Protestors of different stripes unite under common gripesby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio,
Madeleine Baran, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — It's been one week since protesters began gathering on the plaza outside the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis. The group has unified itself under the name OccupyMN, and is similar to other gatherings in cities around the country. But that doesn't mean protesters are all marching to the same tune.
The phrase, "This is what democracy looks like" is a common refrain at some of the occupation demonstrations around the nation. And this week on the plaza democracy sounded like numerous voices speaking without the use of a microphone or bullhorn.
"We nominate — (crowd) 'we nominate' — (voice) this informal committee (crowd) 'this informal committee' — (voice) to facilitate our next meeting."
About 20 people tried to decide if they should hold a general assembly meeting, or if they already were holding a general assembly meeting.
Protesters have formed several committees which hold meetings throughout the day. A large whiteboard contains the meeting times. Through the week, the number of people on the plaza has fluctuated between 50 and 100 people. OccupyMN organizer Diana Turner described the demonstration as participatory Democracy in action.
"There are small clusters of folks that are coalescing together," Turner said. "And they're not just the same people. They're people of diverse backgrounds talking about this, talking about that and literally wondering what this is all about and trying to come up with some commonalities."
The demonstrators are a confluence of people who subscribe to very different political and social philosophies, Turner said. Followers of Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul work alongside others who call themselves Marxists and socialists. A glance at the homemade signs on the plaza shows the range of issues the demonstrators oppose — Wall Street greed to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Turner said that to those who are outside the movement, especially in the media, it may appear as if the demonstrators lack a central message.
"And I would argue that the occupation itself is the message, that it's the fact that people are not happy with the way things are," Turner said. "The status quo is not functional anymore."
A lecture on communicating with the media turns into a lively back and forth between teacher Dick Brooks and a man carrying some "9/11 Truth" pamphlets. Brooks is a former journalist who has his own consulting company called Action Media. He's trying to help the man pitch a story idea to a major news organization, such as The New York Times. But the man seems more interested in telling Brooks why he doesn't trust the mainstream media and eventually walks away.
Brooks said he was asked to be a part of a committee called cohesive messaging, but he said he doesn't have any cohesive message to offer. Instead, he is more interested in helping people communicate their message with the people they want to reach.
"Yesterday, somebody said he's going to have a tea party here Saturday afternoon. And by that, he's going to have some tables and 50 gallons of tea and they're going to sit around and have a tea party."
The man told Brooks his goal is for people to come to the plaza to see for themselves that the demonstrators are a diverse and non-threatening group. The message should include details that will make someone want to come join them.
"If all you want is for people to show up, that's a much better message of come down and enjoy some sociability and meet some new people and express your ideas if you wish, or just sit in the sunshine and enjoy a cup of tea," Brooks said. "That's much more effective than, say, 'Come down here and help us smash the corporate state.' If you're not in agreement already with smashing the corporate state, why would you ever show up?"
Like many demonstrators, Brooks has been sleeping in a sleeping bag on the plaza since the occupation began. A tent ban remains in place.
Brandt Williams is a reporter with MPR News' Metro Unit.