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Occupy Memphis seeks diversity

On Saturday (Oct. 15), a tiny yet determined band of frustrated people will gather at Civic Center Plaza to launch Occupy Memphis and protest “reckless corporate decision-making,” the lack of jobs and the rising tides of social inequality. Memphis is a bluff city where the river of courage seldom runs dry.

Earlier this year, 1,300 Memphis sanitation workers were inducted into the U.S. Department of Labor Hall of Fame. Their 1968 strike for the right to join a union and collectively bargain was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final campaign. For it was here, on April 3, 1968 at the Mason Temple Church of God in Christ headquarters, that Dr. King spoke powerfully of the price paid by everyday warriors:

“We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it doesn’t really matter with me now. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop. I don’t mind. Like anybody, I would like to live - a long life; longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will.”

Forty-three years later, a new campaign is set to begin in the city that is home of the National Civil Rights Museum. At 8 a.m. on Saturday (Oct. 15), a tiny yet determined band of frustrated people – students, peace activists, stay-at-home moms, health professionals, nurses, farmers, unemployed and homeless people – will gather at Civic Center Plaza to launch Occupy Memphis and protest “reckless corporate decision-making,” the lack of jobs and the rising tides of social inequality.

Though this time, frustrated European Americans in the city are mapping out the strategy and handling logistics. They’ve linked up to a global protest, Occupy Wall Street, which as of Wednesday had spread to nearly 1,500 cities around the world. Marchers in this new movement are hollering for opportunity. Joining their ranks are Americans who did all the right things – earned a college degree, worked long hours, scrimped and saved – yet they lost it all.

Over the last several weeks, Occupy Memphis members have canvassed humble but proud African-American neighborhoods to reach out to people in unemployment lines, visit students at The LeMoyne-Owen College, and talk to union officials.  

Inclusion often is a heartfelt concept that we embrace while in church and in dialogs but it, like the songbirds, fails to stays with us a long time. People – of all colors, shapes and sizes – often embrace equal opportunity right up to the minute it asks them to act against their own interests.

There’s always next time, after all.

It is inspiring to see this tech-savvy group of youthful organizers venture with open minds and glad hearts into tattered and worn neighborhoods to invite the jobless and the homeless  to join their community as it decides how to move forward.  

The ‘occupation’

The occupation will last “as long as it takes” the group says on its website. Their playbook borrows heavily from the civil rights movement and other non-violent movements around the world.

This week, members have been going through non-violence training. They are planning to have a teach-in on Saturday. Since the occupation will take place on concrete, participants are encouraged to bring cushions for comfort.

If you are interested, additional information and details are available at http://occupymemphis.org.

Occupy Memphis – by declaration

We are Occupy Memphis. We stand with the Occupy Wall Street Movement and all other nonviolent democratic uprisings around the world.

We are here to denounce the control of our government by the 1%. We the People have a right to govern ourselves; that right has been usurped by corporations, big banks, Wall Street, the Federal Reserve, and the wealthiest 1% of our population. These elites put profit over people, self-interest over justice, and oppression over equality.

They say we have a budget crisis, but what we have is a priority crisis. They say we have a fiscal deficit, but what we have is a deficit of democracy. They have taken our silence for consent, but no more.

We are seniors, teachers, small business owners, clergy, and union members.  We are clerks, firefighters, nurses, police, and immigrants. We are service workers, veterans, entrepreneurs, students, the unemployed, and recipients of Social Security benefits.

We are mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, friends, and neighbors. We are those who do all the work and keep this society running. We are you and you are one of us. We are the 99%. We are here to peacefully Occupy Memphis until our demands are heard.

We demand that Wall Street be held accountable for its role in the destruction of the global financial system.

We demand that the 1% pay their fair share of taxes, that all tax loopholes benefiting the super-rich are closed, and that those who try to skirt our country’s tax laws are tried and prosecuted to the full extent of the law.

We demand that corporations not be afforded the same First Amendment rights as individuals; that corporations not be allowed to influence elections through campaign contributions.

We demand equal treatment from our justice system at all levels and at every stage, from investigations, through trials and sentencing, regardless of race or social class.

We demand that our government recognize healthcare as a basic human right. It is shameful that our city’s infant mortality rate is higher than in many developing countries.

We demand an end to Tennessee’s regressive labor laws, such as right-to-work and at-will employment, which keep us in poverty.  We demand an ordinance mandating that no city services can be privatized; any outsourced services should be brought back in-house.

We demand affordable and fair housing for all and that Wells Fargo be held accountable for its racist, predatory lending practices in Memphis.

We demand that those Memphians who experienced foreclosures due to the illegal activities of banks and other financial institutions be adequately compensated and their debt forgiven.

We demand that the city use our money for education and public services rather than corporate incentives and tax freezes for companies like Bass Pro or Electrolux. Memphis gives away more public dollars in corporate welfare than any other city in the state, yet our unemployment rate is at 12.1%.

We demand a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. Our concerns will be addressed. Our demands will be met. We will not be discouraged. We will not be intimidated. We will not be ignored. We are the 99%.

“We must rapidly begin the shift from a thing-oriented society to a person-oriented society. When machines and computers, profit motives and property rights, are considered more important than people, the giant triplets of racism, extreme materialism, and militarism are incapable of being conquered.”

- Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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