Occupy Denver celebrity visitor: Representative Wes McKinley pitches his teepee

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"But what do they stand for? I thought this was about Wall Street?" That was the plaintive cry of one woman who'd headed down to the Occupy Denver camp last night and wound up listening to one of the general assembly meetings, where this leaderless group tries to grapple with the nitty-gritty issues of food and shelter rather than the high-minded discussions she was looking for. Democracy is not tidy, as Representative Wes McKinley could tell you.

I was sitting on the sidelines with McKinley, the first politician to pitch a tent -- in his case, a teepee -- on the site. "I had to go to the office anyway," says the rep from southeastern Colorado, who was uniquely suited to a night or two of camping -- he's a teacher and a rancher who often leads overnight trail rides.

McKinley is also the man who became the foreman of the Rocky Flats Grand Jury, the group of citizens who spent two years grappling with the evidence seized from Rocky Flats, then an operating nuclear weapons plant, in a spectacular dawn raid by the FBI and EPA back in 1989. They'd decided to indict eight individuals for alleged environmental crimes when the Department of Justice suddenly shut down the grand jury and sealed a deal with Rockwell International, which was then running the plant.

No, democracy is not tidy.

McKinley knows that from his time with the grand jury, and his time at the legislature, where he's tried to lasso lawmakers on a variety of topics. And so, while he sat under the almost full moon during the last of the general assembly, listening to the disappointed woman asking for an Occupy Denver platform -- not to mention a Porta-Potty -- he was waiting and watching for themes to emerge, leaders to emerge.

Democracy is not tidy, but from the mess comes a critical mass.

More from our Calhoun: Wake-Up Call archive: "Occupy Denver endorses Colorado American Indian Movement's indigenous proposal."

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