Occupy Detroit was cold, wet and miserable, and I miss it already!
By Neil Kiernan A.K.A VTV
So I had a free weekend and decided to check out the “Occupy” movement in Detroit Michigan, about thirty minutes from my home in Chesterfield. It was cold, wet, and miserable. And I miss it already. I dragged some friends along with me Friday the 28th of October to check out the movement in Detroit. I got into some wonderful conversations and met some wonderful people. One of those conversations you can see on video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uduqumOMuUE or listen to the audio version here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/v-radio/2011/10/29/v-radio-at-occupy-detroit. After staying out as late as my friends wanted to I realized I needed to come back. So I came back Saturday ready to camp for the rest of the weekend.
I ran into some friends of mine from the Michigan chapter of the Zeitgeist Movement and they helped show me around. I volunteered to help with their general assembly, which was a great experience. I came there intent on reporting on what I saw and networking with fellow activists and I got a lot of great material. I was invited to participate in many of their meetings and have already realized that Occupy Detroit is going to be a second home to me. I only wish I could get out there more often. For the moment I have obligations at home that will prevent me from being there except on the weekends.
One of my goals when I decided to spend the weekend out in the frigid cold of crime ridden downtown Detroit was to try and get a feel for who was really there. What sort of people gave up their lives at home to live in a tent city in Grand Circus Park? If you were to believe the mainstream media it would be only people who fit the description of “lazy kids who just need to find a job...” After conducting a couple dozen interviews it was clear that this was not the case. Not that this surprised me. It never surprises me when the main stream media lies to cover up anything that might reflect poorly on their corporate masters. I took a lot of notes and wanted to share them with members of the Zeitgeist movement and listeners of V-RADIO. These interviews were conducted usually while standing outside in the freezing cold with a pencil and paper, but such is the life of the independent journalist. But it was worth it to touch base with these people.
People like Robert. Robert is 52 years old. He worked hard all of his life in many jobs. But his final job was driving a truck for Steve's Van Lines. Eventually his company initiated a “lock out” telling the employees that they could not return to work without a 30% pay cut and loss of all health insurance benefits. He and his associates in UAW Union 243 fought this for over a year. And finally it ended with a buy out. He was unable to find more work and eventually along with many other Michigan residents lost his home and is now homeless. Though you would of never known it to look at him. This man did not fit the typical description or stereotypes of the homeless. He was articulate, lucid, and intelligent. And would absolutely love to go back to work. He told about how restrictive life is in the shelters he has to move in and out of. And that he does not see how anyone would ever choose to live that life.
Then there was Justin. 19 years old. He grew up in a low income situation, with no involvement from his father. His mother worked long hours and he barely saw her, so he was mostly raised by his grandmother. This fellow made a powerful impression on me. He was wise well beyond his years. And after talking to him he told me that he started caring about and following politics when he was about ten years old. The internet had a big impact on his socialization. He learned about Occupy Wall Street during a trip to Europe, and decided he needed to come home and be part of Occupy Detroit. I asked him about memorable moments from his time with Occupy and he mentioned the 1st general assembly as being a powerful occasion with many people from all walks of life banding together. He also spoke of the first major rain they had while living in the park and how despite the rain and cold he and his fellow activists toughed it out. Another moment he mentioned was when they had decided to move their “kitchen” from one side of the park to the other, everyone formed a line so that equipment could be moved hand to hand to the other side. It was a serious moment of cooperation and community as everyone came together to do what needed to be done.
Then we move on to Todd. He shared with me that he came to the Occupy movement on his Birthday October 19th and had not left since. He said all he had ever asked for was world peace, and that his life in the camp was the closest thing he had ever seen to it. And that it was the “free-est” he had ever seen America. When I asked him about anything special that stood out about his experiences there he talked about how peaceful the camp was, and how everyone took care of one another.
Then there was Regina. She was raised by a single mother and was one of four kids. Her mother committed suicide during her childhood due to financial stress. Despite that she had been a successful business woman throughout much of her life. Owning and operating various small businesses, and re-educating herself every time these businesses failed. This happened about four times before the economy fell apart and she was unable to make payments on her car, which eventually lead to her losing it, and then shortly afterward her work, and then finally, her home.
