Shelter becomes issue for OccupyMN protestersby Brandt Williams, Minnesota Public Radio
Minneapolis — It's been two weeks since a group of demonstrators first took over the plaza outside the Hennepin County Government Center in downtown Minneapolis, and participants say they will continue to camp in the public space.
The protesters of OccupyMN are speaking out on a number of issues from Wall Street's role in the economic crisis to pulling U.S. troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan. But this week, shelter for the protesters has taken center stage.
Sunshine and temperatures in the low 50s have driven most of the chill out of the air here on the red brick plaza next the Hennepin County government center. However, Thursday evening temperatures reached down into the 30s.
Several demonstrators rotate as volunteer 'medics.' One says she's a registered nurse, and another is an emergency medical technician. He's been staying overnight to check on as many as 60 people sleeping outdoors, watching to make sure they're not showing signs of frostbite or hypothermia. So far, he's seeing a lot of chapped lips and dry skin.
"So we got some ChapStick today and we'll probably get some lotion today," he said.
Hennepin County set up a canopy on the grassy, south plaza for people to sleep under. Earlier this week, about two dozen demonstrators attended a county board meeting to tell commissioners that the canopy is inadequate and that the county must to relax the ban on tents. Demonstrator Adam Greeley attempted to appeal to commissioners' inner-Minnesotans.
"My whole life growing up Minnesota was the state that cared. We had programs and things for people with disabilities — people that didn't have a whole lot," Greeley said. "We had all these great things to offer and show as an example that, you know what, we don't want people to freeze their butts off."
Commissioners expressed sympathy for the protesters' plight, but reiterated the county's policy against tents, tarps and other structures. Several commissioners told protesters that essentially they were wasting their time and their message by sleeping overnight.
Commissioner Jeff Johnson, who again apologized for disparaging comments he made about demonstrators the week before, told them that some of his constituents don't like their tactics.
"Because some of the things they are seeing are traffic being blocked, or people trying to get arrested or people trying to disrupt businesses downtown. I don't think that helps you," Johnson said. "I think you're losing more people than you're gaining by keeping this moving on."
This week, protester Nick Espinoza led a group of more than 60 people in another shelter-related protest. This time, demonstrators occupied the sidewalk in front of US Bank to call for a moratorium against housing foreclosures.
"We have folks who have been working hard to build us some transparent tents to represent the transparency of the 99 percent and to stand up against the unaccountability of all these banks out here," Espinoza said. The protesters call themselves the "99 Percent" to distinguish themselves from the smaller portion of Americans who control a disproportionate amount of economic wealth.
OccupyMN demonstrators put the clear plastic tents on the sidewalk in front of US Bank plaza and rallied for about an hour before they began to block the street. Minneapolis police officials report a crowd of about 100 people moved into an intersection and set up their tents. Seven people, five men and two women, were arrested for obstruction of traffic, a misdemeanor offense.
Protesters still want to find a way to erect tents on public grounds. The group applied for a permit with the city of Minneapolis to erect tents on city property Espinoza said. That permit was denied, a city spokesman said, but the group is working on another permit application.
- All Things Considered, 10/21/2011, 5:19 p.m.