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Occupy Detroit Plans May Day Actions, Re-Occupation Of Grand Circus Park

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FILE: Protesters march through downtown streets during a rally in Detroit, Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011. Occupy Detroit members plan to re-occupy Grand Circus Park on May 1, with actions coinciding with other Occupy movement efforts around the country. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya) | HuffPost

After packing up the small tent city pitched in Grand Circus Park in November, members of Occupy Detroit have been pursuing lower-profile projects, fighting foreclosure and fixing up houses around the city. But on Tuesday, the group plans to step back into the spotlight with a daylong series of actions timed to coincide with Occupy Wall Street movement actions in New York City and around the country.

May 1, known as International Workers Day, more recently has been a day to push for immigrant rights in the United States. Occupy Detroit is tapping into both traditions with a May Day call to action: "Legalize, Unionize, Organize to fight the 1 percent and defend the 99 percent."

Activists are planning to meet Tuesday morning in Clark Park in Southwest Detroit, the recent site of a mass student walkout at Western International High School. Occupiers are taking up the students' cause, a push to stop school closures and improve public education.

They're also demanding better public transit and plan to march by the Rosa Parks Transit Center before rallying in Grand Circus Park, the site of the group's original encampment in October. Members plan to "re-occupy" the park with a new tent city for one night.

Occupy Detroit members are promising "a massive gathering of laborers, immigrants, students and more." Around 200 people eventually joined the day's actions as demonstrators moved from Clark Park to Michigan Central Station to the Patrick V. McNamara Building to Grand Circus Park.

At its peak, around 4 p.m., the gathering at the park attracted about 500 people. As of 7 p.m. the crowd had dwindled to about 75 people, and Occupy Detroit began holding a general assembly.

For a full recap and updates, see below.

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About 15 members of Occupy Detroit have decided to stay the night in Grand Circus Park, despite warnings from police.

"We're making a statement standing up for our right to assemble," said Josh Ashatz, 27, of Detroit. "This isn't a '1984' Orwellian society. We have a right to stay in our public park and assemble as a community."

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Several people tried to set up a pop-up tent, but police on horseback stepped in and told them to stop. The tent-pitchers have moved to another location and are trying again.

The crowd "mic checked" the cops: "You might be able to stop us from setting up our tents, but you won't be able to stop us from taking back our power."

Occupy Detroit had a notably good relationship with city police last fall, but campers had a permit to sleep in Grand Circus Park. They left once the permit expired.

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The statue of 19th-century Detroit Mayor Hazen S. Pingree in Grand Circus Park is now sporting a sash that reads "Liberation."

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Marlon Davis, a Detroit resident, watched the crowd of marchers as it entered Grand Circus Park. He said he liked what the gathering was trying to achieve.

"Ain't no jobs out here. All the houses are messed up and the economy," he said. "At least they're trying to get some order back in this community."

-- David Sands

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@ nwarikoo : Chanting "Whose park? Our park," protesters with Occupy Detroit are now entering Grand Circus Park, site of encampment last fall.

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Abayomi Azikiwe, editor of the Pan-African News Wire and member of the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War & Injustice (MECAWI) spoke to marchers, now assembled outside the Patrick V. McNamara federal building in downtown Detroit.

"For the last 10 years they've been telling us about terrorism, but the real terrorists are on Wall Street," he said. "We must cancel the municipal debt owed by the city of Detroit, and to hell with those bankers!"

The crowd chanted, "May Day every day, occupy the USA!"

-- David Sands

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Terry Grenbysa, 52 of Dearborn Heights, was watching the march proceed down Michigan Ave. with several other people.

"There should be more people marching," he said, adding that he identified with the demonstrators' demands and felt the rich should pay for their share of taxes.

-- David Sands

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The Rev. D. Alexander Bullock, head of the Highland Park NAACP, spoke to demonstrators outside Michigan Central Station.

At one point comparing Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder to noted segregationist Gov. George Wallace of Alamaba, Bullock spoke against Michigan's emergency manager law and Republican efforts to block a petition to repeal it.

