OccupyMN turned back by bank

Planned sit-down at Wells Fargo was thwarted and no arrests were made. Statewide protests set for Saturday.

Getting arrested for civil disobedience is not as easy as it used to be.

Four hundred protesters chanting "Bust up big banks!" marched through downtown Minneapolis to Wells Fargo Bank on Friday, some intent on getting arrested by staging a sit-down in the bank. But the bank locked its doors.

About 200 protesters then sat down in the intersection at 6th Street S. and Marquette Avenue. But instead of arresting them, police diverted traffic.

"We'll stand here and let them have their First Amendment rights," said Minneapolis Police Inspector Kris Arneson. "I don't think they will be here that long."

She was right. After 20 minutes, they got up and marched to the Hennepin County Government Center plaza, site of OccupyMN, a protest against corporate power.

"I feel so bad ... why don't they want to arrest us?" said Sunday Alabi, 61.

"We're a kinder, gentler Minnesota," said protester Colleen Nocerini, 54, a school cook.

Greg Nammacher, secretary-treasurer of Service Employees International Union Local 26, called the protest, organized by Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, the biggest local protest in years against banks.

Relations with authorities will be tested again Saturday, when protesters say they plan to pitch tents on the Hennepin County Government Center plaza, defying an order not to do so. County Administrator Richard Johnson said if tents go up, deputies and county security will ask that they be taken down, and if they aren't, the tents will be taken down for them. If protesters interfere with that process, they'll be arrested, he said.

Hennepin County Sheriff Rich Stanek said, "Ninety-nine percent of the people are lawful and orderly, and they want to exercise their free speech. It's the one percent who want to create conflict or raise it to the level of arrest. We have no interest in engaging the one percent."

OccupyMN protests were scheduled around the state, many organized through social media like Facebook.

In Brainerd, more than 50 people protested Wednesday. In Duluth, there were rallies of about 50 people on Wednesday and Thursday; more were scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

Facebook pages were also created for Occupy movements in Rochester, St. Cloud, Mankato, Marshall, Bemidji and Fergus Falls.

"I think, even the small towns, whether or not they are content with the way things are happening here, they still have to admit that whatever happens elsewhere in our country has an effect on people here," said Josh Johnson, 25, an organizer in Marshall. He shied away from calling the local events "protests," saying people with all opinions will be welcome.

In Mankato, a few dozen people are expected to rally Saturday. "It's important to show you don't have to be in a big city to have these same concerns," said organizer Katy Clay, 30, an English composition teacher at Mankato State University.

rfurst@startribune.com • 612-673-4424

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