Occupy Minnesota movement takes Government Plaza

By Kalie Caetano

Nested amongst the government high rises of downtown Minneapolis, the Hennepin County Government Plaza was recently rechristened the “People’s Plaza” by hundreds of Occupy Minnesota protesters. For the past week the plaza has been filled with signs reading “Where’s my bailout?” and “End Wall Street Welfare” as Minnesotans join the Occupy bandwagon. One of several nationwide protests that have cropped up in support of the grassroots Occupy Wall Street movement in New York, Occupy Minnesota has now passed the one week mark and continues to give Minnesotans an outlet to publicly address multiple issues facing everyday Americans. The movement’s numerous concerns, many of which are listed in New York’s Occupy contingent’s “Declaration of Occupation,” fall under the umbrella of corporate America’s domestic and international power. The list includes environmental degradation, political manipulation, humanitarian violations and media control. Both the New York and Minneapolis contingents are still working, through organized general assemblies, to boil these grievances down to a concise list of demands. This is the movement’s most daunting task, as the creation of such a cohesive agenda could lead to real cooperation between protesters and the government. But protesters are not only sensitive to which issue becomes the lynchpin of the movement; they are also particular about the method by which the decision is reached. Touting itself as an experiment in grassroots democracy, the movement seeks to craft a decision-making body that is horizontal in structure and true to democratic form. Before debate about a firm message can be decided, committee structure and voting methods must be agreed upon by a majority of protesters. Currently, without these aspects solidified, the scope of the protest remains vast and lacking in clear direction. Speakers in downtown Minneapolis spoke on subjects as diverse as indigenous rights, immigrant rights, public education funding, the LGBTQ community, police brutality and health care reform. Such a vast array of issues stems from the number of voices represented and their differing qualms with the national government. What protesters see as the disparity between government support of corporate infrastructure and support of the people has led to the movement’s prevailing motto – “We are the 99%”— a critique of the statistic that the top one percent of the US population owns 42 percent of the nation’s financial wealth. This was the central battle cry of the protesters’ march down Nicollet on Saturday. One such voice was that of a woman at the rally last week who represented the immigrant community in the Twin Cities and protested the way in which US corporations have spoiled Latin American culture. “They came with their free trade treaties exploiting our lands, our natural resources, and our people, forcing us to come like lost souls to this country,” she said. “They call us illegals, but it is the corporations that are illegals.” The Minneapolis movement, modeled closely after the New York prototype, is still grappling with logistics, including speaker amplification and communication with the county commissioner to allow protesters to set up tents. The protest is also hoping to obtain a heightened interest from local media outlets. As marches continued on Sunday and led protesters all the way down to the Metrodome Stadium, the movement made clear its principal PR strategy to raise awareness in the community and attempt to form a demonstration large enough to elicit the media attention necessary to keep things moving. A man named Michael, dubbing himself “Mr. America,” spoke at the General Assembly over the weekend on this very matter. A businessman involved in foreclosures, Michael confessed that he felt compelled to join the movement because he knew his success in life was an anomaly. Michael’s largest concern with Occupy Minnesota was the lack of media attention. On the first day of the protest news helicopters hovered over the plaza as picketers milled about commiserating with fellow protesters over their “End the Fed” and “God hates Goldman Sachs” signs. But fewer media outlets were present on the following days. “The media was here yesterday. The media’s not here today,” he said. “Unfortunately, for this movement to grow we need [them] to come back.” Michael was also worried about the movement’s public image, saying that if the media saw that more people “like Mr. America” were protesting there would be greater media interest. Such public support has begun locally, as protesters have received affirmation from the community that the cause is worth the fight. On many days a line of protesters has stood sentinel along 3rd Avenue, a road adjacent to the plaza, displaying their picket signs to commuters. Each honk elicits cheers, perhaps the greatest cheers being reserved for the fire truck that laid on its horn as it drove by. Such recognition is a great morale-booster for protesters and, with time, will push the movement closer to a clear, central purpose. The future of the national Occupy movement remains unclear. While New York’s contingent remains robust, police shut down the Occupy San Francisco movement last Thursday, the day before Occupy Minnesota began. A handful of committed occupiers remained camped out in front of the Federal Reserve building and called on “all of the 99% to mobilize ASAP. This occupation must continue to grow.” Whether or not Minneapolis will answer that call remains to be seen.