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Occupy Wall Street inspires a groundswell (and OccupyMN) -- at its core, 'a need to be heard'

Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests, Occupy Minnesota's message is "people over profits."
REUTERS/Mike Segar
Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests, OccupyMN's message is "people over profits."

Early news stories about the two-week-old movement calling itself Occupy Wall Street had an undertone. "Aren't these folks a throwback," they seemed to wink as they described the sundry citizenry encamped in lower Manhattan.

The occupiers are angry with financial corruption and its effect on "the other 99 percent" and inspired by the Spanish Indignants and the Cairo protests that touched off the Egyptian Revolution.

Their demands? Well, they're not there yet, being more interested in creating something democratic and inclusive. Indeed, with its '60s-esque fixation on process and community rulemaking via consensus, New York's Zuccotti Park could be Burning Man or a Rainbow Gathering.

But none of this takes into account the fact that the occupation has inspired a groundswell, and the groundswell has acquired any number of un-dreadlocked, powerful supporters, including organized labor. The snark, in short, is dwindling.

It has also inspired occupations in communities around the country. At 5 p.m. today, in Minneapolis' Stevens Square Park, OccupyMN will hold a general assembly — a particular type of organizing meeting all of the occupations rely on.

Logistics will be discussed, and Friday at 9 a.m. the open space between Minneapolis City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center will become the People's Plaza. How long it will stay occupied is anyone's guess.

Organizer LaDonna Redmond talked to MinnPost about the impending occupation. An edited version of that conversation follows.

MinnPost: There's been so little ink spilled here in the Twin Cities over the occupation. Tell us what you're after and what your strategies are.

LaDonna Redmond: Occupy Minnesota is in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, which started in mid-September. Occupy Wall Street is basically saying that there should be people over profits. The message is very simple. 

LaDonna Redmond
Matthew Gilson
LaDonna Redmond

When you begin to unpack it, you begin to see how many different ways people feel that our political and economic systems have placed profits over people. So, what they call for basically is the elimination of policies, projects and programs that put people at the end of the line. 

MP: You're trying to pick up on some energy from overseas. How was [Cairo] galvanizing?

LR: It was galvanizing in many different ways. One would be social media being able to broadcast to people around the world on how people are handling the frustration that they feel in their political systems. Like getting out and demonstrating, and being as peaceful as possible in some of those demonstrations.

The call for democracy around the world is the one of those things that I think is at the core of our movement. For me, at the core of our movement is the need to be heard by our policymakers, by Wall Street, heads of corporations and anyone who is listening, saying I'm here and I care about my country and I want to be included in the decision-making process.

There are many, many, many issues. People have made the criticism of our movement or our action that there just aren't [specific] demands. I think that's something that will evolve over the days and weeks to come.

But what we really want, one, is to get people to come out to stand in solidarity with us. That in their frustration, or in their looking for solutions, or their looking for community or like-minded people, they find Occupy Minnesota a place to come and begin that dialogue on how we need to take back control of our country.

MP: Tonight you're having a general assembly. Can you tell us what that is?

LR: The general assembly is the heart and soul, if you will, of Occupy Minnesota. It's all the volunteers and all the people who are interested in moving the agenda forward around Occupy Minnesota. We're working on everything that has to do with the logistics and infrastructure to make Occupy Minnesota a safe place, a place where that dialogue can happen.

It's also where the trainings will begin around the process that the general assembly uses to make decisions and [reach] consensus. It's a place to be heard if you don't see what you want to see at Occupy Minnesota.

MP: And to follow up on that, what will happen Friday?

LR: The actual gathering. We'll be in the public square and we'll be organizing ourselves. There will be a welcome table for people to come in and get orientated to Occupy Minnesota, and then folks will begin to find their way around the public square. As a general assembly we will decide what the next steps are.

MP: The occupation on Wall Street is ongoing.  Do you expect that to be the case here?

LR: Yes we do. We expect to stand in solidarity with the folks on Wall Street and around the country. We don't have end date in sight.

