Protesters 'Occupy Birmingham' With Signs, Slogans, Grievances
More than 50 people from Birmingham and surrounding cities show up at Martha Baldwin Park on Saturday afternoon to protest income inequality, a corrupt federal government and more.
“I’m here because I think Martha Baldwin would expect me to be here.”
There were dozens of reasons why more than 50 protesters came out to Martha Baldwin Park to participate in Occupy Birmingham, but for longtime Birmingham resident and park trustee Elaine Moore, she was there because of the legacy of one of Birmingham’s original activists.
“She was active in almost everything in this town to improve civic life,” Moore said of the woman who helped found the Baldwin Public Library and whose name graces the park where the protest — an offshoot of the larger Occupy Wall Street movement — took place Saturday afternoon. “Martha lives in this event.”
From improving civic discourse to speaking out against income equality and campaign finance laws, the demonstrators at Occupy Birmingham had a lot to say Saturday. As many noted, Birmingham was the right place to say it.
Rally against income equality, erosion of middle class
The event was organized by Gerald Doelle and his wife, Lynn. The idea was an offshoot of a life spent studying, talking about and taking action against national politics.
The Birmingham protest is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, an uprising against social and economic inequality and corporate greed that began Sept. 17 in New York City and has since spread across the country, including Detroit on Oct. 21 and Ferndale on Oct. 28.
According to Lynn Doelle, this has been something the couple has wanted to do for awhile. Now, almost a week shy of Gerald’s 78th birthday, Lynn said this was the perfect birthday present for her politically minded husband — a retired director for the American Heart Association of Michigan and former host of Bloomfield Television’s Everyday People.
For Birmingham resident Gail Wittey, Saturday’s protest was only one in a lifetime of political activism. Wittey, a member of the Birmingham Bloomfield Democratic Club, said she’s been protesting since the 1960s.
For Wittey, the spirit behind the Occupy movement is one that has spurred dozens of political protests in the past 50 or so years. “Income inequality isn’t good for our city, our country, for anyone,” she said.
Waterford resident and a friend of the Doelles, Paul Sheiko, said he feels the same way. Though he said he came out to support his friends, he believes the message of the Occupy movement is something everyone should be paying attention to, no matter where you live or how much money you make.
“The erosion of the middle class … it just doesn’t make sense anymore,” he said, holding a sign reading “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out!”
For Sef Delgaldo, a St. Clair Shores resident who noted he was heading down to Detroit later Saturday afternoon for an organizational meeting for Occupy Detroit, Saturday’s protest was about something bigger: revolution.
“The word revolution makes sense because our country started with revolution," he said.
'There are thinking people in Birmingham'
Lynn Doelle said the protest was meant to be peaceful and nonpartisan, noting she and her husband picked Martha Baldwin Park for the out-of-the-way location and the convenience of being at the busy intersection of Maple and Southfield.
Demonstrators walked around chatting with each other and the curious, waving signs that said things such as "If the wealthy care .. they'd pay their share." There were a few jeers from passing drivers, but there were also several honks of support thoughout the protest. As the afternoon wore on, one participant passed out free cups of hot chocolate from Biggby to protesters ranging in age from seniors to moms with young children to high school students.
Walter Briggs, Beverly Hills resident and member of the village council there, said he was happy Birmingham was able to play host to the protest.
“Yeah, some of the 1 percent live here,” he said, referencing those in the top 1 percent of the nation's income bracket. “But I don’t think Birmingham is ostentatious. People care here.”
In an interview with Patch before the protest, Doelle noted that holding an Occupy protest in Birmingham was a "political science experiment," particularly because the city is known for its conservatism.
"This community is very conservative and extremely well-organized," he said. "Something like this is very new."
However, Brenda Earl, a retired social worker and Birmingham resident, said she wasn't surprised to see the busy turnout.
“I think there are thinking people in Birmingham,” she said. “I have nothing against the 1 percent, but if we don’t do something, everyone else is going to end up as a disenfranchised 99 percent.”
Flushed near the end of the three-hour protest, Doelle said he was thrilled with the turnout.
"Everyone has been positive and supportive," he said.