered in the hundreds of people in New York but protesters and city officials expect thousands of demonstrators to pour into the Wall Street area from 7 a.m. (1200 GMT) to try to stop workers from getting to their desks in the financial district.
It will be a test of whether Occupy Wall Street and the loose-knit global alliance it inspired will flag or grow after police cleared a camp of hundreds of protesters from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan on Tuesday.
“This movement is really not about tents as much as it is about an idea,” said spokesman Ed Needham. “There’s also going to be events in 100 countries around the world tomorrow.”
Occupy Wall Street plans to shut down the home of the New York Stock Exchange and the heart of American capitalism to kick off a day of protests. But the movement acknowledged tight security was likely to prevent protesters from getting close to the stock exchange.
Another protest spokesman, Mark Bray, said “the idea is to inconvenience Wall Street bankers going to work, not to hurt anyone. We are committed to nonviolent civil disobedience.”
Authorities were prepared for a possible influx of tens of thousands of protesters and aimed to balance public safety with their right to free speech and assembly, said Howard Wolfson, a New York deputy mayor.
“We take it seriously,” he told reporters. “Our forces will be deployed accordingly.”
Protesters say they are upset that billions of dollars in bailouts given to banks during the recession allowed a return to huge profits while average Americans have had no relief from high unemployment and a struggling economy.
They also believe the richest 1 percent of Americans do not pay their fair share of taxes.
In San Francisco, police arrested 95 anti-Wall Street demonstrators on Wednesday after protesters entered a Bank of America branch in the city’s financial district and set up a tent inside.
“We are the 99 percent,” the protesters chanted as they were being arrested.
“NEED A SHOW OF SUPPORT”
The Zuccotti Park camp was set up on Sept. 17 and became the epicenter for the movement, sparking rallies and occupations of public spaces across the United States and elsewhere in the world.
After the police cleared the park and it was cleaned, demonstrators were allowed to return but were banned from setting up camp again. Numbers dwindled to less than two dozen overnight on Wednesday.
“I was dismayed by the number of people who stayed,” said Sam DeLily, 23, from the New York borough of Queens. “I was disappointed that more people didn’t realize we’d need a show of support last night more than ever.”
A couple of dozen protesters took refuge at two Manhattan churches that offered them a place to sleep. Hundreds more were put up by New Yorkers who offered their homes, Needham said.
The clearing of the Occupy camp in New York followed recent evictions in Atlanta, Portland, Oregon, and Salt Lake City. Unlike action in Oakland, California, where police used tear gas and stun grenades, most protesters left voluntarily.
The movement has a large donated space near Zuccotti Park where it has been storing thousands of items such as clothing, medical supplies, canned food and toiletries.
“We’re going to sit tight and see what direction this takes,” protest spokesman Nathan Stueve said when asked what would happen to the donated goods in the storage space.
The protesters in New York have also raised more than $500,000.
Organizers had allocated that money for food, medical care, laundry and communications. They said on Wednesday they would still use the money for those purposes.
“We’re going to occupy this park for a long time,” said Jason Holmza, 30, of Washington state. “Right now we’ve got to figure out where to turn our attention to.”