There are hundreds of people who are volunteering online and contacting us every day to find out how they can get involved. So we expect a pretty large crowd — and we're having some awesome weather, too.

MP: You mentioned earlier that the movement as been subject to some criticism for what I will characterize as a lack of specificity in its goals. It seems you have tapped into a specific vein of frustration and also a very vivid kind of galvanizing political activity elsewhere. How do you turn those two poles of energy into specifics? 

LR: I believe at some point we will ask for policy changes, but right now Occupy Minnesota hasn't gotten that far. What's so important about this process is that this is a people's process. This is about inclusion. We're not trying to go anywhere that the majority of people don't want to go.

Getting all those voices together and putting them in a cohesive fashion is sort of like making gumbo, [and] really looking at why so many people feel so many different ways about so many different issues. Because of the pressure that our economic and political system has put upon us, different people have had just many, many different outcomes. 

To try to horse trade between one set of concerns and another set of concerns is probably to do a disservice to someone. So we want to be sure we're able to hear everybody very clearly.

We're not at a loss to list out the issues or the solutions, but we have been at a loss for a mass movement that has galvanized people to take action.

MP: In other parts of the country, the recent occupations have gotten the support of organized labor. Is that the case here?

LR: We anticipate that we will get support of organized labor here. I don't want to get out in front of them on that.

MP: Last weekend, your general assembly decided not to occupy the plaza in front of the Federal Reserve Bank, but to occupy the open space next to the Hennepin County Government Center. Can you talk a little bit about that decision?

LR: The main concern is that we want to make that all of the people who come down to join us are in as safe a place as possible. We want people to be able to stay as long as they can. It's our understanding that the Federal Reserve is on private land, and we did not want to be on land that we would be immediately evicted from because we don't have the right to be there.

We feel that the Government Plaza, or People's Plaza, is a place of gathering for citizens of Minnesota and the United States, and that we have a right to be there. Our tax dollars pay for us to be there.

MP: I have read that your decisions are made by a crowd of people via consensus. How do you do consensus with a large mass of strangers?

LR: You take your time and you breathe very deeply. It's a matter of having people's voices heard. So even if we didn't go where you thought we ought to go, you were heard and your proposal was heard and people debated it and spent time with it. Contrary to the way our political system has run lately, I think it may have even been refreshing for many people who participated in the process. 

MP: And why is process important here?

LR: Voice is important. Voice is the key to democracy. Being able to have your say and not have your say necessarily outweigh someone else's say because you have money or they have less money, or because they are African-American or Latino or they don't speak English is very important. Being able to have your say no matter who you are, no matter where you come from, is at the core of democracy and that's really what we want, a democratic society where we all have our say. 

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Comments (15)

Wonderful! It's about time people spoke up. I am among the 1% but I wish these folks well and hope to join them. Since the first time people gathered into communities in the fertile crescent every society has had at its core a sense of justice. When justice gets out of whack as it is now prophets like LaDonna arise and the people are moved to action. Now is just such a time in our country. Those of you who disagree-back off-quit over reaching-social stability is at risk.

I think it's wonderful, too, that people are speaking up. It's as though a long silent giant is awakening. Probably some of those--we hope--who have been hornswaggled by the teapees.
I plan to get down there Saturday.

Whining and complaining that someone has more than you is neither new nor inspiring.

It's sad and pathetic that while conservatives are debating monetary policy, the role of the federal government, state's rights regarding health insurance, immigration reform, and the proper use of executive orders, the democrat party platform has devolved to a simplistic rant of "Tax the Rich!"

If you asked the people in these protests what they want to happen as a result of their efforts, they couldn't begin to tell you, but it's obvious that being free people would be off the table.

@Dennis

The only debate Republicans are having is whether to remove government next month or next year.

The Occupy X movement is about restoring the voice of people to governance. For too long, governance has been dominated by the massive corporations that are interested in short term thinking. Occupy X is about government being responsive to human needs -- as it was prior to Reagan... before we had regular banking crises and a shrinking middle class.

