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'Occupy' movement reaches Duluth

People fill the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street in Duluth for the Occupy Duluth demonstration Wednesday at Lake Superior Plaza in Duluth. The demonstration mirrors those that started on Wall Street and have sprung up in cities across the nation. (Clint Austin /

Almost 100 Northlanders gathered at Lake Superior Plaza in Duluth on Wednesday to add their voices to the growing national unrest over the U.S. economy and the role of Wall Street and banking interests.

Chanting "they got a bailout, we got sold out" and "we are the 99 percent," the protesters gathered under the banner of Occupy Duluth at what was officially declared Wednesday to be a public plaza at the corner of Lake Avenue and Superior Street.

Some of the crowd scattered when a downpour hit and lightning flashed just minutes into the event, but many returned to wave back at passing drivers who honked their approval and gave a thumbs-up.

David Reisenweber of Duluth said he attended because government has grown out of touch with common people.

"Our government doesn't represent the people any more. It represents banks and the military establishment," he said.

Anne Fryberger of Duluth, an investment adviser and former broker who has been in the business for 25 years, held a sign saying she supported the Occupy Wall Street objective.

"I'm not against capitalism. I'm against the part of capitalism that can't get enough and gets more and more by taking it from everyone else," she said. "The whole system is predatory. I believe the middle class is losing ground in this country and we need to stop it."

The local event was another in a national series of spinoffs from the occupy Wall Street camp that started Sept. 17 in New York City.

Leaders of Occupy Duluth and other groups met after the rally Wednesday to discuss starting an "occupation camp" but did not make a decision on when that would start or where it would be, said Joel Kilgour, longtime Duluth activist who is supporting the group.

"I think it's safe to say it will happen, but we don't have any details yet," Kilgour said.

Earlier this week it appeared Wednesday's rally might be more controversial after Minnesota Power erected No Trespassing signs that claimed much of the plaza, just outside the utility's corporate headquarters, was private property and that trespassers would be prosecuted.

City officials countered that the city had an easement to the plaza and declared it open for public protests, and the signs came down early Wednesday.

"This is the people's plaza and it's open for us to use," Duluth City Councilor Sharla Gardner said through a bull horn.

It's not clear who took the signs down. Both city and Minnesota Power officials said they didn't do it. But the point quickly became moot.

"The city has an easement to use the entire plaza, and it has decided to exercise that right and allow demonstrators," said Amy Rutledge, Minnesota Power spokeswoman.

Officer Jim Hansen, Duluth Police spokesman, said city staff and administration met to discuss the situation and decided that it made sense to allow the group to assemble at Lake Superior Plaza.

"They want to exercise their First Amendment rights, and we respect those rights," he said.

But the city has advised demonstrators that the plaza, like other public spaces in Duluth, will be closed for use between midnight and 6 a.m.

"We're not expecting them to overnight camp, and no open burning will be allowed," said Hansen, noting that these ground rules had been shared with organizers of the event.

A small counter protest of about seven Tea Party activists was held at the same time as the Occupy Duluth rally, across Lake Avenue. The group, including Republican candidate and activist Becky Hall, held signs supporting capitalism and criticizing President Obama.