"We don't need public policy challenging voter fraud," he said. "We need public policy challenging the decimation and destruction of democracy."

He used the backdrop of the train station to demand a regional transportation system that would connect people in urban areas with jobs in the suburbs -- something Snyder himself has strongly supported.

-- David Sands

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May Day marchers continued their walk from Clark Park to Michigan Central Station, one of Detroit's iconic ruins. They chanted "No room for Moroun!" -- a reference to the building's owner, billionaire Manuel 'Matty' Moroun.

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There are around a dozen police cars escorting marchers on their route, and several mounted police observing the demonstration as well. Police are telling commuters to avoid the marchers and are intermittently blaring sirens.

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Students participating in a self-created "freedom school" since they were suspended last week explained their situation to the growing crowd at Clark Park and asked supporters to write letters to Detroit Public Schools administration and Emergency Manager Roy Roberts.

Other speakers asked crowd members to give the same support for parents and students at Maybury Elementary, also on Clark Park and slated for closure.

The marchers took to the street outside Western International High School chanting, "Hey, hey, ho, ho, school closings have got to go!" Students inside the building looked on from the school windows, many waving and cheering.

-- David Sands

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A mixed crowd of about 150 people have gathered around the stage in Clark Park, where a huge banner hangs reading, "It's Not One Thing, It's Everything."

Martha Gervatt, 54 and a UAW Local 869 member, said she was there to support workers' rights.

"I'm here because it's important that we revive the spirit of May Day," she said.

Gervatt added that spirit was rekindled by the May 1 immigrant rights protests that began in 2006, and that Tuesday's rally would be an opportunity for labor to stand with those struggling for immigrant and LGBT rights, as well as those opposing the Detroit consent agreement and "outrageous" ruling on Public Act 4.

The state board of canvassers last week declined to approve more than 200,000 signatures seeking a referendum on Public Act 4, Michigan's emergency manager law.

-- David Sands

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Christian Alexander, 37 of Detroit, said he attended an early morning picket of Trader Joe's in Grosse Pointe.

Workers from Mastronardi Produce and supporters from the Alliance for Immigrant Rights are accusing the company, which supplies produce to Trader Joe's, of unfair labor practices.

Alexander said about 40 people attended the 9:30 a.m. picket and they passed out about 150 fliers. A member of AIR's workers committee met with a Trader Joe's store manager.

-- David Sands

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Seven students who formed a "freedom school" after they were suspended from Western and Southwestern High Schools last week for protesting education cuts are holding class in Clark Park.

Tumblr, the blogging platform, is the subject of a media literacy class. Student Raychel Gafford, 17, said the school has grown by a few people each day since student organizers were suspended last Thursday.

"It's going really good," she said. "You know your teachers have your back and it really allows you to express yourself."

The students plan to join the May Day protests as a field trip.

"It's about workers rights, right?" Gafford asked. "I support workers rights."

-- David Sands

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Marchers planning to walk from Patton Park to join Occupy Detroit's starting rally in Clark Park have cancelled their plans.

Gemini Bhalsod, 22, of the May Day Coalition logistics committee said participants should instead come directly to the Clark Park rally at noon. She said she remains "excited and optimistic" about the Tuesday's events.

Bhalsod said the May Day actions are being organized by the May Day Coalition, an alliance of community members and groups, including Jobs for Justice, One Michigan, MECAWI and Occupy Detroit.

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Members of Alliance for Immigrant Rights and Progress Michigan arrived at Clark Park in Detroit Tuesday morning to gather supporters for informational pickets of the Canadian-based Mastronardi Produce Company.

Former Mastronardi employees allege management at at the company's Livonia distribution center verbally abused workers and shorted their pay.

The group plans to picket a Grosse Pointe Trader Joe's and a Lincoln Park Aldi, grocery stores that buy produce from Mastronardi, before returning to Clark Park to join Occupy Detroit's May Day rally and actions.

-- David Sands

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