Dennis, the very first Tea Party was directed at a corporation, not a government. They were pissed at the government, but it was because of the unfair advantages a corporation got.

The East Indies Trading Company was the object of their revolt.

Were they whiners Dennis? It's not about others having more. It is about justice. I never play the lottery because I could care less about being rich. Most people don't worship wealth and money.

Anyway, Occupy Wall street has a hell of a lot more in common with the original tea party than the modern day tea party.

It's not a matter of someone else "having more than you." It's that a small percentage of Americans--corporate and financial executives--control not just their businesses but the U.S. Congress and many governorships and state legislatures as well.

The system is structured so that wealth flows only to the top. Students are stuck with tens of thousands of dollars of debt in an economy with no jobs. About 2.8 millions jobs have been lost to low-wage countries since 2001 because our tax and trade policies reward corporations for moving them out of the U.S. The health care system lavishly rewards insurance and drug companies while leaving tens of millions of Americans without any coverage, and therefore access to care, at all.

With the exception of some truly brave and strong members of the Congress and governors like Mark Dayton who stand up against corporate power, our economy is rigged to benefit the rich. We need some serious restructuring to correct the injustices built into our current system. That the 99% can't name specific steps right now does not matter. What matters is that we have begun to work on the real problems we face.

The more press these radically and incoherent “DFL types” receive, the better it looks for the Republicans in 2012.

Dennis the only people I ever hear whining about people having more than they do are Radical Right Wing Republicans. Competing with their wealthy pals to get more and more is the very core of their being.

If they are riding a train, they want to fly, if they are flying they want to fly Business, if they are flying Business they want first class, it they are flying first class they want a private jet...it never ever ends and its all driven by the fact that someone else has more than they do.

But I thank you for being a consistent Conservative. It is always the case that you accuse others of is the very behavior that you practice.

The conservatives whine about "class warfare"--pitting one class against the other.

Well, where is their stand on "class cooperation" if they are think "class warfare" is bad?

More importantly, where is their action on "class cooperation"?

That exactly is what the movement is about.

@ Andrew Kearney. I'm one of the 99% and don't envy your 1% status. Howvever if you feel so strongly that it isn't enough that the 1% carry 40% of the nation's tax burden, feel free to send in more. I won't stop you.

Ron G.: Inconsistent? This is the protester's message:

They are angry that bankers took advantage of deregulation to run wild (and pay themselves ginormous bonuses), inflating huge bubbles through reckless lending. They are angry that when the bubbles burst the bankers were bailed out by taxpayers with little consequence even as ordinary workers continued to suffer. Lastly, they are angry at that bankers showed appreciation by turning on the very taxpayers who had saved them by hurling a share of their profits at the very politicians (your buddies) who promised to keep their taxes low and weaken the minimal regulations enacted after the crash.

All the while Ron and the Conservatives of this nation still endlessly talk about how Obama is an atheistic-Islamic-fascist-socialist vegetarian who consumes too many burgers, golfs too much on Martha's Vineyard yet hates white people.

Really, Ron? We're incoherent?

Brian, did you even read the interview???

Dennis
Actually they could begin to tell you. Unemployment, foreclosures, expensive education loans, all while the very rich sit in what was their ivory towers looking down at the "mob"), literally (did you see the photograph of the financial people sitting on a balcony drinking their champagne or wine and laughing down at the protesters? Reminded me a little of the pre-French Revolution days.
Right now, they do not want to create a bullet list of what they want. Patience. You'll see.

So what's your point, Ginny? Do you want the rich people to come downstairs and pass out checks to the great unwashed? Is that it? Do you want them to pay your mortgage or your student loans for you?

There's a November 2008 YouTube clip of a young woman who is ecstatic that Obama is her new president because that now means "Obama Is Going To Pay For My Gas And Mortgage" Seriously.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rgfA2b9YSag

That's what this crowd reminds me of. Delusional people who have been so conditioned to some politician promising to take care of them that they're behaving irrationally because it's finally hit them that it's not going to happen.

Beth,

Could you share with us some background information in LaDonna Redmond?