Sunday, October 23, 2011

Occupy Detroit Activists Rally, Organize For Long Road Ahead

Occupy Detroit activists rally, organize for long road ahead

By Nick Meyer
Friday, 10.21.2011, 03:52am

DETROIT – On a cold, pitch black, rainy Wednesday night in what used to be one of America's most affluent cities but has now become the most visible symbol of its economic turmoil, activists from a wide variety of backgrounds met on the fourth floor of Central United Methodist Church to discuss the future of the Occupy Detroit movement.

"There's a saying going around here, Wall Street is the source and Detroit is the result," said activist Alex Aniol of Hamtramck, a freshman at Wayne State University.

Aniol greeted visitors to an installation of about 60 tents at Grand Circus Park on Woodward across from the church where Wednesday night's general assembly meeting packed in about 150 people.

She had hoped to see a larger group of activists in the city, but acknowledged that the weather was a major factor. But inside the church, activists planned to take their occupation to the next level.

Proposals for working groups were brought before the general assembly including one for a City Planning, Engineering, and Logistics group by Nathan Fancy of Detroit. He even suggested that the group could construct some sort of "power plant" in order to prepare for the winter.

"We might as well make it more comfortable, because it's going to be our home," he said. Activists said they planned to occupy Grand Circus Park until at least December.

The Occupy Detroit movement started as a branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement that sparked protests both domestic and worldwide against corporate greed, foreclosures, out-of-control banking policies siphoning wealth from the middle and lower classes, and more.

It all kicked off with a march of more than 1,000 people from the Spirit of Detroit statue on Friday to the park where tents were set up and the makings of a new miniature society began coming together.

The protesters turned their unity into action on Tuesday as dozens marched down to Detroit's Guardian Building to protest Bank of America, which has its downtown branch there. Speaking out against taxpayer bailouts of the big banks, some destroyed bank cards and encouraged others to transfer their money to community financial institutions.

At Wednesday's meeting, Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire, proclaimed a small victory group members had earned.

"The Bank of America protest went very, very well...we won a loan modification for a home owner from the bank," he said.

A further protest at the same bank on Friday demanding a moratorium on bank foreclosures was announced along with a rally at the Fisher Building downtown in support of students who are buried in government loans due to the poor economy.

Mohamad Idriss of Fordson High School in Dearborn went along with 10 fellow members of the Fordson Club of Political Science to Friday's event. Idriss said he's followed the Occupy Wall Street movement and believes that it has a chance to grow into something even bigger.

"We went to stand in solidarity with Occupy Wallstreet movement , hoping to show that their movement isn't dealing with just a fringe group of people complaining about the economy and how things are run," he said.

"These problems are on a national scale so all those affected should stand up, I know this is history in the making and if enough people show, this is going to be America's 'Arab Spring.'"

Idriss and other members of the group planned to spend the night at some point during the weekend.

While the social and economic conditions of the Occupy movement aren't as bad in most areas as they were in places like Egypt and Tunisia for example, many protesters have pointed to the Arab Spring as an ideal of what a truly effective grassroots protest movement against government, corporate, and banking-based greed should look like.

"Before all the 'Occupy' stuff started up I was watching the Arab Spring, especially the events in Cairo and that was just beautiful to me," Aniol said.

"I could see why we could definitely draw inspiration from in America we're taught to believe that everything is fine and that we're not being oppressed also but that's not the case anymore."

While the Occupy Detroit movement is still in the process of defining itself and hoping to gain back some of the support it had in the early going if not more for the future, ideas springing forth which each passing day as activists ranging from elderly holistic doctors to middle-age African American housewives to college freshmen and everything in-between keep the conversations productive and flowing.

Plans for a newsletter to be published within the next week and further coordination with similar movements in the state have already been discussed.

"First of all I just want to say that this movement is a beautiful thing and it's happening all over from Flint to Lansing and Ann Arbor (along with New York)," said Zack Winchester, who presented ideas on how to collaborate with those movements.

"Maybe at some point we can converge because it's important that we all stay connected to each other."

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