In a scene being repeated in cities across America, a dozen or so tents are pitched in Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis. Signs, banners and protesters surround the area. This is the command center for Occupy St. Louis. Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street protests in New York City, this group of activists first gathered on Oct. 1 and has maintained a presence in downtown ever since. A small group has stayed both night and day, with others coming and going as their schedules allow.
Last night a call to action went out; the St. Louis police had suggested that protesters would be ejected from Kiener Plaza at 10pm. When I arrived at 9:45 pm, more than one hundred people had gathered to support the peaceful demonstration. The group held a general assembly to decide how to react if the police did come. Decisions were made by consensus, with all ideas and concerns being considered. This is truly a leaderless movement.
I asked Cori why he was there. He said he was there because of the concentration of wealth at the top and because the democratic system "is so controlled by money that most of us feel locked out of the process."
It's a common theme at Occupy St. Louis. People are not just frustrated with the economy, they fear that corporate America's influence in politics has perverted the election process. Most Americans have come to accept that money controls politics and there's nothing we can do about it. These Americans are challenging that mentality.
I asked Cori about criticism from the media that protesters haven't released a short list of well defined demands.
"This is just the beginning" he replied, "You can't have a movement where one person stands up and says 'we're going to have a movement and these are our demands'. We have to bring people together first, and then decide, as a group, what we want. I believe in democracy."
This may be the most "radical" aspect of the the OWS movement, the concept that everyone should be heard. Not just the loudest voices or the strongest voices, every voice.
The Occupy Wall Street movement seems to agree on what the problems are. The New York group issued a "Declaration of the Occupation of New York". It contained a list of grievances against Corporate America and the government that they say need to be addressed.
"We're growing" Cori says, "37 countries and 48 states, as of today." Earlier he had seen the presidential procession go by. "They went by really fast."
A few blocks away from the protest, at the Renaissance Grand Hotel, President Obama had been at a political fund raiser. From there he went to a fundraising dinner at the home of Tom Carnahan. The cost of sitting down at the dinner table with President Obama? $25,000.