ATLANTA — The Occupy Atlanta movement got a boost Thursday from the Rev. Jesse Jackson, who told protesters at a homeless shelter that their efforts are an extension of the struggle he helped lead for civil rights in America.
Jackson urged the protesters to keep up the fight, and to focus their anger on economic and social disparities, not City Hall.
"Do not let difficult times break your spirits," Jackson said. "In all things, keep your eyes on the prize. Renew your faith, keep your hope alive and victory is assured."
Jackson is in Atlanta participating in a conference with his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition and said the organization shares many of the concerns of the Occupy movement. He also has visited with protesters in other cities around the country, including New York, Chicago and Detroit.
For weeks, the Occupy Atlanta movement was based at a downtown park before police arrested more than 50 people on Oct. 25 after Mayor Kasim Reed revoked an executive order that had allowed the protesters to remain in the park overnight. Authorities have since been enforcing the 11 p.m. curfew for public parks, and the protesters have not been allowed to sleep there.
The arrests were the climax of growing tensions in the city between the mayor, police and protesters. On Thursday, Jackson called the conflict a distraction.
"The focus now is on mayors," Jackson said. "It must be on bankers."
On Thursday, organizers said they plan to return to Woodruff Park — which they renamed for Troy Davis, the Georgia prisoner executed last month for the shooting death of a police officer — on Saturday and are prepared to be arrested again. Prior to returning to Woodruff Park, Occupy Atlanta organizers plan to have nonviolence training at the homeless shelter that has become their headquarters.
Organizer Tim Franzen said he is encouraged by the support of Jackson and others from the civil rights community. The Rev. Joseph Lowery and Ambassador Andrew Young, who worked alongside the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil rights movement, have also met with Occupy Atlanta protesters in recent days.
"We're seeing a passing of the baton," Franzen said. "I think a lot of us are still at that place where we're thinking, 'What is this? What are we doing? Is this going to fizzle out or are we really at the beginning of the first real global social justice movement?' When we hear folks like ... Jesse Jackson come through and recognize that this is a movement that they need to get behind ... you couldn't ask for a better pep rally."
Jackson called the Occupy movement "a gallant stand for social justice for all people" that represents the growing disparity between the haves and the have-nots. He praised the multiracial coalition of people and said the effort reminds him of the Poor People's Campaign that King was just beginning before he was killed in April 1968.
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