Maureen Taylor, state chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, unwittingly boarded a train a few weeks ago to Oakland, Calif. from San Francisco and stumbled upon the city’s Occupy encampment. The protesters were, at the time, striving to shut down the port of Oakland, and as Taylor arrived and watched them the next four hours, they succeeded.

At a Social Forum on Rebuilding Working People’s Power — a panel discussion organized by the Washtenaw Community Action Team — Taylor spoke last night about rising unemployment, the decline of the manufacturing sector and the state’s cutting of welfare benefits.

Taylor lauded the Occupy movement as one that has succeeded in being accessible to average people. She said corporations and the rich have benefitted from the financial crisis at the expense of the working class.

“This is going to require a change in philosophy, and that’s why Occupy is so doggone impressive,” Taylor said. “Occupy doesn’t have any rules. They’ve got a vision, and the vision is that we have to do something about corporate greed.”

Taylor was joined by fellow panelists Jane Slaughter, a labor journalist and activist, and Tom Weisskopf, a University professor emeritus of economics. Each panelist delivered 15-minute speeches to a room of about 70 students, Ann Arbor residents, Occupy Ann Arbor members and WCAT organizers.

Weisskopf discussed the economic origin of the financial crisis by presenting income and wealth inequalities like the ratio of salaries for CEOs to workers’ wages, which he says grew exponentially between 1970 and 2006. In particular, Weisskopf said he disapproves of the lack of social mobility in the United States — something he said the country previously led the world in, but has since fallen behind in because of the “the erosion of socially accepted norms of fair pay,” the shrinking manufacturing sector, the declining purchasing power of the minimum wage and decreasing power of trade unions as a result of legislation.

In an interview after the forum, Weisskopf said he hopes University administrators and faculty use their knowledge about the issues to help change the economic system.

“It’s their responsibility as well as everybody else’s to do something about it,” he said. “We’ve come to a point, I think, where we need to devote some of our time to political activism.”

Though Weisskopf said he does not think the Occupy movement can produce major changes by itself, others said they were impressed by the gains it has shown in just a few months. Slaughter said the accomplishments of the movement outpace those of unions, which have been trying to fight corporate greed for decades. Last year, unions recorded their second lowest total number of strikes in history, second only to the year before, according to Slaughter.

Organizers of the forum and University students who attended said they would like to see the Occupy Ann Arbor movement reach out more to other local groups.

In an interview after the event, LSA and Art & Design junior Ian Matchett said he would like to see Occupy Ann Arbor members coordinate more with the University’s chapter of College Democrats and Students Allied for Freedom and Equality — a campus group that advocates for human rights for Palestinians.

The forum also included a component in which attendees split into groups to discuss issues of local importance and ways to solve them. Matchett and others said the forum was important in bringing together individuals.

“It’s the movement of the 99 percent, not the 10 percent who are here and the 10 percent who are there,” Matchett said.

LSA junior Greta Taylor said she appreciated the opportunity to exchange ideas with others and hopes the event will facilitate more dialogue.

“When on Earth would these people all get together at a different time to talk about something as important as social justice?” Taylor asked. “This is why something like this is important. It’s getting everybody together and getting the information and doing something about it.”

Adam Warner, a WCAT organizer who coordinated and led the forum, said in an interview after the event that he hopes it stimulates conversation about the suffering of the poor. Warner pointed to what he said was the inordinate influence of corporations in politics as a factor in governmental policy that doesn’t favor the lower class. However, Warner added that he could not predict what impacts the movement might have.

“We know that there are people who are suffering out there,” Warner said. “We know that there are problems. The only way we’re going to address them is by talking to each other to see how they are articulated.”

Police subdued Occupy movement camps nationwide yesterday including Zuccotti Park, where members of Occupy Wall Street have been stationed since September. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg authorized the eviction of the park on the grounds that it wasn’t meeting health and safety standards, the Associated Press reported.

Still, Warner, like the ousted protestors in New York, said he was dismayed but not discouraged by the nationwide evictions.

“As they say, you can’t evict an idea whose time has come,” Warner said.

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