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Regional Occupy conference promises return of protesters to Kiener, Arch and 'the streets'

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, March 14, 2012 - Almost four months to the day after their removal from Kiener Plaza, several dozen activists with the Occupy movement returned to the park to outline their plans for a regional conference about to get underway.

Alyssa Cohn of Florissant is one of the activists who’s glad to get back into the groove. “I’m really excited,” said Cohn, 18. “It’s kind of like rebirthing itself.”

Occupy participants from at least 18 groups around the Midwest are expected to converge on St. Louis, beginning Thursday, for several days of workshops, rallies and demonstrations.

The four-day event is called Occupy The Midwest.

Rachael Perotta, with the Chicago Occupy group, said the conference's aim is to “take the Occupy movement to the next level.”

Among other things, she said, the various Midwest groups are “hoping to speak with a more unified voice.”

The conference's sessions are expected to include 30 workshops, including “information sharing” and “media relations skills.”

The sessions will be held around St. Louis. But the kickoff is slated for 10 a.m. Thursday in Kiener Plaza. Later in the day, at 5 p.m., a march to the Arch will depart from Kiener. A rally follows on the Arch grounds.

Kiener Plaza housed Occupy’s tent city last fall; the police dismantled the encampment in mid-November.

The Occupy activists marched and rallied to protest corporate overreach and policies that favor the economic well-being of 1 percent over the 99 percent.

The Midwest conference is slated to kick off a new round of Occupy activities focusing on certain corporations. Zach Chasnoff, a local painter active in the movement, said that Bank of America and Monsanto Co. will be among the companies targeted with “actions” over the course of the weekend. He declined to provide further details, citing security.

Chasnoff said that Occupy Wall Street, the parent of the local groups, has called for a focus on Monsanto for “various reasons, most of them dealing with control of the food supply.”

Reese Forbes, an activist with Veterans for Peace, said he and other members of his group plan to join in the Occupy conference. "I hope we can get the money out of the hands of the corporations that send us to war," he said.

Perotta said the regional conference is being held in St. Louis because its activists were first to propose the idea. Organizers don’t know how many participants to expect. About 500 people have registered on Facebook, the main social-media site for the conference,Chasnoff said.

Perotta said the focus will be on organizing, not numbers. “If we have one person from every one of the organizations that endorsed the conference, it will be a success,” she said.

“Winter was a time for internal organizing,” Perotta continued. “Spring is a time to go back to the streets.”

Jo Mannies has been covering Missouri politics and government for almost four decades, much of that time as a reporter and columnist at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. She was the first woman to cover St. Louis City Hall, was the newspaper’s second woman sportswriter in its history, and spent four years in the Post-Dispatch Washington Bureau. She joined the St. Louis Beacon in 2009. She has won several local, regional and national awards, and has covered every president since Jimmy Carter. She scared fellow first-graders in the late 1950s when she showed them how close Alaska was to Russia and met Richard M. Nixon when she was in high school. She graduated from Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana, and was the daughter of a high school basketball coach. She is married and has two grown children, both lawyers. She’s a history and movie buff, cultivates a massive flower garden, and bakes banana bread regularly for her colleagues.

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