Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Austin’

After arrests, Occupy Austin calls for firing of city officials, restoration of First Amendment rights

Posted on: February 10th, 2012 by Mary Tuma 2 Comments

Despite a weekend eviction and arrests, members of Occupy Austin continue to strategize and strengthen the movement. Specifically, Occupiers are taking aim at city and police officials for what they consider a breach of their free speech rights.

As the Texas Independent reported, Austin Police Department and city management forced the group to vacate City Hall Plaza on the night of Feb. 3, as per a new city policy. Members criticized APD and the city for giving them just one hour to exit, rather than, as some suggested, at least 24 hours notice. A handful of occupiers were arrested for criminal trespass charges, but were eventually released.

In the week leading up to the eviction, occupiers say they repeatedly asked city management to clarify the new rules in writing, a wish unmet by the city until the night of the arrests. While written orders and a timeline preceded previous Occupy Austin arrests made on Halloween night the recent raid did not, Occupiers point out. “Any statement from the City of Austin claiming that Occupy Austin had notice of full eviction since Monday is blatantly false and we have the records to prove it,” a statement from Occupy reads.

Now, Occupiers are fighting back against what they see as unconstitutional actions by APD and the city. In a letter sent to city officials this week, Occupy members voiced their concerns regarding the eviction and set forth a list of demands, including a request to meet with the Mayor and City Council. The members are calling for the resignation of City Manager Marc Ott and Assistant City Manager Michael McDonald for “provoking a violent situation […] by lying to members of Occupy Austin as to what their (Ott & Mcdonald) directives were, and for authorizing multiple violations of constitutional rights.”

Recounting the Feb. 3 arrests and the following night’s silent March to End Homelessness– an event that attracted about four dozen police officers (but no arrests)­– occupiers are condemning the use of taxpayer money on “frivolous and excessive APD presence.” They are requesting to see accounting and cost figures for APD, SWAT, and SRT teams on the night of the arrests and the subsequent day. They are additionally requesting an investigation into the new policy they see as a restriction of their First Amendment rights to peacefully assemble.

Occupier Ronnie Garza says the movement is concentrating on strategies that directly address the decision to evict the members and the time given to do so.

“What we would like to see is the city managers and APD respond to what happened over the weekend,” said Garza. “Specific police officers laid hands on some of our members and older folks got hurt when arrested. This doesn’t seem to be good practice.”

A possible lawsuit is not out of the question, say members of the local Occupy Wall Street movement.

“There is definitely talk of litigation against the city and police, especially,” said Occupy Austin member Kit O’Connell. “We are putting a lot of options of the table right now.”

In their letter to city managers and council members, occupiers also listed the contributions made to the community including planting hundreds of native trees, the creation of public garden spaces and volunteering to feed, clothe and give to the city’s homeless.

“Even as a member of Occupy, I’ve been surprised by how resilient we’ve been so far,” said O’Connell. “A lot of Occupies in other cities have struggled after an eviction–we’re definitely facing challenges but we are facing them really well, in my opinion.”

Image: Occupy Austin (Trey Perry)

Occupy UT inspires student activism in face of obstacles

Posted on: January 26th, 2012 by Teddy Wilson 3 Comments

(Mary Tuma/Texas Independent)

Even as authorities continue to stifle the public protest, the Occupy Movement has found new venues for activism. The movement has grown on college campuses around the country. From the organization of an Occupy UMASS to the continued activism of students at Occupy UC Davis, college campuses have acted as an incubator of the Occupy Movement.

In Texas the Occupy Movement has been embraced by colleges and universities around the state. As the Texas Independent reported, student led protests have been organized at some of the state’s flagship campuses. At the University of Texas in Austin, Occupy UT has been organizing to take action on a variety of issues in conjunction with other student organizations.

According to the student newspaper the Daily Texan, Occupy UT hosted a student forum on education the day after participating in the Martin Luther King Jr. Day March. As with many other Occupy movements on college campuses around the country, the cost of and access to higher education has become a major part of the dialog.

