by Ryan Felton
The debut of Occupy Detroit on the growing national protest scene could be chalked up as organized confusion. But amidst the chaos, attendees presented a genuine case for what might come of the now month-long movement.
After the first General Assembly meeting was held at the Spirit of Hope Church Oct. 10, plans for the occupation of Grand Circus Park were cemented.
Initially, the organizers set for a march at 6 p.m. Friday from the Coleman A. Young Municipal Center toward Grand Circus Park. An hour earlier than the scheduled time, half of the surprisingly large turnout started heading north on Woodward Ave. pausing to rally for 10 minutes between Grand River Ave. and State Street.
A few volunteers appeared baffled by the sudden move, but nonetheless the remaining crowd followed suit. Plenty of signs were held high in the march, including: “Squat The World,” “Give Me Back My Future” and “Jobs, Not Cuts.”
Incessant, at some points deafening, car honks of support cluttered the air during the 30-minute march, the honks answered by enthusiastic cheers. The crowd that lined Woodward chanted “What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like” and “End the war, tax the rich.”
“I think people have been so discouraged and disenfranchised and are using this as a way to wake up,” said Wayne State University English professor John Patrick Leary. “This is just the beginning.”
The diverse group, quite similar to the turnout at Occupy Wall Street, included a major youth contingent. The burden of student-loans was often cited as issues.
As Midian Koscho put it: “I’d like to be able to go to school without having to sell a kidney.”
Demonstrators continually justified their dawdling approach to issuing a “list of demands,” saying that this allows the viral movement to continue flourishing and gain more attention.
“It’s a start,” said former construction worker of the Laborer’s Local Union 1191 Durwood Gray. “They’re going to have to get the crooks out. The economy’s being thrown to the dogs.”
Gray said he previously worked inside the Madison building before being laid off. He said current workers on projects he would’ve played a role in earn one-third of his former hourly wage.
The police presence was high during the march, as a half-dozen cars followed down Woodward. But, by the conclusion, most had dispersed leaving the handful of tents pitched on the west side of Grand Circus Park, seemingly in the clear for the first night of occupation.
“I like the message ‘We are the 99 percent,'” retired teacher April Smith said. “The disparity is terrible. This is the beginning. ... It’s too bad that winter’s coming.”
While the initial march indeed ran earlier than expected, the General Assembly planned to start at 7 p.m. seemed to get off to a slow start. The crowd was far more eclectic and seemed less unified than at the Spirit of Hope Church when first meeting held Monday.
Detroit organizers, unlike their counterparts on on Wall Street, can use megaphones. It helped when attempts to use the “human microphone” technique glorified by the flagship Manhattan group were interrupted by cheers and chants from small groups focused on separate topics from the itinerary. The group showing support for legalization of marijuana rallied for a few minutes, chanting, “Marijuana, yes we wanna.”
But, after the meeting got into full swing, the remaining crowd of 300-500 was introduced to the guidelines of General Assembly meetings, and discussions got underway.
Banking institutions were not given any slack whatsoever, apparently being the main societal problem in most demonstrators' eyes.
“The banks went to Washington and changed the laws,” said retired clinical social worker Bob Sisler. “We bail out the financial institution, then they turn around and put the blame on us.”
Sisler felt a point could’ve really been sent to the government on Detroit’s initial day of joining the OWS movement.
“This would work if when we came down Woodward people got out of their cars and joined us,” he said. “That would’ve sent the message that we’re pissed off and enough is enough.”