“Banks got bailed out! We got sold out!” a crowd of about 250 people echoed Joe Farley, an 18-year-old student at the University of Minnesota, who was leading them in a chorus of political protest in downtown Minneapolis Oct. 7.
Nearly 500 demonstrators gathered in the Hennepin County Government Plaza Friday afternoon for the first day of a protest called OccupyMN, www.occupymn.org. It’s an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York City, which began Sept. 17.
Similar protests have spread across the country to more than 30 cities like Chicago, Los Angeles, Dallas, Denver, and more. Protestors aim to draw attention to the current poor state of the economy and what they see as an ever-increasing gap between the wealthy and the poor.
“I’ve been waiting for something like this to happen for a long, long time,” Farley said.
He was inspired to join OccupyMN after both his sisters graduated from college and couldn’t find any work to pay off student debt.
“I don’t want to end up in the same situation. I want a change so that won’t happen to me,” said Farley, who serves as a volunteer for the rally committee for OccupyMN. He is responsible for directing the crowd and maintaining peaceful relations with the police during the group’s marches in downtown Minneapolis.
Friday, protestors marched to the United States District Court in Minneapolis, and Tuesday, they marched to Wells Fargo bank and the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.
“There is a clear separation between what capitalism should be and what it is right now,” said Tony Guidotti, a 20-year-old junior majoring in economics at the University of St. Thomas. “The voice of the people is nothing compared to the voice of big businesses.”
The occupiers have renamed the plaza People’s Plaza. “The original plan was to set up in front of the Federal Reserve Bank because that’s where the crime is being committed, but the cops said no, so this is the next best location,” said Wesley Hanson a 27-year-old researcher at General Mills. Hanson also volunteers as a member of the rally committee for Occupy MN.
Despite a sense of community, some feel that not everyone is striving towards the same goal. When on the plaza, you can hear protestors calling for everything from a total shutdown of the Federal Reserve, the central bank of the United States, to raising taxes on the rich, to the establishment of a people’s committee to keep big business in check.
“When you come out here, you’re going to see a lot of everything,” said 48-year-old unemployed John Warbol, an experienced demonstrator. “I was here for the (Republican National Convention protests). Everyone always wants something else.”
Farley said it’s impossible to summarize a set of demands for protestors, at this point. Part of the protest that is supposed to be happening is a “general assembly,” in which protestors can discuss demands.
Right: An American flag with its stars replaced by corporate logos hangs upside down, often used as a distress signal.
“I think what everybody really wants is a total flip of the system. We need to build from the ground up, starting with the people,” Farley said. “We want humanity in the system.”
General assembly meetings are held daily at 7 p.m. Because the demonstrators are not allowed to use speakers during general assemblies, they use a call-and-response system to make sure everyone hears. When the person talking says “Mic Check!” the whole crowd will respond “Mic check!”
Left: Protestors gathered at the Hennepin County Government Plaza, or the People’s Plaza, as they’ve named it.
Unlike other cities such as Boston, where police cracked down on protestors for trying to camp out overnight on public property, the Minneapolis police force is working with the demonstrators and allowing them to camp out.
“I’m definitely staying tonight,” Guidotti said Friday. “I’m going to get out here as much as I can.”
Staying overnight in occupied public areas is an act of solidarity with those in New York and is happening with most if not all occupations.
The plaza is now fully equipped with a medic station, a teaching station where you can learn how to deal with police and pepper spray, a media station, a general assembly area, and the ever so popular free-food station, which is stocked with donated food.
“I hope the occupation lasts long enough to induce change,” says Sam Roberts, a 24-year-old caterer. “The sad truth is, things like this don’t usually last that long. Especially with the cold weather coming.”
When asked how long he thinks it will be before protestors could effect change, Guidotti replied, “In my opinion, it shouldn’t be measured in time. People shouldn’t say, ‘How long will it take before change happens?’ People should say, ‘How much pressure from the 99 percent will it take before change happens?”
We are the 99 percent is the protestors’ main slogan. It refers to a widespread belief that about 1 percent of the country’s population owns most of America’s wealth.
Although there may not seem like a clear goal to the occupation, the biggest thing being accomplished right now is raising awareness, Hanson said. “We currently have about 1,000 people cycling through here everyday, and the goal is to get even more.”
Perhaps in the coming days, the occupiers down at Government Plaza will follow the protest in Chicago’s example and produce a list of specific demands. Occupy Chicago called for, among other demands, “the repeal of Bush tax cuts, and the prosecution of Wall Street criminals,” according to news reports.
“This is solidarity, ya know,” Farley said. “We’re adding dots to the map and spreading it across the country.”