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Occupy New Hampshire: Hot Dogs, Guns And No Leaders

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Monday night's meeting of the Occupy New Hampshire General Assembly | Arthur Delaney

MANCHESTER, N.H. -- Christina Altieri introduced herself to the crowd gathered Monday night in Veterans Memorial Park here for Occupy New Hampshire's daily General Assembly meeting. She'd come because she'd lost her job.

"I just got laid off from working at the girl's shelter," Altieri, 22, told the crowd, which made itself into a "people's mic" and repeated her every word. "The shelter closed due to a lack of funding."

The Antrim Girls Shelter, where Altieri worked as a residential counselor, closed earlier this month after it lost funding due to a decline in referrals from the state. Altieri told HuffPost she thought it unfair society would take away resources from girls in need. For her part, she said she had enough money for November's rent but not any more.

Each of the 30 people who came to Monday's meeting brought a different angle on the same basic gripe: The country's economic and political system is tilted in favor of the richest 1 percent and against the remaining 99 percent. It's the "Live Free or Die" state's version of Occupy Wall Street, the movement for 99 percenters that launched in New York City last month. Occupy New Hampshire kicked off on Oct. 15 in the park. Last week, several Occupiers were arrested for disobeying Manchester's 11 p.m. curfew.

"I think a lot of people have grievances with the economic system in America," said Mike Segal, a 25-year-old software engineer who lives in Manchester. "I think it's encouraging to see people with varying viewpoints display solidarity toward common goals."

Segal is one of the Occupiers who has brought guns to meetings, a matter of much debate within the group. (New Hampshire laws allow gun owners to openly carry firearms.) On Monday Segal's black Bersa Thunder 380 handgun stuck out against his gray Old Navy sweatshirt, khaki pants, and scuffed white sneakers.

"It's not an issue central to this protest, but it is a personal statement in that I think people should take advantage of their rights," Segal said. He'd like to see power taken away from the Federal Reserve.

The Occupiers had a 15-minute food break halfway through their three-hour General Assembly meeting. Joseph Burns, 48, supplied 88 hot dogs, a dutch oven full of wild rice, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and hot coffee. "When people break bread together they get more energy," he said.

They needed the fuel: It was a cold and drizzly evening, and much of the meeting was taken up with sorting out logistics between the group's 11 committees, which include panels for media, logistics, outreach, and arts. The Occupiers also devoted a good chunk of time to planning a march through Manchester on Saturday.

The meeting was live-streamed on the group's website via a laptop computer set up on a garbage can by Mark, a 39-year-old who declined to give his last name. He said he was a registered Republican, adding that he liked how a diverse group of people had come together seeking "common ideas for social and economic change."

Elizabeth Edwards, 22, described herself as the group's "de facto treasurer" and said they'd raised about $1,500 online and with in-person donations. She described herself as a libertarian anarchist and said she's been looking for work since moving to Manchester a month ago.

Edwards raised the idea of incorporating the group or getting a credit union account, saying it was something she'd heard others discuss. Kathryn Talbert, 48, talked about registering as a nonprofit. Several Occupiers complained reporters and others would assume that the few people whose names would have to appear on registration forms were the group's leaders. Everybody agreed that the group must remain leaderless.

Talbert, a contractor, said she was an activist during the welfare reform debate in the 1990s, when she was a struggling welfare mom with three kids. "I've been waiting for a movement like this for quite a while."

Arthur Delaney is the author of "A People's History of the Great Recession," HuffPost's first e-book.