Occupy Wall Street
Former Detroiters supporting the movement are arrested in New York.
Two former Detroiters — Justin Wedes, who grew up in Huntington Woods, and Bonnie Garvin, formerly of Southfield — were arrested recently in separate incidents at Occupy Wall Street (OWS) in New York City. They say the arrests will not disrupt their commitment to the cause.
Initially ignored by the mainstream media, Occupy Wall Street has become an outlet for the disaffected to speak out against economic and social injustices in this country. In mid-September, OWS protesters set up camp in Zuccotti Park/Liberty Plaza in New York’s Financial District.
Wedes, an activist and part-time teacher in Brooklyn, is 25 and had been valedictorian of his class at Berkley High School.
“We’ve watched the movement grow within five weeks,” he said. “It’s a feeling of enough is enough, and our political system is not working for us.”
A laundry list of OWS concerns found posted to Facebook: “Stop out-of-control corporate greed. Make Wall Street accountable. Stop the endless wars. Halt the decimation of the middle class and enough of the union bashing. Stop tax breaks for wealthy corporations and billionaires. Stop incessant partisan bickering and help the American people.”
Involved with OWS since “day one,” Wedes grew up believing he could “repair the world” from his tikkun olam projects at Temple Beth El’s Hebrew school. His social conscience grew while attending the University of Michigan Residential College, a four-year interdisciplinary liberal arts program.
“A lot of what we [OWS] is doing is modeled off of what we’ve seen at rallies in Tel Aviv and its tent cities,” said Wedes, who visited there on a Birthright Israel trip. He said people rose up to “protest the rising cost of living and housing becoming so unaffordable.”
Wedes, on the OWS social media team, said it’s a community of inclusion at Liberty Plaza, where group decisions are reached by consensus at nightly “General Assembly” meetings.
Police arrested him and two others on Sept. 19. According to a Village Voice report that Wedes confirmed: “Justin had lost his voice and was using a megaphone to try to talk to people with it. The police beat him down and violently pushed him down to the ground.”
Wedes was ticketed for using a bullhorn without a permit. His court date is in December.
Screenwriter/college professor Bonnie Garvin of Los Angeles, a 1970 graduate of Wayne State University, met her husband, Jim Lafferty, at a Vietnam War protest. Lafferty, 73, is executive director of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild, noted for litigating civil liberty court cases without charge.
The Californians made a detour to New York during a trip east. They joined Occupy Wall Street folks marching around Chase Bank on Oct. 12.
“After 45 minutes, the cops for some reason yanked a couple in their early 20s out of line, threw them on the ground and arrested them,” said Garvin, 63. “People began chanting: ‘The whole world is watching.’ I was at the front of the line when a cop grabbed my arm, really rough.”
“I grabbed a cop’s lapels to keep myself from falling. He said, ‘You’re under arrest.’ So one cop twisted my arm and another threw Jim to the ground. We weren’t resisting.”
Being a notable couple, their story was news on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight. Garvin and Lafferty were in the custody of Brooklyn police for 14-plus hours. Lafferty was taken to The Tombs, colloquial name of the infamous jail, while Garvin was brought to Bellevue Hospital Center for a psychiatric evaluation. They must return to a New York courtroom on Dec. 12.
“We are white privileged people; so imagine what happens to people who are poor, who don’t have any resources?” she said of her experience.
“We live in a country where 1 percent of the people control all the wealth — that is not right,” Garvin said. Occupy Wall Street protesters say they represent the majority of Americans — “the 99 percent” — who want fairness, jobs and government accountability.
A modest Occupy Detroit encampment began Oct. 14 in Grand Circus Park downtown. Now, the city park on Woodward at Adams has sprouted about 90 tents. Volunteer committees and cooperative neighbors are supporting the fledgling community, and one Occupy Detroit protester says they don’t plan to leave anytime soon. Their permit expires in mid-December.
A diverse gathering of 300-400 came together on a workday, Oct. 20, for an Occupy Detroit demonstration outside the Guardian Building headquarters of Bank of America. As Rev. Edwin Rowe of Central United Methodist Church explained, “Banks are getting very wealthy off of foreclosing on people’s homes, even though they took the $700 billion [federal government bailout] to do just the opposite.”
Alex Bensky, 62, of Ferndale holds an opposing view on the Occupy protests in New York and around the U.S.
“Despite the presence of many sincere people, Occupy Wall Street was instigated and is being managed by hard leftists whose ideas and aims are not at all democratic,” he said.
“These demands . . . are at best hopelessly naive and at worst downright destructive, and their implementation would substantially exacerbate an already acute economic situation.”
For his part, Wedes will keep working at his job and participating in the protests.
“There is no end in sight for #OccupyWallStreet,” said Wedes, adding that his sources estimate more than 900 General Assemblies have organized nationwide.
“The floodgates have opened and only time will tell what happens,” he said.
“As the movement grows, we’ll develop new tools and strategies to collaborate and connect to build the kind of world we want to live in.”
For updated information, visit occupytogether.org.
By Esther Allweiss Ingber| Special to the Jewish News