Occupy Memphis protesters include UM students, alumni
More than 100 people gathered at the Overton Park Pavilion on Wednesday night for the third general assembly of Occupy Memphis, addressing a variety of conflicting local and national issues including the poverty rate in Memphis and corporate greed and corruption being protested at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York City.
Coleman Thompson, executive board member of the NAACP and member of Tennessee Fair Taxation, came to the event because he said he felt the need to get involved with state issues.
“I believe we need to create and generate more revenue for the state,” he said. “As citizens, we are an injured party affected by government-run institutions. We are unified here today to confront issues like income and wages and put them on ‘Front Street.'”
Thompson said he believes it is his duty to help people who are struggling to help themselves.
Flyers were passed out among attendees reading, “1% of the population controls 50% of our wealth,” “You are the labor, you are the majority,” and, “The majority should have power, RESTORE DEMOCRACY.”
John Marek, law clerk for the city attorney’s office and U of M graduate, said that he shared the passion and plight of protesters in New York.
“I signed up for the Occupy Memphis movement because I support the Occupy Wall Street movement. From what I can tell thus far, it is a protest against social and economic inequality, tax cuts for the rich and corporate influence on government,” he said.
Marek, former president of U of M College Democrats and Master of political science, spoke to attendees at the event.
“What I was trying to communicate to the group was that our movement needs to have a consistent message, and we can’t do that if we adopt far right-wing rhetoric on top of our progressive message,” he said
He urged that people join the movement to be informed, not just because they woke up angry one day.
Bennett Foster, 26, a former U of M student locally know for his participation in the March protests of Congress in Nashville, spoke out against high student loan debt and the government.
“Capitalism is not meant to be sustainable but to crash consistently,” he said. “Our wages are kept low to keep people poor and if we can’t house everyone then we are falling back on a moral responsibility.”
Alexandra Pusateri, journalism and international studies major at The U of M, attended the event because she said she believes the government is not working hard enough to help the working majority.
“I’ve been following the Occupy Wall Street movement, and it is fascinating that people are pissed off and trying to make a difference,” she said.
Pusateri was part of a mobilization group at the event, which focused on increasing the number participants in Occupy Memphis and spreading its message.
“People are profiling us as hippies, and I think it’s funny because we have fire fighters here, school teachers, and war veterans. Supposedly we are a bunch of people without jobs, when Monday, at the first meeting, people showed up right after work in their business suits,” she said.
Jacob Flowers, executive director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, said that he believes Occupy Memphis is a leaderless, organic movement. Influenced by recent resistance movements across the globe and facing a “broken democracy” in America, Flowers said that they have to figure out as a group where to take the movement.
“There is no single organizer of Occupy Memphis, and we are all leaders,” he said.