Occupy Atlanta rally turns political, ends early

The political action group MoveOn.org joined Occupy Atlanta protesters Saturday for a rally on the steps of Georgia's Capitol, but the event ended early after Occupy Atlanta members grew frustrated with people who spoke out about the president and the Republican party.

The rally primarily was held to support the federal jobs bill, said Tariq Shakoor, a DeKalb County council coordinator for MoveOn.org. About 200 people attended, many holding signs with messages such as "Stop attacking the middle class" or "Wall Street and Main Street are not connected." One protester wore a shirt that said, “Job cuts don’t heal.”

"We're not here for political agendas; we're not here for politics," said James Turner, who has been camping out downtown in Woodruff Park with other Occupy Atlanta members since Oct. 7. "We're here for the people, not to get behind a candidate."

Turner is among hundreds of people who have been told to vacate the park by 5 p.m. Monday, when Mayor Kasim Reed's executive order allowing them to stay will expire. A spokeswoman for the mayor said nothing has changed, though the city is constantly monitoring and assessing the situation.

Spokeswoman Sonji Jacobs Dade said, "Mayor Reed will determine next steps" following Monday's city council meeting.

Shakoor said Saturday's rally was meant to protest bipartisan gridlock, but Occupy Atlanta marchers bearing signs about the plight of the poor walked up to the Capitol chanting, "Banks got bailed out, we got sold out." They were met with cheers.

Once the rally's message turned to politics, Occupy Atlanta members started to disperse while MoveOn.org participants remained behind.

The Occupy Atlanta movement, which began more than a week ago, is an outgrowth of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have targeted purported corporate greed and a lack of job creation. In Woodruff Park, there were about 50 tents set up. Members of the movement were handing out fliers and holding teach-ins on the grass.

Cailyn Nagle, a University of Georgia student who has commuted between Athens and the protests, said she is participating because she is scared of graduating into a bad job market, and fears for the future of her sister, who starts college next year. Nagle, who was raised in Dacula, said the movement continues to add members, and the sense of community is growing.

"If I can have a hand in changing this country for the better, I have to," she said.

Robin Andrews, a 51-year-old resident of the Fourth Ward, said she owns a home and has a job, but participated in the rally because the value of her house has declined by half. Andrews, who was laid off two years ago, said she makes half as much in her new job as she did in her old one.

Among a group of 15 of her friends, she said all but three are underwater on their homes.

"There's a long list of problems," she said. "People need to wake up."

Shakoor, with MoveOn.org, said the situation in Georgia is desperate. He lamented the high cost of water bills and the number of people whose homes are being foreclosed, and said the state needs to repair roads and schools, which could put people back to work.

He said participants know the federal jobs bill is not a panacea, but said it could be a major step toward improving the economy.

“This is an election year, and they need to know the people are going to be heard from,” he said. “This just doesn’t look like the American Dream. It looks more like the American nightmare.”

Speakers talked about the Greek debt crisis, debit card usage fees and the foreclosure crisis, in addition to unemployment and politics. They opened the rally with the Star-Spangled Banner; about half the participants sang along.

Regina Ali Nur, an Acworth resident, came to the rally with her mother, daughter and cousin. Ali Nur said she no longer felt like the people had a voice, and though she was not affected by the bad economy on a daily basis, she remains concerned about the state of the country.

“If it affects one of us, it is going to affect all of us,” she said.