On the group’s web site is posted a list of grievances entitled “Declaration of the Occupation of the University of Texas at Austin.” Included are a range of issues from the cost of tuition and the rise in student loan debt, to the university’s ties to the military-industrial complex, major corporations, and major banks. However, the group is not officially recognized as a student organization by the university, and this has created some conflict between the students and the administration.

The Daily Texan reported that university officials have said that lack of communication between Occupy UT and the administration has prevented the students from enjoying the same privileges of other student organizations. However, a recent change in administration policy effectively banning camping on campus has been seen as a direct action against the student activists.

Trevor Hoag, a member of Occupy UT, told the Texas Independent that the administration has said that if the student activists want to have a physical occupation that it would have to be done under very specific parameters. Some of these parameters included keeping the number of tents low, the encampment would be required to maintain a certain aesthetic, and students would not be allowed to camp overnight.

“I think it’s pretty clear that this administration is trying to save face and prevent a public occupation,” said Hoag. “When the faculty council brought up the rules regarding camping on campus I think it was obvious that they were worried about the movement on campus and what it would look like if there were a physical occupation on campus.” Hoag went on to say that he thinks this is about preventing protest, but that it will not prevent Occupy UT from moving forward with protests and events.

“Occupy UT is the umbrella organization,” said Hoag. “We are trying to get other groups to unite toward common causes. This week we are going to have a walking tour partnering with the African Studies department on campus, and a professor is going to lead a talk about the statues and buildings on campus and the history of racism.” On campus  a statue of Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States, and other statues and buildings named after Confederate figures and Ku Klux Klan members have all stirred controversy.

Hoag downplayed any friction between Occupy UT and the administration saying that “there is not necessarily any bad blood.” The major conflict between the two groups, says Hoag, is between the student activists’ desire to protest and the administration’s requirements to allow those protests. “The university wants any form of protest to be highly highly controlled,” said Hoag. “They will say yes we will work with you, but they want that protest to be controlled.”

While Hoag admits that they do have some “legitimate concerns” about safety, he says that it is mostly about control. “At the end of the day the administration would be more well served to say that we can take the criticism, they shouldn’t be threatened by us,” said Hoag. Despite the complications he believes that the Occupy Movement will continue at UT and throughout the country. “The city occupies and the national occupy groups are all going strong,” said Hoag. “Even the places where the camps were brutally dismantled, they are still going strong.”

Occupy movement organizes on Texas college campuses, prepares for future action

Posted on: December 8th, 2011 by Teddy Wilson 1 Comment

In the months since the Occupy Movement has begun, a significant segment of the protest has been focused on issues relevant to college students. The rising cost of higher education and the heavy burden of student loan debt have spurred students to get involved in the movement.

On college campuses around the country the occupy movement has been engaged, and the reaction to the protests by some administrators has spurred controversy. Democracy Now! reported that at the University of California at Berkeley police forcibly removed students and arrested 39 people, and at University of California, Davis, campus police pepper-sprayed student protesters as they sat together to protest the dismantling of the “Occupy UC Davis” encampment.

In Texas the occupy movement has been embraced on some college campuses, but there has not been the same types of confrontations with campus police that have been seen elsewhere. The students have often chosen to work with local occupy movement organizers than to focus solely on campus actions. However, as the movement has grown that appears to be changing.

According to the student newspaper the Daily Texan, a student walkout began the occupy movement at the University of Texas at Austin on October 5 as students joined with Occupy Austin. The event took place nationwide as Occupy Colleges called for students and faculty at college campus across the country to protest in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

According to the Occupy UT Austin Facebook page, the group stands in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. “The community is comprised of students, staff, faculty, and anyone affiliated with (or standing in support of) occupying university members.” A semester long event is being planned for January 16 until May 4 to occupy the University of Texas Tower. The Facebook event page says “that beginning on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Occupy Wall Street movement will come to the University of Texas.” According to the group’s web site, a planning meeting is scheduled for December 13.