The fellow I shared a tent with was named Jeff. Jeff grew up in a home where his parents were always two paychecks away from being homeless. But through all of that he managed to get an education and holds a masters in Mechanical Engineering. But now he is unemployed due to nobody really building anything in Michigan. He has applications in three different states and is willing to move for work, but nobody is hiring. He also shared with me the story of his parents losing their home. Both were hard workers all their lives and when the economy crashed so to did their ability to survive. He learned about Occupy Detroit literally by walking into the park and asking what was going on. When I asked him about memorable experiences he said one of the things that touched him was the visits that the Occupy Detroit was getting from elderly people who were protestors from the 60's who came to give their support.
There was a gentlemen walking around with a sign that said “Ask me” so I did. His name was Steve. He came from a lower middle class family, in a single parent household, mostly raised by his grandmother. He has a Bachelor's in Sociology and works in wilderness therapy for troubled youths. He has been in Occupy Detroit since it's inception. He commented about how much he loved the strong sense of community in the camp and in the Occupy movement in general.
One of my more memorable conversations was with a man named Terry. Terry came from a family of eight children. Both of his parents worked hard at Chrysler throughout his childhood and they never went hungry but they were also always on the edge of struggling. Terry was plagued by problems with his insulin that would cause Diabetic seizures. These seizures are becoming steadily more and more frequent and severe, and despite being completely lucid and physically able to work even at the ripe age of 53, companies will not hire him because he is considered to be a liability. There quite literally is nothing he can do in the area. He learned about Occupy Detroit when they came into the park taking pictures of it as a possible site for the Occupy protests. He helped design the layout of the tent city and works diligently to help keep the place safe amidst the homeless and dispossessed of Detroit. His Parents were very excited that he became involved, his father being a Viet Nam veteran. When they learned of his involvement they donated two tents for his efforts and helped him with whatever he needed. He said the greatest thing about the work he was doing was that he felt for the first time in his life that he was really part of history.
Another highly memorable person I met was Lucianna, a nice 30 year old girl who despite her small stature seemed to be highly effective in the daunting task of patrolling the tent city along with other members involved with the volunteer security. Throughout the weekend I watched as she fearlessly stood up to people twice her size as needed to calm down any tensions that might of risen among the occupants, some of which were homeless people suffering from mental illness or too much alcohol. She mentioned her first major memory was the first direct action they did in the city. She watched as the police mobilized to try and contain the huge crowd that had gathered to march and it suddenly dawned on her just how big this thing she had become involved in was. She is very dedicated to her role of protecting the camp and taking care of everyone there and seeing to their safety, and she has some great people working with her.
To speak on the “vibe” of the situation is something difficult to put into words. I would say the first word that comes to mind is “profound”. The melding pot was so diverse. There was so much diversity of race, and backgrounds. There was a real sense of family among people who if asked three or four years ago if they had ever pondered camping in the middle of downtown Detroit would of laughed and thought that was silly. When work needed to be done for the community, people came together and got it done. If there was a violent incident due to the typical situations that come up in the ghetto that is Detroit the entire community responded to it with empathy and a clear head. I grew up in the worst parts of Pontiac Michigan and I have never felt as safe in a rough neighborhood as I did there.
The facilitation process was a system for consensus decision making that seemed to work pretty well. They devised a system of hand signals so that people could voice their feelings on a situation without all needing to talk at once. There was a real dedication to be sure that everyone was heard. And while it could be frustrating at times because if many people were participating it could be a slow and arduous process. But overall that frustration seemed to be worth it. It felt good when consensus was reached, as you could feel good about decisions that were made knowing that everyone was on the same page.
The accusations that the “Occupy” movement was disorganized and unfocused were proven to be absolutely bogus. I watched as groups of people came together for meetings without any previous agenda, they developed the agenda, reviewed and approved the agenda and then moved forward. Even if nobody who showed up for the meeting was at the previous meeting, they were able to continue to make progress on any and all projects that needed work.
It has now been a couple of days since I have been to the tent city that was my home away from home for three short days, and I can't get over the desire to go back. There was something about that place that was more “home” to me then I have felt in a long time. I encourage you to get involved in an “Occupy” near you. And I am proud to be part of “Occupy Detroit”.