Hundreds of people gathered in downtown Minneapolis Friday for the first day of the OccupyMN demonstration.
They came from big cities, suburbs and Greater Minnesota, united in disatisfaction with current economic, and to some extent political, conditions.
The crowd in the plaza between Minneapolis City Hall and the Hennepin County Government Center swelled to as many as 1,000 over the noon hour, with placard-carrying protesters mixing with lunching office workers and the merely curious.
The main activity of the demonstrators was mingling, strolling and admiring each other's signs. One corner of the plaza was a sign-making workshop; on the other side was a free food stand.
OccupyMN is an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests over the last several weeks. As in New York, the local demonstration is set to continue indefinitely.
Here are a few of the people at the plaza on Friday:
Pauline Laybourn of Edina and Lorraine Picard of Shoreview
Three words express why Pauline Laybourn left home in Edina to attend the first day of the OccupyMN demonstration: "The shrinking middle."
Her friend Lorraine Picard agreed: "The middle class is just disappearing." Both women said they worried about further generations.
Income disparity between the super-rich and the rest of the country "makes us a Third World country," said Laybourn.
Taking up a slogan of the Occupy movement, she said, "We are the 99 percent. They're trying to ignore us and they're doing a pretty good job of it."
But, added Picard, they won't for long.
The old friends—they've been of like mind since they met about 20 years ago—planned their journey to join OccupyMN carefully. They met at in St. Louis Park before traveling to downtown Minneapolis together.
They joked about having white hair, but every age bracket had some representation on the plaza. Upon arriving, the pair began admiring and laughing at signs they saw. Soon enough, they were in the sign-making area to create their own.
Tricia Meredith of Woodbury
Most of the plaza is paved, but Tricia Meredith of Woodbury found a patch of soggy grass to sit with her infant son and two friends and make signs.
They are library-science graduate students at St. Catherine University in St. Paul and members of a group called the Progressive Librarians Guild. Meredith had a simple way of saying why she was there: "Fund libraries, not greed."
But their group has plans to offer their skills to the OccupyMN movement to "promote the idea of an open forum," Meredith said: a fact sheet, perhaps, or an information center with books.
While her baby, 9-month-old Leo, crawled onto friend Amy Mars' lap, Meredith worked on a sign for him: "I Am a Baby/I Don't Want Your Debt." Other signs with bold black-and-white designs were arrayed in the grass around them, including one depicting a vampire squid.
As a video reporter approached Meredith for an interview, Leo got hungry, so she cradled him with a bottle while answering questions about OccupyMN.
Andrew from Minnetonka
Wearing a tie and American flag pin was a clean-cut 30-year-old from Minnetonka who gave his name only as Andrew. He carried his two-sided, hand-made sign close to his chest so the side with the spelling error ("SOCAIL" for "social") wouldn't show.
The main issue motivating Andrew to participate in OccupyMN is health care. He doesn't have any—he's unemployed since being laid off from a sales job—and he advocates universal, single-payer system. Without work, he said, he's had time to get "tuned into social issues."
Looking around the plaza, he called the scene "amazing" and said the "great turnout speaks volumes." The drumming and kazoos weren't his style, but otherwise Andrew sounded committed. said he'd stay until sundown and be back in coming days; only a bad back will keep him from spending the night on the plaza.
At 1 p.m. Friday, he was getting ready to return to his car for his lunch and to fix the misspelling on his sign.
John Marty of Roseville
"It's time people speak out," said State Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), scanning the late-morning plaza scene.
"It's an example of democracy. What are people saying? They're here for a thousand different reasons. ... People are trying to have a voice, but they're not sure how."
Marty said he figured "most of the people are on the [political] left, but Tea Party folks have a lot of things in common [with them]."
The two groups are not two ends of the political spectrum, he said; many of the people involved don't have partisan affiliation."
But Marty observed that "a lot of them are on the edge of cynicism"—a condition he said is "scary in a democracy."