‘Occupy’ Movement Takes Hold Across Michigan

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(Courtesy of The Detroit News)

Ian Magnuson, right, joins more than 300 protesters Wednesday outside of Bank of America in Kalamazoo.

They’re occupying Detroit, Kalamazoo, Lansing and places in between.

The grassroots movement started on Wall Street that has spread across the nation is cropping up in scores of cities across Michigan.

Residents who say they are exasperated with America’s corporate forces and income disparities demonstrated Wednesday near financial institutions in downtown Kalamazoo. Grand Rapids residents held their first march Tuesday, and daily marches are planned. On Friday, Detroit and Flint residents are planning “occupations” through sit-ins and protests — the same day President Barack Obama will be in Metro Detroit to tour auto plants.

And some are camping out at Reutter Park in preparation for the Lansing occupation on Saturday.

“I want true change in this country,” said Precious Daniels, a member of the Occupy Detroit movement. “I’m unemployed, my husband is working for $7.75 an hour, and things have to get better. No one in Washington is listening to people like me and my husband. The middle class is tired of being squeezed.”

Group wants taxes on rich

Nearly 20 Facebook pages have been created for occupy groups in Michigan, including Flint, Saginaw, Sault Ste. Marie, Traverse City and the Upper Peninsula. They join at least 1,367 communities nationally in some stage of occupy protest planning or preparation, according to occupytogether.org, an umbrella page for various occupy movements.

Many have criticized the movement, saying it lacks focus and diversity.

Occupy Detroit organizers disagree, saying they are working to rally people of color, and issues are being defined by the needs of each community.

Harper Woods resident Jonpaul Barrabee said he is excited about being involved in a movement working to tax the rich more.

“It’s something that I believe has been important for a long time, but too taboo to talk about in public until now,” said Barrabee.

Many involved said the movement is a call for justice, parity and change.

That’s why several local labor union leaders said they are supporting the effort.

“(Unions) made the middle class, but because of what’s happening on Wall Street, that middle class is dwindling,” said Saundra Williams, president of the Metropolitan Detroit AFL-CIO, which formally endorsed Occupy Detroit. “Because of what’s happening on Wall Street, the number of people working is also dwindling.

“People need to understand that impacts everybody. When somebody gets laid off or when Wall Street does something that impacts folks that reflect them losing their houses to foreclosure … all of this is connected and tied into our economy and has something to do with lowering our tax base, our total quality and standard of life.”

Rally Saturday at Capitol

Protesters have been camping out on Wall Street in New York City since Sept. 17. They have aimed to highlight corporate greed, citing the need to increase taxes on the nation’s wealthiest 1 percent.

Taking a cue from the revolutions during the Arab Spring demonstrations in the Middle East, protesters have been using social media and the Internet to organize, communicate and ultimately “restore democracy in America,” according to www.occupywallst.org.

Asked by a Kalamazoo newspaper what he thought about the movement, Gov. Rick Snyder said he hopes it is peaceful. Similar protests in other states have led to arrests.

“I just hope they do it in a respectful fashion,” Snyder said in a video posted online this week. “It’s part of the democratic process … just do it in a peaceful way.

“We hope that when they come here, we can have them make their point.”

In Lansing, a small group pitched tents in Reutter Park, a few blocks from the state Capitol. More people are expected to occupy the park on Saturday, when protesters will rally on the Capitol lawn at 10 a.m.

Joshua LaVigne, 27, of Delta Township, has been sleeping nightly at the park since Friday. He said he’s a University of Michigan graduate, but can’t find a job.

“I now have more than $100,000 in student debt,” he said. “It’s not that I can’t get an interview, but they can’t afford to hire anybody without a decade of experience.”

At the first general assembly of Occupy Detroit held earlier this week, hundreds of people attended and most volunteered to be part of working groups addressing issues such as legal, medical and community outreach.

No lists or demands have been created yet because this is the beginning of a long process, said Scott Purdy, an Occupy Detroit participant.

“The big umbrella movement that brought all of us together is now spawning local dialogue,” said Purdy. “Detroit needs this movement because Detroit’s been fighting an uphill struggle for many, many years with declining industries and a declining population. There’s a chance to get the voices of the Detroit people heard.”

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