Portraits of an occupation

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November 7, 2011
By: Mike Munzenrider and Josh Wolanin
Mike Munzenrider and Josh Wolanin
// The people of the OccupyMN protest //

Two tents, one marked “Stop Foreclosures Now,” blocked the intersection of South 6th Street and 2nd Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. Nearby, about 50 OccupyMN protestors chanted: “We are the 99 percent.”

It was the afternoon of Oct. 20, nearly two weeks into the OccupyMN protest. Downtown workers and passersby stood on corners taking photographs and video, while Minneapolis Police stood a short distance away.

Police issued multiple warnings to protesters, then moved in slowly and dismantled the tents, arresting the protesters inside without incident. Representatives of OccupyMN, an offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protest that began in New York City, said seven were arrested.

Randall Sanderson, 32 — who carried a sign reading, “Outlaw for-profit banks, join a credit union, abolish the Fed” — said the tents were placed on U.S. Bank Plaza to protest ongoing foreclosures the bank made while still reaping profit.

“It’s a classic example of the corporate greed in the system,” Sanderson said.

The OccupyMN protest began Oct. 7 on Government Plaza in front of the Hennepin County Government Center, a space renamed “People’s Plaza” by participants. The following is a look at some individuals who made up the movement the week of Oct. 17.


James, 24


The clinic sits in the western corner of People’s Plaza. Men and women, mostly dressed in black and wearing crosses of red electrical tape, work in the clinic organizing, chatting and helping the few injured people who make their way there.

James, 24, a full-time student who declined to give his last name, said he received medical training in the army, taking a course specifically about treating injuries in street protest situations. He enlisted at age 17 with the permission of his parents, served for three years and was deployed to Baghdad.

“I’ve treated femoral artery wounds in combat,” he said.

When OccupyMN began, James saw an opportunity to use his specific skills in a useful way. He said everyone he worked with in the plaza was either an emergency medical technician or had medical training.

James said most of injuries had been relatively minor, although there had been some head injuries and broken bones.

On the whole though, he said, “we’ve been doing a lot of mommy care.”

James had worked in the plaza since the protest against inequality began.

“Everyone that is here is after a larger goal,” he said. “We know what the problem is. We just disagree on how to deal with the problem.”


Clyde Christian, 21
Robert Dehne, 23

“Looks like you need a copy of The Constitution,” Clyde Christian said, cajoling a reporter. Christian and his friend Robert Dehne both traveled to Minneapolis from Rogers to show their support for OccupyMN.

Oct. 20 was their first day at OccupyMN. Both recently quit their jobs at ADESA, a car auction company.

“I read ‘Abuse of Power’ by Michael Savage and decided I was fed up, so I quit my job,” Christian said. “I think its ridiculous that we’re moving all our jobs to foreign countries. We need to stand up for our rights and for American jobs.”  

“We’re spending money that doesn’t exist,” he added later. “If you piled
$1 trillion up it would reach all the way to the moon and back halfway to Earth.

“Government spending is out of control. Income tax is a form of slavery.

“Under the 16th Amendment is a term known as involuntary servitude. Income tax is a form of this, in other words a form of slavery.”


Elizabeth “Bee” Powers, 53

On the Northwest corner of the “People’s Plaza” a bag check awaited protestors planning to stay for a day’s worth of events. Elizabeth “Bee” Powers was the friendly face jotting down names and securing possessions. Behind Powers sat a series of mattresses and storage bins covered in sheets of plastic in case of rain.

Powers said she was a former programmer and quality assurance representative for ADC, a telecommunications company recently bought out by Tyco Electronics.

“I came down here because I don’t want to leave this kind of world for my kids,” she said. “We need a government that works for us. Right now, we work for them.”

Powers was working hard on an attempt to allow tents in the plaza, offering protesters greater protection from the elements. Tents weren’t allowed by the county over concerns that law enforcement couldn’t see inside them, and that they could hide illegal activities.

Powers was looking forward to meeting with the county commissioner on Oct. 18.

“It’s understandable, but they even reject the idea of clear plastic tents,” she said. “The city has been far more cooperative than the county.”         


James Utphall, 56


Next to Bee at the bag check was James Utphall.

Utphall was in the military from 1974–1979. He was stationed in Korea, and during his deployment his commanding officer mentioned that he would be a good courier with his knowledge of Spanish and French.

“I traveled all across Europe,” Utphall said. “After that I decided to teach.”

Once out of the military, he finished his degree and set out to teach English in Europe.  

“I taught everywhere from The Hague to Germany,” he said, smiling.

But that was back in the early ’80s. Now, Utphall is without a job and diagnosed with lymphoma.

“I don’t have any healthcare, and I don’t want my children to go through these same problems,” Utphall said.  

After a brief moment of silence, he added: “I only have a year to live, so I believe I need to work hard now to make a difference.”

He had been at the protests since day one and was sleeping on People’s Plaza overnight.

“I have met a lot of great people out here,” he said. “It’s good to see the young people stand up for their rights.”