Face of Occupy protests was inspired to take action

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 25, 2011 - 9:55 PM

"It was about time," said Osha Karow, who saw the Wall Street protests and helped found OccupyMN.

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Osha Karow, at the OccupyMinneapolis protest site on Friday, said he wishes people who shout at the demonstrators would stop to talk.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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It was still shirt-sleeve weather in late September when a few dozen activists gathered in a south Minneapolis park, brought together by announcements on Facebook, Twitter, a few blogs and a new website called OccupyMN.org.

Osha Karow, 23, who registered the website for $12.99, chose Stevens Square Park because he was short on money for gas and it was only a few blocks from his apartment.

Out of the two-hour meeting has grown a scraggly encampment on the Hennepin County Government Center plaza -- the Minneapolis version of the Occupy Wall Street protest.

The local protest has aggravated county officials for nearly two months and put a local face on a movement that has branded the nation's corporate elite the chief cause of America's economic woes. Sometimes hundreds rally on the plaza; other times the presence shrinks to less than 20.

Tweeting it all is Karow, a red-bearded former student at Southwest State University in Marshall, who suffers from internal bleeding related to a kidney problem and has no health insurance. He reflects the angst of a young generation, many of whom are saddled with debt and disturbed by what they see as injustice. Karow says he owes $10,000 in medical bills and $25,000 in student loans.

Despite disputes around whether Occupy protesters can erect tents or signs, local law enforcement agencies and protesters have not had pitched battles, unlike their counterparts in some other U.S. cities.

County Sheriff Rich Stanek has met with Karow a few times "He has always advocated nonviolence," said Stanek, who has expressed concern about others.

One night last month protesters put up tents, and in the wee hours of the morning deputies and county security staff started to take them down.

"The day we assisted in starting to remove the tents," said Stanek, "the protesters had their arms locked and started chanting, 'Give the police a raise.' I had to tell my troops that we had to stop and pause for a minute, because we wanted to hear what they had to say. There are a lot of ironies in this thing."

Karow grew up in Faribault. Last year he changed his first name from Jared to "Osha," a mountainous plant said to have medicinal properties. He said his stepfather beat him and once, when he was 12, threw him against a dresser. The bleeding, believed to be related to the kidney problem, developed after that, he said.

Karow says people sometimes yell, "Go get a job!" at protesters as they drive by the plaza. He says he wished they'd stop to talk "and understand what we're trying to do."

He said he worked three jobs while going to college but left school last year, unable to work enough hours because of his illness and unable to qualify for medical insurance.

Karow said he was working at a local group home in September when he learned of the Occupy Wall Street protests. "I thought it was about time," he said. "It was nice to see nonviolent individuals stand up."

He saw reports from Chicago and other cities and found Twitter and Facebook accounts set up by three people in Duluth who were promoting an OccupyMN movement. He and the Duluth contingent talked about staging some local actions.

"You definitely need someone to take the reins, and that's what he did for a while," said Tony Boicourt, one of the individuals from Duluth.

After the Stevens Square Park meeting, OccupyMN began on Oct. 7. The group hashes out issues at general assemblies and recently renamed itself OccupyMinneapolis. After some weeks, Karow stepped back from a central role to work on the statewide OccupyMN website and help out where he can.

The bleeding continues, and he recently visited the Hennepin County Medical Center emergency room.

April Lukes-Streich, 28, who has been involved in the local movement since the beginning, accompanied him to the hospital. "It was pretty scary," she said.

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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