Occupy Lansing to picket downtown Bank of America

LANSING, MI – Members of Occupy Lansing will picket outside the downtown branch of Bank of America Wednesday. The group, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, picketed a branch of Chase Bank last week. They say the demonstrations are meant to call attention to the role of large banks in the economic meltdown.

Several members of Occupy Lansing have been camped out in a downtown park. As WKAR's Gretchen Millich reports, they don't intend to leave anytime soon.

These days, Reutter Park on South Capitol is a busy place. About 20 tents are set up for sleeping, then there's the information tent, the first aid tent and the mess tent. There's a circle of chairs around a fire and off to the side, a couple of porta-potties.

For the time being, 22-year-old Ian Eberhart calls this place home. Like Occupy Wall Street, Eberhart says, the Lansing encampment is an experiment in participatory democracy.

"Yeah, we want everyone who's affected to get involved," says Eberhart. "We want everyone to be part of the solution, and by starting a movement that is based on direct democracy without a top-down hierarchy, and that is effectively leaderless, we're hoping to also provide a model for how things can work. We want people to get involved in their democracy. Take it back."

Eberhart says they got the idea for picketing banks when Curtis Hertel, Jr. spoke to the group. Hertel is the Ingham County Register of Deeds. He has an ongoing lawsuit against Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. It alleges that they failed to pay millions of dollars in real estate transfer taxes on the sale of foreclosed homes. The lawsuit also names the Bank of America, among others.

Hertel says he supports what Occupy Lansing is trying to do.

"I think educating the public is important," says Hertel. "I'm not 100 per cent sure I understand the idea of going to a specific bank branch and protesting. I think that might just screw up somebody's day, and they might not be willing to listen to you, but I do believe very strongly that the public needs to be educated. I think in general the message that Occupy Lansing has is very good. We do have to realize that our politics has way too much corporate interest in it."

Unlike other occupations around the country, Occupy Lansing has a good relationship with city officials. Mayor Virg Bernero is an outspoken supporter, and Eberhart says they're also on good terms with the police.

"And we're working toward keeping that good relationship by remaining entirely peaceful," says Eberhart. "We make an effort not to harass people on the sidewalks during our protests, and we are in regular contact with the Chief of Police here in Lansing. So, we're on really good terms with them, and we'd like to keep it that way."

The group gets regular donations of food, water, and medical supplies. They keep a running list of what they need on their website at OccupyLansing.US.

So far, the weather has been mild, but the group is making plans for staying here when it gets cold. Randy Meyer is on the Winterizing Committee.

"It's surprising, but we have a lot of people who are committed to staying through the winter, even if it's in a tent," says Meyer.

Meyer says they're planning to raise money to build yurts. Those are round wooden structures that have thick walls and a wood floor.

"A yurt is self-standing, self-sustainable," says Meyer. "So, we're going to use space here in the park to build a sustainability village. We're planning to use chemical-based toilets, getting rid of the porta-potties, and making this so we can live here, and we can be a model for other places."

Occupy Lansing members say they're in solidarity with other occupations in cities all over the country, and they plan to continue to protest economic inequality and corporate influence on politicians and government.