Occupy MN — I can’t stay away

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I can’t stay away from Occupy MN’s People’s Plaza. I just retired from my job, and I found an occupation. After 25 years of teaching social justice, I am smiling constantly when I visit this living social justice community. We need to do all we can to nurture the growing competency of the very creative, talented, and passionate young people who are reinvigorating us and giving us a chance to take back our democracy.

Like hundreds of other Occupies, OccupyMN is trying to create a cooperative community. They are developing a model of participatory democracy that is non-hierarchical and transparent. They hold many committee meetings and daily live-streamed General Assemblies, 7pm -9ish. The People’s Plaza is a non-commodified space with free food, medics, poster-making supplies, child play area, library, and teach-ins. This is an immense task. The kitchen can always use donations of healthy food and money or orders of pizza.

Almost every day there are loud protest marches to near-by bastions of casino capitalism. Last Saturday over 300 protested at the banks on the anniversary of the 1929 bank crash. The synergy between organized groups and The People’s Plaza is brewing large energetic protests and rallies in a way that’s wonderfully fresh. Last summer Move On and Uncut MN got about 60 of us protesting outside Wells Fargo (and it was only that large because Michael Moore promoted it). Last week a far larger and noisier group sat down in the sidewalk, streets and intersection until Wells Fargo was forced to close!

The community “commons” claimed by the occupiers is crucial to this democratic awakening. I feel it even more deeply after watching Michael Moore speak at Occupy Oakland and watching a New York City march to Columbus Circle led by 92-year-old Pete Seeger. These are our plazas and streets and they are meant to be filled with protests, songs, candle light vigils, marches, and sit-ins. But it is the camping and the kitchens of occupiers that are drawing out our energy and gives it a place to celebrate itself communally.

The political awakening is already causing changes. Chris Hedges and Amy Goodman were on PBS’s Charlie Rose Show talking about the corporate coup d’état. Obama is suddenly letting students adjust loan payments. Bank of America cancelled its $5 monthly fee. Credit Union deposits have increased 20% in the last 3 months. As Michael Moore said in Oakland, the 99% movement has killed despair in the US, killed apathy, and ended the **** discussion of the debt ceiling. And OccupyMN delayed a foreclosure on a woman’s home just by threatening to take up her cause, (the Daily Planet broke the story [https://www.tcdailyplanet.net/news/2011/10/28/occupy-mn-continues-us-bank-protest-delays-account-closures] and Democracy Now picked it up.)

Tuesday an occupier named Chris spoke eloquently and forcefully at a Hennepin County Commissioners hearing. You could sense the pitchforks of the masses backing up his assertive words. I’ve never felt anything like it.

Unfortunately the chair, Mike Opat, threatened to forbid overnight camping when the temperature goes below 25 degrees, and he may cut off their water this Friday. He may also tell the occupiers that they can use only half the Plaza so other groups can use it. Commissioner Gail Dorfman pointed out that the commissioners have been trying to get people to use the Plaza for years, and added that she was glad they are there. Peter McLaughlin asked for legal research on the impact on First Amendment rights.

As winter approaches, the General Assemblies have moved into the Skyway or to the American Indian Center. Many are still sleeping out. The occupiers could construct a structure for meetings and sleeping. I told the commissioners that there is a precedent. In 1982, MN Women’s Camp for Peace and Justice camped for a full year outside of Sperry-Univac, a producer of guidance systems for nuclear weapons. We built a rustic but well-insulated “longhouse” and a kerosene heater made it very cozy. We camped in the cloverleaf of Hwy. 5 and the Dept. of Transportation never bothered us.

I can’t explain why sleeping out is important, but it sure was to us. We had events only on weekends in the winter, except for Tuesday evening camp meetings. We stopped eating meals there. But we felt we were occupying our camp as long as at least a few women slept there. Maybe it’s the feeling of grounding our collective dreams in the earth.

The constitution protects the right to assemble freely to redress grievances; it doesn’t say only in the daytime.

Community support can pressure the Commissioners to allow them to have tents and/or construct a shelter for holding General Assemblies.

Please call Hennepin County Commissioners or attend their open meetings to ask them to support, not undermine OccupyMN:  

  • Mike Opat, chair, 612-348-7881.
  • Mark Stenglein, 348-7882;
  • Gail Dorfman, 348-7883;
  • Peter McLaughlin, 348-7884;
  • Randy Johnson, 348-7885;
  • Jan Callison, 348-7886;
  • Jeff Johnson, 348-7887.
  • General information: 612-348-3000.