Occupy Detroit attracts protesters from across the country

October 15, 2011
By

Joanna Hecker drove from New York to join the protest in Detroit. (Photo by Rachelle Damico)

Activists came from as far as California to the first day of Occupy Detroit on Friday.

“Over the past 30 years, ever since Reagan’s been elected, the government has gotten more and more extreme,” said Greg Cummings, a retired 62-year-old regional planner from San Luis Obispo, Calif . “The nation has become more about greed.”

David Brown, a 23-year-old student from Tampa, Fla., bought a plane ticket to come to the rally.

“I want to make sure that when I get out of school I have a job to go to,” said Brown. Of the protest, he added:  “I think this is great because it shows people are going to stand up and do something, instead of letting big business use them.”

Another protester was Joanna Hecker, a 32-year-old New York University professor from Brooklyn, who came out to support her family that lives in Michigan.

“My parents have lost their retirement, my sister is underwater on her mortgage,” said Hecker. “I’ve been participating in New York for a while, so I thought it was time to represent my family.”

Hecker is an adjunct professor. This means she is not on a fixed salary, but is paid by semester. Adjunct professors make up an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the university professors across the country. At the same time, she’s working towards a Ph.D.

“I have no health care, no benefits, no job security, no pension, no retirement, no tenure,” said Hecker. “I have no certainty that I’ll be able to pay rent next semester. I probably would make more money if I were working at Starbucks.”

Hecker drove over 10 hours from Brooklyn to Detroit to join the rally.

“Occupy Detroit could build up the same momentum as Occupy Wall Street,” she said.  “Michiganders don’t realize that there’s great fascination with Detroit across the country, and even around the world. Many people see Detroit as a case study for the challenges that face a community stripped of economic opportunity. Even New Yorkers talk about Detroit with curiosity and awe.

“This protest means that people are finally recognizing that corporation of our economic and political system has gotten completely out of control. People are finally feeling the effects of that in their daily lives, even though it’s been happening for decades. We’re feeling it in our bank accounts and we’re seeing it in our health care plans, if we’re lucky enough to have jobs – we’re seeing it there too.”

If you’ve been reading the mainstream media, Hecker believes there are two central things you should know.

“One: The [protesters] aren’t crazy leftist, radical, hippie people who are demonstrating in the central protest in New York. There are people all across the spectrum, of all ages, from kids to elderly people. There are vets and teachers … people of all types. Any media that suggest that it’s a bunch of crazy, dope adult kids is absolutely lying.”

“Two: People need to understand the message isn’t muddled, it’s clear. It’s not that everybody has all these different ideas and nobody can decide. People are there because we recognize that the system is corrupt. We may be holding signs that carry different slogans about different issues, but it’s all under the same umbrella issue of corporate manipulation of the government and of our politics. It’s not vague, and it’s not leftist radical, it’s really central, it’s crucial, and it’s everybody.”

“We have this system that says, ‘Be proud to be rich. If you’re rich it means you’re a good person. It means you’ve worked hard. And if you’re not, well, that’s kind of shameful, so make sure nobody knows it.’ Finally we’re saying, no, we’re not accepting that, we’re 99 percent of the population. We’re not rich. We’re never going to be rich. But we deserve a quality of life anyway. We deserve to be able to make ends meet, but we shouldn’t be ashamed of our circumstances. We should rise up together, across racial lines, across religious lines. Our economic interests give us more in common than separates us.”

Hecker was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge on Saturday, Oct. 1., with over 700 others that were protesting with Occupy Wall Street.

“I would consider being arrested again [here] if it came to that,” said Hecker. “My experience with the police offers that I interacted with was that they’re working people trying not to lose their jobs and trying to support a family. They are the 99 percent as well.”

Hecker said she was charged with two counts of disorderly conduct,  impeding traffic and disobeying an officer.

“I wouldn’t have gone onto the Brooklyn Bridge if I thought I was breaking a law,” said Hecker. “I honestly thought the police were leading us on to the bridge. My experience was that we were trapped there. When I began to realize that something was going wrong, I tried to get off the bridge. I asked the police officers to let me go, and they would not. Their contention that they gave us the chance to leave, and we refused, is not true. It may be true that they informed some protesters within earshot of the blow horn, but I never heard that.”

Many of the protesters have been criticized for unclear demands.

“We need candidates who are willing to forgo corporate money and to be the peoples representative … as opposed to a corporate representative. We need candidates who are more concerned about enacting appropriate policies than they are about their jobs. We need candidates who are willing to stand up behind the real power behind the system, which is the money. If votes really do mean anything in this system – which I think is questionable given the financial dealings behind the seams – we’ll vote for the people who truly represent us. We’re paying attention now.”

Hecker plans to  protest in Grand Circus Park until she flies back for her court date in Manhattan on Nov. 14.

“If the people of Detroit got up and began to agitate, began to reclaim their dignity and their right to economic justice, people across the country would turn and pay attention and take inspiration,” said Hecker. “If Detroit can do it, anyone can.”