Occupy Ann Arbor brings Wall Street movement to the Diag

Adam Schnitzer/Daily
Ian Gray, founder of the website OccupyAnnArbor.org, speaks to a group of students and Ann Arbor residents on the Diag on Thursday, Oct. 6. Speakers at the gathering, which was the first Occupy Ann Arbor event, urged attendees to contact government officials to express their discontent with politics and corporations. Buy this photo

By Andrew Schulman, Daily Staff Reporter
Published October 6, 2011

In the middle of Occupy Ann Arbor’s assembly on the Diag last night, University alum Matt Bussey asked the crowd of about 200 students and Ann Arbor residents to take out their cell phones and call U.S. Rep. John Dingell (D–Mich.).

Bussey told the crowd that Dingell and other government officials need to be more conscious of their constituents who aren’t in the highest income brackets. Though few people appeared to heed his suggestion to call Dingell, Bussey’s request reflected several key topics discussed during the event.

Attendees and leaders of the Occupy Ann Arbor event focused on their desire to curb corporate power and stand up for the rights of the working and middle classes. Occupy Ann Arbor is a local offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last month in protest of the nation’s economic conditions and the influence of corporate America on politics on politics.

Bussey, who graduated from the Rackham Graduate School last December, was one of about 20 speakers who decried the nation’s political and economic state. In addition to discussing income inequality and corporate greed, the speakers talked about major U.S. banks, the University’s handling of contract negotiations with nurses employed by the University of Michigan Health System, the rising cost of higher education and the lack of press coverage of the Occupy movement across the country.

Occupy Ann Arbor developed after University alum Whitney Miller started a Facebook group. In an interview after last night’s event, Miller said she registered the page as a group, but needed to change it into a “cause” once she began receiving requests to join at a more rapid rate than she was able to respond to.

Despite the interest — the Facebook page had 970 “likes” as of 2 a.m. last night — Miller said she was unsure how many people would attend the meeting. She stressed that the gathering was not meant to be a demonstration but rather an event to facilitate increased dialogue about the issues. She said she was pleased by the crowd, which stretched halfway across the Diag.

“I think it was very productive, judging by all the collective information that we got from individuals who want to help out, who have resources they can offer,” Miller said. “I would say that it was very successful.”

Part of the success, she added, stemmed from the array of grievances voiced by the speakers, who had three minutes each to address the crowd. The audience applauded every speaker consistently and exchanged productive ideas, Miller said.

“There was a good amount of diversity,” she said. “I feel like the crowd supported each other and acted democratically when something was outside of the box … People were open to listening to each other.”

Lucianna Sabgash, a sophomore at Wayne State University and an organizer of Occupy Detroit, agreed that the meeting would be effective in generating conversation.

Sabgash said she attended the event out of frustration of the slow pace of political change in the nation.

“If we are the majority, maybe we could actually be represented by some political action,” she said. “I voted for none of this. I voted for change and saw all the same.”

Though Miller and Sabgash said they don’t anticipate any future Occupy Ann Arbor events, Sabgash said she is looking forward to organizing more gatherings throughout the state.