Wall Street protesters gathering in Minneapolis
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Maggie Babb is bitter, and angry at the government.
And at the ripe old age of 16, she's taking a stand.
"A lot of young people today are angry and they are upset about the society we live in, but they are not being proactive about it," she said. "I'm obligated to come out here to represent my life and my family."
Babb joined hundreds of others gathered Friday at the Hennepin County Government Center plaza to show solidarity with the nationwide Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, organized to decry corporate greed and the gap between the rich and poor. Friday's protest — the start of what organizers hope will be an occupation of the plaza until they see signs of an impact on the larger political discussion — was festive as participants spoke out on everything from poverty and corporate America to war and police brutality.
On a warm fall day, people shared coffee, painted signs and held rallies, chanting "We are the 99 percent" — contrasting themselves with the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. People held signs saying: "Protect the middle class" and "Corporations are not people."
There were no arrests as of dinnertime Friday, when speakers from organized labor and protest veterans such as American Indian activist Clyde Bellecourt joined in a rally. Authorities planned to allow the protesters to stay on the plaza in sleeping bags but not use tents or generators or build fires. It was difficult to get accurate estimates of crowd size with hundreds of demonstrators streaming in and out throughout the day.
Some members of the group broke away for a late-afternoon march to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. It was peaceful, with police stopping traffic for protesters.
Politicians stopped by to listen to concerns or voice support. Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said he's not sure what message the group will have, but it's important that their voices be heard.
"I really support grass-roots democracy. ... The biggest enemy of democracy right now is apathy," Rybak said.
Former Minn. Gov. Jesse Ventura also greeted protesters, saying he's motivated by a movement against corporations taking over the government.
One of the organizers of Occupy Minnesota, Osha Karow, said the Minnesota group is standing in solidarity with demands of Occupy Wall Street, and would hold meetings to determine its own list of demands. While there is no specific focus, Karow said, it's important for the masses to unite.
"There isn't a focus, and that's the point. It's not about what we are standing for; it's about us coming together to stand for something," he said. "What matters is that we want change to occur."
The Occupy Wall Street protests started in New York on Sept. 17, and several protests have popped up nationwide since then.
The Minnesota crowd included people of all ages, and a significant share of senior citizens, including Minneapolis resident Lee Ross, 85.
"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."
Babb, who had "99%" painted on her face, attends Loring Nicollet Alternative High School and got a pass to skip class. She wanted to take a stand against police brutality and capital punishment and said she gets mad at people in power.
"Our society can't run as an anarchy, but it can't run like this," she said.
Associated Press reporter Patrick Condon contributed to this report.
Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.