The Occupy Movement has also come to Texas A&M University. In November students organized with professors and community members in Occupy Bryan-College Station protests. The Texas A&M student newspaper the Battalion reported that a protest in November organized on campus, and an estimated 40 occupiers marched to the local branch of Bank of America.

However, students at Texas A&M have not “occupied” areas on campus, and their activities have been limited to protests and days of action. Junior mechanical engineering major Justin Montgomery told the Battalion that it wouldn’t be effective to set up occupied encampments. “We’re doing this to show our support for what’s going on elsewhere, and also for all these people to have an outlet to voice their opinions,” said Montgomery.

Joshua Christopher Harvey, one of the organizers of Occupy Texas State, told the Texas Independent that he became involved in the occupy movement because “over the years it had become apparent to me that our government has grown less accountable to the people.” Harvey went on to say that the “encroachment of corporate personhood in our society and its impact on our political system was also of great concern.”

“Here in Texas,” said Harvey, “grants and funding for higher education were and are being cut. These cuts have led my university to increase the student population in an attempt to balance the $10 million budget cut by the state. This puts a great burden on our teaching staff. Due to further cuts next year, our tuition will rise. The Occupy Colleges Movement, which started in California allowed me and others an outlet to be a participant in the greater movement at a local level and to seek solutions to counteract the negative effects of corporate personhood and a failed economy on education in our state.”

Like Occupy UT Austin, Occupy Texas State is also planning future events, including the possibility of acts of peaceful and minor civil disobedience. These events could be “sit-ins or erecting a tent on the Quad and occupying it for a number of hours or possibly days to challenge university policies that we feel limit free speech and expression,” said Harvey. In addition Occupy Texas State is planning on working with the Texas State Employees Union, CWA-TSEU, in the coming weeks to address cuts and freezes to faculty and staff pay at our university.

Moving forward, Harvey says that the Occupy Movement on the Texas State campus is going to continue its efforts to further the message of the movement and engage students in action. “We will hold more Days of Action rallies, shows of solidarity to the greater Occupy Movement and seek to work with our local and state governments. We feel it is time to move from demonstrating to action and we are planning a host of activities for the Spring semester including a voting drive to register the incoming students in time for the 2012 elections,” said Harvey.

More than 47,000 Texans join credit unions for Bank Transfer Day

Posted on: November 7th, 2011 by Mary Tuma 4 Comments

(Mary Tuma/Texas Inependent)

Over the weekend, members of the Occupy Texas movement in cities like Houston and Austin marched to their banks, closed their accounts and put their money in credit unions, joining demonstrators across the nation on Bank Transfer Day. (more…)

Occupy Austin working with city to avoid further arrests

Posted on: November 3rd, 2011 by Mary Tuma No Comments

After mass arrests this weekend sent around 40 Occupy Austin protesters to jail, the movement’s members are working with city officials and the police to find a compromise over the new city rules that sparked the arrests at Austin City Hall. (more…)

Mass arrests at Occupy Austin signal end to amicable relations with City Hall, police

Posted on: October 31st, 2011 by Mary Tuma 4 Comments

Occupy Austin saw a series of run-ins with police this weekend, with a total of 42 protesters arrested over two days of peaceful demonstration, ending the once-calm relations between local law enforcement and the occupiers. While police claim demonstrators broke rules set forth by the city, protesters call the crackdown an overreaction and an infringement on First Amendment rights. (more…)

Labor groups join local movements to Occupy Texas, careful to avoid getting too close

Posted on: October 18th, 2011 by Patrick Michels No Comments

As soon as the Occupy Wall Street spinoffs began popping up in Austin, Dallas and Houston, local labor unions stepped up to endorse the movements around the state, in keeping with many of their national parent organizations. (more…)

Protesters arrested at Occupy Houston, Austin

Posted on: October 14th, 2011 by Mary Tuma No Comments

While relations between the Austin Police Department and Occupy Austin protestors remained largely amicable since the occupation began last week, the relationship may be changing as result of recent arrests. (more…)