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OGR 2012: Jewly Seeking Justice

Jewly Warren, a local activist, describes a life of activism and her latest involvement in Occupy Grand Rapids.
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/Courtesy of Jewly Warren

/Courtesy of Jewly Warren

“It’s about time!” This was Jewly Warren’s reaction to the formation of Occupy Grand Rapids, an activist organization seeking to return political power to the people of America. The 39-year-old grandmother with a history of epilepsy was overjoyed to hear that the Occupy movement had made its way here. “We need to be a community of people that want to help each other,” she explains.

Occupy Grand Rapids is just one chapter of thousands of Occupy protests that have popped up all over the nation and in other countries. According to Warren, it seeks to get rid of the corruption found in our current government and in large corporations that have immense influence in that government.

Warren has a few goals in particular that she works to see through in Occupy Grand Rapids. First, she wants to see the proposed 28th Amendment put into the Constitution. She works with Move to Amend, an organization that shares that goal. The amendment says, in essence, that corporations are not people and cannot be treated as such, and money should no longer be treated as free speech, so spending should be regulated to some degree. This would prevent corporations from gaining too much power and controlling the government. In addition, it would prevent them from donating incredibly large amounts of money to a political candidate’s campaign, thus influencing the outcome far more than your average Jane could.

Warren also wants health care to become socialized. Despite her epilepsy, she has never had health insurance, so she ends up having to pay thousands of dollars in medical bills. To pay off this debt, she had to go back to school to start a new career as a massage therapist. She notes that there are millions of people in similar situations who would benefit greatly from socialized health care. In addition, Warren says that there is “way too much money to be made with privatized health care.” Companies could easily take advantage of the system just to benefit their bottom line without taking into consideration how their decisions affect others.

Before returning to school to become a massage therapist, Warren was a real estate agent. She was very successful before the economy crashed, which dealt a hard blow to the housing market. She blames the downturn on the banks. However, a plummeting market wasn’t the only reason she left the real estate business. Emotionally, it was extremely taxing. When the housing market hit rock bottom, people were desperate to sell their houses, but nobody could afford to buy them. “Constantly dealing with desperate people hurt,” she reflects. On top of that, her company would not allow her to advise people on what to do about loans. If the customer was about to take out a loan that could hurt his or her financial future, Warren couldn’t say anything about it. Being a person who has always loved helping others, she still advised them as best she could and took whatever punishment the company would give her. In the end, she couldn’t take the conflict anymore, and she had to leave.

Warren also cares deeply about the environment. Most of her environmental activism took place where she grew up, in Detroit. Environmental groups she was involved in often planted community gardens. She and her husband Scott Warren made a documentary called “Viva la Veggie” about buying locally grown foods to support the local economy and to improve health. By buying local, she explained, not only are farmers given an economic boost, but the person who eats it is given a vitamin boost. In fact, Warren says, one locally grown organic apple has the nutrients of five mass produced apples. And the vitamin deficiency isn’t restricted to fruits and vegetables. Widely-sold, widely-bought meats are so infused with chemicals and preservatives that the Warrens have decided to become a vegetarian. Well, mostly vegetarian. “We would be total vegetarians if it weren’t for bacon,” Jewly laughs.

As if being an environmentalist, Occupier, activist, and massage therapist weren’t enough, Warren enjoys all forms of art, especially cinematic. She inherited this love from her mother, who used to be an art teacher. Artistic talents have come in handy in her involvement with Occupy. “Being an artist is what taught me to find creative solutions to problems.” Since day one, she has been videotaping, interviewing, protesting, editing, writing, and publishing. Her husband has been right there beside her, doing the same. They are citizen video journalists, making sure that everybody knows what Occupy is and what the movement is about. Warren says that Occupy gives hope to people.

Occupy Grand Rapids is unique in a few ways, according to Jewly Warren. Members have always been in communication with the city council and police. The Occupiers aren’t just standing outside with picket signs, ignoring what anybody says. They are expressing their opinions and desires to the city council and, in return, listening to the city council's concerns. The protest is also unique because of where it takes place. Grand Rapids is fairly conservative overall, but Occupy is a widely liberal organization. Despite opposing political views, Warren loves Grand Rapids because the people are so genuine. She also says that it is easier to be “green” here, as opposed to her birthplace, Detroit.

Warren also wants Occupy to educate people. In order for the movement to grow, people have to know the truth about it, not just what the media tells them. That is why she and her husband participate so heavily in video journalism. It gets the word out about what Occupy Grand Rapids is doing and why they are doing it. She also wants to expose corporate greed and where money is actually going and what is really done with the taxpayer dollars. She wants the people to be informed citizens and smart voters who actively participate in their government.

Occupy Grand Rapids isn’t the only Occupy protest she has been involved in. She and husband Scott Warren participated in the protest outside of Governor Snyder’s house, and she visited Washington, D.C. to protest. That was when she was in the worst danger of being arrested. Police officers were everywhere with empty vans to take people to jail. The danger was so immediate that a fellow Occupier told members of the movement to split into two groups: people willing to be arrested marched in the street; people not willing to be arrested went to the sidewalks. Warren nervously asked a man next to her how many people the police could fit in their vans. The man replied, “Not all of us.”

Now, looking back on it, Jewly Warren knows her efforts have been worth it. From the beginning, she knew that there would be risks, but she is willing to take them. “I will go to jail to protect my rights. I will go to jail for my children, and that is why I’m doing this.”

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