Occupy Birmingham Organizer Calls Protest a 'Political Science Experiment'
The demonstration is set for 1-4 p.m. Saturday at Martha Baldwin Park.
The event has been organized by Gerald Doelle, a longtime Birmingham resident and retired director of the American Heart Association of Michigan. According to Doelle, the protest is nonpartisan and is meant to "make visible our dissatisfaction with a dysfunctional Congress, a political system corrupted by money and a failure of responsibility and leadership on Wall Street and in the U.S. banking sector."
The protest is part of the larger Occupy Wall Street movement, an uprising against social and economic inequality and corporate greed that began Sept. 17 in New York and has since spread to cities across the country, including Detroit on Oct. 21 and nearby Ferndale on Oct. 28.
Patch sat down with Doelle to talk about his motivations behind organizing the protest, what frustrates him about the U.S. government and whether Birmingham residents will get behind the Occupy movement.
Q: What is your history in community or political activism?
A: Doelle said this is the first protest he's organized, but that he's been tuned in to national politics and issues for years.
A natural "news junkie," Doelle said he organized a community discussion group amoung his Birmingham neighbors years ago. The group would meet once a week and talk about the issues of the day.
Since his retirement from the American Heart Association, Doelle also hosted the Bloomfield cable television program Everyday People for several years, in which he would interview local experts on national issues, and then speak with community members for their take. To accompany the program, Doelle also wrote a weekly column for the Birmingham Eccentric about whatever topic he was discussing that week.
Q: What is driving you to join the Occupy movement?
A: Doelle says he thinks the United States has a good government, but fundamentally, he said he sees a lot of problems with the way the country is run, the primary being the influence of money in politics.
"I believe our system is being corrupted by the flow of money into politics," he said.
Doelle also said he believes in campaign finance reform as a principle and that corruption runs rampant among those in power at all levels of government.
"Corruption is a painful word for American people to come to terms with," he said. "But corruption isn't a matter of legality and illegality. It's about immorality."
Though Doelle doesn't officially consider himself part of the Occupy movement in general — noting he has tried to be specific in his critiques, whereas the movement at large has been criticized for being too general — he said all Occupy protesters are merely speaking out at what they perceive as rampant corruption.
"And the first obligation of a protest movement is to protest," he said. "The solutions are in the hands of those we elect."
Q: What inspired you to organize Occupy Birmingham?
A: Doelle said he didn't think about organizing a protest in Birmingham until attending and participating in the Occupy Ferndale event in late October.
"I saw how it unfolded in an orderly way," he said. "I thought it was very useful and came away convinced that it would be useful here."
While Doelle said he hopes the protest reflects that even those in the upper middle class have concerns, at the very least, he wants to do his part in making the protest visible in Birmingham and give residents here a reason to talk about the issues.
Q: Do you think Birmingham residents will participate in the protest? How do you think they will react?
A: Holding an Occupy-related protest in Birmingham is a sort of political science experiment — almost like entering uncharted territory, Doelle noted.
"This community is very conservative and extremely well-organized," he said. "Something like this is very new."
Doelle said he isn't sure how many people will come out for the protest, noting he wouldn't be surprised if there were only a few or close to 50. If there are only a few, he wouldn't be disappointed or embarrased, but he would feel bad for the community.
"This community should produce (some protesters)," he said. "But if people aren't motivated, that's part of the experiment."
Doelle said if anyone has any questions or concerns leading up to the event, they can contact him via the Occupy Birmingham Facebook page.