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Occupy the PGA confronts injustice in Benton Harbor

May 27, 2012

Yesterday, over 100 activists from Benton Harbor, other communities in Michigan and around the world participated in a demonstration against the exploitation and theft of land and resources from the people of Benton Harbor.

The action yesterday was the last day of a 5-day campaign to draw attention to the systemic violence being perpetrated by the Whirlpool Corporation and the City of St. Joseph against the disproportionately Black community in Benton Harbor.

The Professional Golf Association (PGA) was hosting a golf tournament for several days on land that had been stolen from the local community to construct a golf course near Lake Michigan.

As people gathered in a parking lot across from City Hall the police presence became noticeable, with some of the cops filming the crowd. Throughout the day there were cops from Benton Harbor, St. Joseph, the Sheriff’s Department and Michigan State police.

Once the crowd of over 100 gathered in the parking lot, Rev. Pinkney (BANCO) gave a few words about what the Occupy the PGA was all about. He also named those responsible for the theft of land and the exploitation of Benton Harbor.

After Rev. Pinkney spoke, people then moved to the steps of City Hall, where organizers told the crowd how the funeral procession was going to proceed. Before the funeral procession began a local musician led the crowd in a song and was followed by a supporter who read a poem about the systemic violence caused by Whirlpool.

The funeral procession began at City Hall in Benton Harbor and made its way west on Main Street. On this stretch on road there were numerous buildings boarded up and other visual messages about the poverty and exploitation that the people of Benton Harbor have endured for years.

Once the funeral procession got off of Main Street, it made its way along the golf course route, where at every spot that there was a gap between trees or shrubs, police on foot or in cruisers had a presence in order to prevent people from disrupting the golf tournament by running on the golf course.

The funeral procession also passed a large parking area where tour buses were shuttling golf fans, which bought tickets for the PGA tournament.

Once the funeral procession arrived in St. Joseph it became painfully clear the economic chasm between the residents of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. The homes in St. Joseph were larger, fancier, with landscaped lawns and people out walking their dogs. Nowhere along this part of the route were African Americans among the residents, only those who marched. The clear evidence of racism and classism was not lost on those that walked in the funeral procession as we passed the Whirlpool Corporation in St. Joseph.

The funeral procession ended at what was left of a public park. This was the park that was significantly downsized so that the land could be used for the golf course. As Lake Michigan welcomed the participants one could not help but notice that there was orange fencing right up against the road that led to the park. The PGA wanted to make sure that even here there would be signs and visual messages letting people know that they were not welcomed. The police tape here said “Ticket Holders Only, NO Trespassing!”

Despite the constant harassment from police, the participants maintained good spirits as they shared food, conversation and relaxed under a pavilion in the park. Organizers stated that they would keep up the pressure on Whirlpool and invited those from out of town to maintain their solidarity and by helping to get the word out about the systemic violence being done in southwest Michigan.

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