Hundreds turn out for initial OccupyMN demonstration

Protesters gather during a demonstration held by Occupy Minnesota, at Hennepin County Government Plaza, Friday, Oct. 7, 2011, in Minneapolis. The demonstration is in support of the protests that began on Wall Street.
AP Photo/Genevieve Ross

Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Minneapolis Friday for the opening of the OccupyMN demonstration, patterned after weeks of protest in New York's financial district.

Office workers, students, retirees and people who happened to be walking by gathered in front of the Hennepin County Government Center.

"People want to know what we want, what our list of demands is," said Virginia Simson, among the first to arrive. "There are a lot of things, but there's one main problem — that's profits over people."

The crowd was affable and relaxed for the morning, watched over by Hennepin County Sheriff's deputies standing atop the stairs to the government center's north entrance. Authorities have also installed portable, wireless video cameras on the plaza to watch the crowd.

The protest featured an appearance by Independence Party and former Gov. Jesse Ventura, who spoke as people started to gather. He compared the gatherings in New York, Minneapolis and around the country to recent revolutions around the world.

"I hope that this country can step forward and follow the leads that have happened in the Middle East to many of the Arab countries where people's movements rose up and you see the results of them," Ventura said.

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He said he hopes the Occupy movement brings change to the U.S.

"It hasn't yet, but if it continues and grows it will. Absolutely. And I hope that it does," Ventura said.

He's one of the most prominent former elected officials to speak to an Occupy rally. Former U.S. Sen. Dean Barkley attended the gathering hailed the efforts of the protesters, as did current state Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis.

"I'm very inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, around the country," Davnie said. "I'm glad to see it come to Minnesota, I think people need a place where they can express some of their outrage. We've not seen the economy turn around, we've seen reckless political activity here in Minnesota, with the state shutdown, and in Washington D.C. with the debt ceiling debate."

But most of the people gathered in the plaza were average citizens. Students and office workers, retirees and teachers, and a fair number of people who said they were out of work.

Retired dentist Mary McEvoy, of Minneapolis, was one of the crowd. "I'm here today because I'm angered by the unbridled greed that we see in Wall Street," McEvoy said. "Their delight in taking a public handout, and then when we ask them to abide by some rules, they decline. And they strenuously object. And that makes me very angry, since I'm a taxpayer that helped bail them out."

Organizers, like Diana Turner, of St. Paul, started moving in stacking chairs and blankets, food supplies and water. She said she hoped to see as many as 1,000 people on the plaza by the end of the weekend.

"I have no idea when it will end," she said of the demonstration overall.

Other organizers were taking donations and registering volunteers at a table beside the light rail stop in front of Minneapolis' City Hall. Volunteer legal advisers were roaming through the crowd, as were medics and even an "emergency consciousness worker" encouraging people to think positively to help bring about social change.

At about 2pm, demonstrators walked away from the Hennepin county government center and headed for the Federal Reserve Bank offices on Hennepin Avenue.

The march was unplanned but Minneapolis police met with organizers and suggested a route through the city. Officers on bikes and scooters stopped traffic and cleared the streets as the march went up 3rd Avenue, west on Washington Avenue and then followed Hennepin to the bank.

There the crowd beat drums and chanted for an end to the Federal Reserve.

Hennepin County Commissioner Jeff Johnson criticized the protesters on Wall Street and in Minneapolis. He told the Midwest Republican Leadership Conference in Bloomington that he was happier to be there than at his government center office.

"Because of you, I don't have to spend my Friday afternoon with a thousand or so clueless, obnoxious and frankly very messy anarchists or socialists or flower children or whatever they call themselves. Instead I get to spend my time with 1,000 or so patriots."

(MPR reporter Tom Scheck contributed to this report.)