Occupy Duluth protesters set up tents in Civic Center

The occupation has begun. A handful of protesters from the recently formed Occupy Duluth were setting up tents on the Civic Center grounds late Saturday afternoon in preparation for their first all-night stay. Tyler Nord, one of the group's organ...

At the protest
Codie Leseman of Duluth plays his drum set during the Occupy Duluth protest Saturday at Lake Superior Plaza at Superior Street and Lake Avenue. (Clint Austin /

The occupation has begun.

A handful of protesters from the recently formed Occupy Duluth were setting up tents on the Civic Center grounds late Saturday

afternoon in preparation for their first all-night stay.

Tyler Nord, one of the group's organizers, said he thought about 20 people would spend the night. The bulk of the group, which assembled at Lake Superior Plaza at Lake Avenue and Superior Street at 9 a.m., planned to stay at the plaza until midnight, Nord said. Then campers would move to the Civic Center.

Nord was angry because police had told the group that if anyone stayed overnight at the plaza, which is partially owned by Minnesota Power, they'd no longer be permitted to camp on any city property.


"If individuals take that action, we as a group run the risk of

losing our First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble 24 hours a day," Nord said.

The whole group shouldn't be penalized if a few people choose to spend the night at what the group calls "People's Power Place," he said.

Occupy Duluth is an offshoot of Occupy Wall Street, the movement that began in New York City in September. It's loosely organized with leadership decisions made by consensus at what the group calls a general assembly each evening. The group embraces various causes, from environmentalism to anti-war, but its overarching concern is economic disparity.

"It's the way things have been set up," said Dennis Leahy, 57, of Duluth, a computer programmer who was among about 30 protesters at the plaza earlier Saturday afternoon. "It's not an accident. It's been set up on purpose so the elite can control the country from the top down. I've been tired of it for a long time. I'm very glad that a lot of people have grown so tired of it that they're willing to stand up and scream about it."

But Leahy wouldn't be spending the night, he said.

"There's a number of people that are intrepid and have the physical stamina and the ability to handle winter camping," Leahy said. "I no longer have it."

Kirsten Aune, 43, of Duluth said with children and animals at home, she couldn't do an overnight stay either. "That's for the young ones," she said. "There could be some troupers. ... The thing that's too bad is that they don't allow fires."


A campfire might have felt good overnight at the Civic Center. The National Weather Service was calling for a low around 38 along with a west wind around 15 mph, gusting to 20 mph.

Duluth native Jay Benson, 25, was undaunted. Benson, who was accompanied by his dog, Pin, said he was homeless "by choice" and would be spending the night at the Civic Center. He already has participated in Occupy Wall Street, where he was on the sanitation team.

"I know for a fact that we kept it cleaner than the city workers had," Benson said. "I woke up and took out trash every morning."

Benson said occupying Duluth in the cold would be "incredibly challenging," but added: "The longer we're here and the more persistently we remain ... community outreach opportunities will arise."

Protesters were in high spirits Saturday afternoon, waving signs, chanting, playing drums and guitars and responding with cheers to motorists who honked as they drove by. There was a reunion: Victoria Ciurleo was handing out tickets to a play at Hermantown Community Church when she encountered Veronica Smith, a classmate from their Denfeld High School days she hadn't seen in 10 years. Smith was part of Occupy Duluth representing Protect Our Manoomin, which she said is opposed to mining in Northeastern Minnesota.

One of Duluth's best-known musicians came by. Alan Sparhawk of the indie rock group Low said he came to the plaza because "I figured I'd find some friends. And sure enough I know at least half the people. They're all people who care."

The movement represents people's desire for change, Sparhawk said. "I think a lot of people may look at it as a bit absurd, like what is it changing, what is it doing?" he said. "And I think the answer to that is, 'What else is there to do?' "

Occupy Duluth plans to maintain a daily presence at the plaza for the foreseeable future, organizers said. That could create an interesting juxtaposition on Monday, when the king and queen of Norway will arrive just up the street at Norway Hall.


"I'll greet them as a human being with human respect," Leahy said of that prospect. "I'm not here to laud or razz royalty. They don't matter in my life."

Girl with sign
Forestasia Aune, 8, of Duluth holds up her handmade sign during the Occupy Duluth protests Saturday at the Minnesota Power plaza on the corner of Superior Street and Lake Avenue. (Clint Austin /

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