“We are the 99 percent,” rang out through the streets of Lansing on Oct. 15. Accompanied by a police escort, nearly 500 people gathered at the Michigan Capitol building to participate in Occupy Lansing, a spin off of the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has been going on for over a month.
Families, union workers, veterans and college students were among those in attendance. Eight Albion College students participated in the Lansing demonstration while nineteen showed up in Detroit a day earlier.
Nick Perry, Brownstown sophomore, was one of the leaders responsible for gathering Albion students to attend the rallies.
“When we met last Wednesday (about attending the protests), we were shocked to see that nearly forty students showed up to our meeting,” Perry said.
I attended the meeting as well as the Lansing demonstration to see what it was all about.
“We stress that we’re students,” Perry said. “We don’t represent an official group, but rather a general assembly.”
Upon arriving in Lansing, I learned the crowd’s grievances included corporate greed, the collapse of the middle class, and the “hijacking” of the federal government. While the turnout was significantly less than I hoped, the scene was nonetheless inspiring. Several people gave articulate and effective speeches, and the depth of their research and knowledge was evident.
Lansing Mayor Virg Benero spoke, commending attendees for their activism.
“You deserve better,” Virg Benero said. “…America deserves better. And thank God you’re here to fight for it.”
Sara Feldman, Ann Arbor native, urged the audience to move their money from big banks to community banks and local credit unions. Her inspiring speech went beyond frustration with the state of our country as she offered a practical course of action that the average dissatisfied citizen could take to send a message to big banks.
“It’s time for us to starve the beast,” Feldman said. “So let’s stop giving big banks our money for bonuses and bribes to our government. We can decide whether to do this as a collective action, or several collective actions, or individually — but let’s take out our money.”
Activist Kat Sluka, Muskegon native, was in attendance at the rally. She also has participated in the Occupy Wall Street movement. Sluka shared a harrowing account of her experiences with police abuse at Occupy Wall Street. She was arrested twice. In both instances, the arresting officer did not follow proper procedure, and she endured sexual harassment from the NYPD.
“I hope all of you feel this infectious disease that is occupation,” Sluka said. “Because this is just the beginning: we are rallying, we are marching, we are demonstrating. We are doing what our foremothers and forefathers have paved the way for us to do.”
The students I accompanied to Lansing were passionate and eager to offer whatever they could to the movement. One student met with a socialist group in attendance and headed to their meeting held a few blocks away. Another had a megaphone in his hand as he looked for volunteers to donate food, tents and transportation to occupants of Lansing’s Reutter Park.
Although the crowd was overwhelmingly white, protest organizers made efforts to ensure that the voices of any non-majority participants were heard. Interaction between police and the crowd remained peaceful.
The Occupy Lansing stitched together those of all classes, politics, occupations, and ages. This sense of boundary-cutting purpose is carried through by Albion students’ continued involvement in the Occupy Movement.