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Locals join Occupy Detroit



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Pam Belding with friends she met at Occupy Detroit in Grand Circus Park. (click for larger version)
November 23, 2011 - Heidi Barckholtz did what she thought she was supposed to do.

She bought a house. She faithfully made her mortgage payments.

Now the Ortonville resident and working mother of two children is underwater on her house by $100,000.

"I have to sell it and I am taking the credit hit, all because of the bad mortgage dealings," said Barckholtz. "They did that, not I. It's all about money and politics. Our congressmen don't care about us, they care about what lobbyists are going to add the most to their campaigns, whatever it may be."

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It is this frustration with politicians, banks, corporations and the growing disparity in incomes that drove Barckholtz and her friend and Brandon Township resident Pam Belding to join others at Occupy Detroit last month.

The Occupy movement has been growing around the country, with large groups of people gathering in cities around the country, after Occupy Wall Street debuted in September.

According to occupywallstreet.org, "Occupy Wall Street is a people-powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan's Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. OWS is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations. The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia, and aims to expose how the richest 1 percent of people are writing the rules of an unfair global economy that is foreclosing on our future."

Barckholtz originally wanted to travel to New York City to join the Occupy movement, but when she learned there would be a general assembly in Detroit last month, the beginning of the Occupy movement in Michigan, she invited Belding to go.

"I got involved by being part of the 99 percent and being appalled at the lack of equality in our country and that the corporate titans make 200 percent more than the people who work for them," said Belding. "I'm not against people making money or being rich, I'm against people hording money to the detriment of our country."

She and Barckholtz drove down to Detroit, where a march had taken place from Cobo Center to Grand Circus Park in Detroit. There, they joined what Belding estimates were a thousand people gathered to vent their frustrations and express a variety of ideas.

"I'm not necessarily a protesting kind of girl, but I could not sit at home and let my son see me ignore this chance to make a difference," said Belding.

There were people of all ages at Occupy Detroit, she said—mothers pushing babies in strollers, senior citizens, and everyone in between.

Occupy Detroit had no racial or ethnic barriers either, said Barckholtz, with African-Americans, whites, Hispanics, and Arab-Americans all bringing their concerns.

There was no formal audio system. Instead, protestors used what they call "the people's mic." Belding said this starts with someone yelling "Mic check!" and people within hearing distance of that person will echo the phrase. As quiet descends, they listen and whatever the speaker says is repeated by others so word will travel throughout the camp.

Belding said there were a lot of different ideas about how change should be effected and the movement is non-partisan. A few times, she saw some impassioned individuals get angry and a mass of people would quickly step in to soothe tensions and restore a peaceful atmosphere.

"No violence ever broke out," Belding said. "The people policed themselves."

Barckholtz was relieved to find people who, even with differing backgrounds and ideas, share her concerns about the direction the country is moving. She feels she is in the minority in Ortonville, and her family and friends have given her a hard time about getting behind the Occupy movement.

"(Ortonville) is a very conservative town, but Occupy is non-partisan," she said. "They want to bring awareness to the fact that people are taking pay cuts, losing health benefits, and yet company executives have big bonuses. People say Occupy protestors want part of the wealth when they haven't done the work, but that's not it at all. We don't want money to rule over the betterment of the people."

She cites Walmart as an example, saying the Walton family members are among the richest people in the country, but treat their employees poorly, not paying them well, and treating them as disposable.

After Barckholtz left Occupy Detroit, she felt a sense of relief that she was not alone.

"There are a lot of people going through the same struggles—no insurance, losing their jobs, losing their homes," she said. "When you have a collective voice, it makes people pay attention."

Belding went back to the Occupy Detroit site last week and found just a few people still there. The camp was cleaned up and disbanded a few days later as winter cold settles in.

Still, the Occupy movement will continue, with meetings and rallies. Belding and Barckholtz said they will continue their involvement.

"One of the ways to fix the problems today is to change the people in power," said Belding. "Get out and get engaged and commit to making a difference in your community. It's an honor to serve your country as a legislator, but it shouldn't be a career. You shouldn't spend the rest of your life making policy decisions that don't affect you. (Politicians) have pensions, healthcare, and they are strapping the rest of us with the bill."

For more information on Occupy Detroit or the Occupy movement, go to occupy-detroit.us or

occupytogether.org.

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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