Getting Ready for Occupy Austin

by Greg Moses

My Tuesday evening walk to the General Assembly of Occupy Austin begins near 5th St. and Colorado as I enter the fashionable warehouse district occupied by restaurants where I cannot afford to eat. Signs on the sidewalk offer valet parking. A rooftop club shares music that puts you in the mood to party.

By the time I get to 2nd St, better known these days as Willie Nelson Blvd, sidewalk dining is in full buzz. At 6:30 pm the temperature is sliding down into the 70’s, and the atmosphere could not be more perfect for a gourmet pizza with salad, wine, and schmooze. This newly-developed high-rise section of downtown Austin has got to be one of the more fortunate neighborhoods in the history of the world.

At the corner of Willie Nelson and Lavaca, sidewalk tables hug the plate glass windows of a coffee shop leased out from the backside of Austin City Hall. Here behind neat Texas gardens enclosed by hefty limestone blocks the diligent organizers of Occupy Austin check their emails, their twitter accounts, and make use of old-fashioned face-to-face communications. Mostly they look relaxed, together.

“OK, it’s seven o’clock says a young man with light longish hair who has just rounded the corner from the front,” and folks fold up their laptops for the walk around the building.

At the front side of City Hall more than a hundred folks have gathered on and around a stair-stepped stone amphitheater. In a handy space at the western edge of the front row I find myself sitting next to Jimmy, a friendly veteran with a pickup truck who is going to be helping out with chores of the occupation. And standing on the other side of me is Jim, a well known Austin pastor, activist, and author. We three are among the older folks here, though probably not the oldest, and we spend our first minutes together remarking how impressed we are with the velocity and youth of this movement, barely a week old, and already approaching world historical.

Soon enough tonight’s facilitator Joshua who I first recognized by his jeans that were netcast Monday night in a poorly lit General Assembly video is introducing us to the rules of the occupation.

“I moderated last night, and I’m facilitating tonight,” explains Josh, “but I can’t do this three times in a row. Nobody can appear three times in a row for any of these things, so we need all of you to step up and do your part.”

Josh is orienting us to The Procedure, how we should lift our hands and wiggle our fingers to “sparkle” with signs of approval, or raise up our thumbs and index fingers together to make a triangle when we want to raise points of order, or cup our hands in the form of a “C” to seek clarification in discussion. When we don’t want something to happen we cross our forearms in an “X” that will read as a “block.” Blocks need to be cleared before the group can go forward, or, if necessary, a block can be overridden by a majority of 9/10.

The Procedure seems to work pretty well for gathering a sense of things from a complex meeting filled with energy and opinions. First order of business was to hear from smaller groups their Magnet Reports on health care, child care, press relations, outreach, affirmative action, wifi plans, reading groups, jail help, union solidarity, bank actions, campus activism, beverages, flyers, development of local issues, and more.

In between reports up steps the Vibe Watcher to remind insiders who are chattering amongst themselves only a dozen feet East of the moderator that they are distracting folks from what should be the main center of attention for the moment. Which allows us to get back to the business of hearing about the need to coordinate pickup trucks to haul out the trash and so forth.

The diversity of chores is daunting as the scope of the occupation unfolds before us. Just check out the list of contacts at the Occupy Austin website and see if you don’t think that wow that’s a lot of stuff to do.

After a careful process of agenda construction, which takes more minutes that anyone would prefer, but what can you do about it when so many people have so much to say, the new business begins.

A lawyer talks about procedures of arrest, booking, and bonding out, in the event that the cops are turned on the occupation at some point in time. Money is gathered to print flyers. Alex Jones is mentioned as someone who has allegedly threatened to stage a counter-occupation of some kind, which most folks here are of a mind to resist by means of booing him back.

A very short mission statement is read and approved, which is pretty close to the one already posted online at the Austin Occupation website.

And then, shortly before I decide to step off into the night, there is a substantive discussion about police relations and whether the Austin Occupation should continue to have a police liaison. There is substantial disagreement about this, but the organizers appear to have a leaning on the question and so the liaison that is already in place stays in place.

The walk back is exceedingly pleasant, with signs of good life aplenty. Then, back at the corner of 5th and Colorado, there is a bus-stop bench and a brief glimpse of the life that grinds you down slowly into old threads and sullen eyes. Thirty-six hours before the occupation of Austin begins, you can’t help but hope that it does some good.

“Occupy Wall Street” Spreads to McAllen

By Nick Braune

Following a Saturday People for Peace and Justice event, discussion shifted to the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations in New York. John-Michael Torres, an active Valley worker, mentioned an upcoming support demonstration in McAllen. I emailed him some questions the following day, and he and some other rally organizers pulled together their replies.

Braune: Fill us in about “Occupy McAllen.” When, where and why?

Organizers: When and where? This Thursday we will meet at the McAllen Chamber of Commerce at 5:30 p.m., and then march at 6 p.m. through downtown and around Chase Bank. The rally will end with a “popular assembly” at Archer Park. Why? To peacefully protest with the rest of the world against corruption, greed and the corporate-driven destruction of our economy and democracy.

The top 1 percent of the population (controlling most of the nation’s wealth) has driven the economy into the ground and then taken U.S. taxpayer money to bail itself out. Those same corporate elites have created the housing and jobs crises that have put so many Americans out of work and out of their homes. Abroad they drive Free Trade policies that ruin local economies and drive poor people out of their countries and into the U.S. in search of a living.

Braune: News reporters often ignorantly imply that younger people are at political protests because it looks like fun. But what would you say are the reasons that growing numbers of young people are going to rallies like these?

Organizers: The Occupy McAllen march and rally, like the New York rally, has been organized almost entirely by young people. Indeed we have always been a part of rallies like these: throughout history and world-wide it has largely been the youth who have demanded change. Youth have great stakes in protesting social, political, and economic injustices.

Braune: This generation is savvy.

Organizers: Yes. This generation has been watching how corrupt the government has been getting, while problems around the world are continuously worsening. Neither Obama nor the Tea Party movement have fixed our problems and in many respects have made them worse.

And this is the first generation, perhaps since the Great Depression, where immense numbers of white youth have not benefited from the economic system. Their working class parents have had their homes foreclosed. Their school loans can’t be paid because they too now are unemployed or underpaid in the shrinking job market. Their reality has gotten closer to what black and brown and immigrant communities have been battling for years.

The largely white participants of the protest on Wall Street have joined campaigns led by black and Latino workers, while their mass occupation actions have inspired communities of black and brown folks to join up with the occupy movement.

Youth across the country and around the world — let’s mention the Egyptian revolution as inspirational — are showing each other something important. If the younger generation doesn’t stand up and voice its opinions and fight to save its freedom, there will be no future for it.

Braune: What are the demands?

Organizers: There is no one set of demands, but fundamentally one No and many Yes’s. One resounding No to corporate-driven interests, which have increased inequality in the U.S. and destroyed both our communities and the earth. And many Yes’s for freedom, liberty, equality, democracy, the protection of the earth and the dignity and self-determination of all its inhabitants.

[From “Reflection and Change,” Mid-Valley Town Crier, Oct. 3, 2011]