Monday, February 20, 2012

Reflections on Occupy Minneapolis

By Mary Lynn Murphy

I am 66 years old, have been married 44 years, have two adult children, and a large extended family with deep roots in both Minneapolis and St. Paul. For the better part of my life, in both Catholic and secular contexts, I have participated in social movements on behalf of women, the LGBT community, peace, and the environment.

Like many, I have been deeply concerned about escalating economic inequity in our society, as well as the accompanying erosion of democracy, social justice, and the environment. My emotions about these topics have ranged from dismay, to outrage, to despondency, and now, with the advent of the Occupy movement, to hope.

One of the 99 percent

Since the international Occupy movement hit American soil on September 17th 2011, under the name of "Occupy Wall Street," it has taken root throughout the country in likely and unlikely places. In fact in our state alone, "Occupies" now flourish in Minneapolis, St Paul, Northfield, Duluth, Mankato, Macalester College, and North Minneapolis, with others undoubtedly popping up as I write this!

On October 8th, opening day of Occupy Minneapolis, I was one of the "99%" who headed for the Hennepin County Government Plaza as fast as I could get there. Like many others, I was deeply disturbed about the the mortgage loan crisis, and the corporate takeover of our country, resulting in the dismantling and near death of the middle class. I marched, I attended rallies, I joined committees, I met wonderful people. I'm in it for the long haul.

This thing called Occupy intrigues me, not just because of its ambitious mission, but because of its remarkable, and so far cooperating, cross section of humanity. We run the gamut of age, class, ethnicity, culture, gender presentation, educational level, and political perspective. No question, it gets tricky to keep holding on across such barriers, but for the main part, we are managing to do it. Folks must wonder just who we are when we walk en masse into a coffee shop for a meeting. This is truly one book you CANNOT judge by its cover!

Though each Occupy entity has a slightly different focus, its overarching goals are the same: to establish a functional democracy, an equitable economy, and a livable planet. It is about redesigning American systems for the common good, and not just for the 1% of Americans who benefit fully from the current inequitable economy.

Buzzing like a hive

Within each Minnesota Occupy, a diversity of issues is being addressed simultaneously. Yes, even now, though the Government Plaza has emptied for the winter, Minneapolis Occupy is buzzing like a hive, with over 40 committees and associated activity groups. Here are just a few of them:

Decision Making General Assemblies convene in the downtown skyways several nights a week, where organizational matters of budget and process are addressed (participants sit on the hard floor, sometimes to the edification of passers by, sometimes to their annoyance!). Decision making is by general consensus, with no identifiable leaders, as is the intentional case in Occupies across the country.

Every Wednesday evening, from 5pm to 9pm, Occupy Minneapolis holds an open meeting at the Walker Church at 31st Street and 16th Avenue. At these gatherings, anyone interested can hear music, share in a pot luck meal, listen to committee reports, observe or participate in committee meetings, and attend substantive "teach ins".

The Occupy Homes Initiative, one of numerous weekly direct actions, engages in regular confrontations with banks, and occupies individual homes (at the invitation of owners) to prevent foreclosures -- so far very successfully. Occupy Minneapolis has received national attention for this endeavor.

Speaking of direct action, some of our younger members have gained national notoriety by their fondness for "glittering" political figures who hold stances against the middle class and/or LGBT persons. There is ongoing discussion (especially among some, but not all, older Occupiers) about the viability or wisdom of this activity. Just one more item on the table.

The Wealthy Human Village is a project conceived and designed as a roving, earth focused model of living, where people can come together to learn about and practice earth friendly and body healthy forms of living a sustainable future. It is hoped that "Village" concepts will eventually spread from neighborhood to neighborhood. This is one project in which I have become involved. I am also conducting a series of interviews with Occupiers, which I hope to post on this website and others. I have noticed that supportive older people who can't get to rallies and marches seem very interested in the Occupiers. I figured the interviews are a way to introduce folks to one another, and might serve as a conduit for the exchange of ideas.

Another of my involvements has been a first ever Occupy Minneapolis conference, known as a "Re-Gathering," which took place on February 18th and 19th. It assembled all of the old and new individuals and organizations that have supported the local Occupy movement (peace and justice groups, faith groups, unions, student groups, etc.). Over two days, at the United Federation of Teachers building in Minneapolis, we examined what has worked for us, what has not, how to hold our coalition together, and where we go from here. The turn out and the response were terrific. I will write about it later in detail.

There are several especially fun inter-organizational committees in Occupy, like the Arts and Culture Committee, the Well-being Committee, the Activities Committee, the Media Committee, and the Food Committee. Any member of the public is welcome to join any committee. Meetings are enjoyable and informative! To learn about the full range of activities go to

There is much more to know about Occupy. I will try to keep you abreast of some of the emerging issues and dynamics as they happen. In doing so, I hope to build understanding about who and what Occupy is in our area, and to encourage your involvement in a movement that, if we are lucky and we don't give up, has the potential to change America for the better.

Image: Photographer unknown.

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