Wall Street protesters gathering in Minneapolis

Published 1:15 pm Friday, October 7, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — A festive mood prevailed as hundreds of protesters gathered at the Hennepin County Government Center plaza on a warm fall Friday in solidarity with the nationwide demonstrations against Wall Street.

Former Gov. Jesse Ventura dropped by as the event got going. He didn’t give a speech but spoke to people in the crowd, posed for pictures and signed autographs.

People walked around with signs saying: “Protect the middle class,” ”Corporations are not people” and “Wake up — when you support capitalism you create the problem.” Volunteers handed out banana bread muffins, apples and bananas to protesters and served some donated rice and beans.

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Occupy Minnesota organizers said they plan to occupy the plaza outside the courthouse until they see major changes. They planned to hold workshops Friday afternoon and a rally at 5 p.m. The protesters have varied causes but mostly were highlighting unemployment, economic inequality and corporate greed.

The Occupy Wall Street protests started in New York on Sept. 17. This was one of several related demonstrations that have popped up around the country since then. The Minnesota protesters didn’t have a public address system, so they set up a “people’s microphone” under which one person would speak briefly and then everybody nearby would shout the statement so everyone could hear.

“We are the 99 percent,” they chanted in keeping with the loose nationwide theme of economic inequality, contrasting themselves with the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans.

Authorities said they’ll allow the protesters to stay as long as they’re peaceful and don’t break any laws, but they can’t erect tents, build fires, cook or set up generators.

A few people posted comments on Facebook suggesting that the “occupiers” dress up in suits and khakis so they would be taken seriously. One person who took the dress-for-success message to heart was Kevin Keller, 20, of Sartell, who work a black suit and tie and fashionable Chuck Taylor casual shoes.

“It’s normal people who are mad about the way things are. … It’s nice for poor people to actually start getting their voices heard,” said Keller, a college student and grocery store worker who wasn’t planning to stay the night because he has to work Saturday.

The crowd also included a significant share of senior citizens, including Minneapolis residents Lee Ross, 85, and Polly Mann, who wouldn’t give her age but said she was around during World War II.

“Corporations are controlling more and more of our lives and the economy of the country,” Ross said. “Now they are being treated as persons. In the meantime young people really have nothing to look forward to.”

Mann, a founder of the local peace group, Women Against Military Madness, said she was there because the U.S. is fighting wars around the world to protect profits, not individuals.