Occupied in El Paso


El Paso has been doing its part in representing the Occupy Wall Street movement. At least 60 people were camped out at San Jacinto Plaza in downtown El Paso in October. As the nights have dipped into the chilly 30s the number has gone down to 40 in November but is still going strong, says 30 year-old participant Gilbert Gonzalez.

“I’m tired of the way things are being run in our country,” Gonzalez says. “We are working here together to change that.”

Gonzalez handed me an Occupy El Paso flyer which listed the various issues they were protesting against including inequality in the workplace, cruelty to animals, student loan debt and corporate control of the media just to name a few. It was a daunting list but a valiant one to try and conquer.

Rappers entertained the crowd of about 50 people under a banner that read “We are the 99 percent.” Camping tents ringed the park and children decorated the brick sidewalks with colored chalk. Gonzalez and other participants were struggling to get a permit from the city to remain at San Jacinto plaza downtown. “They’ve been playing games with us,” says Gonzalez. Paul Foster an oil industry tycoon from El Paso is paying several thousands of dollars to renovate the park and the city council wants the protesters out, Gonzalez says. “If we can’t stay here we’ll move to Cleveland Park,” he says.

Like many other occupy movements across the nation, as winter comes and the temperature plummets, Gonzalez and others in El Paso are trying to decide how to keep the movement growing. Gonzalez admits he’s only coming on weekends these days. “Most of us have jobs and school,” he says. Gonzalez used to live at the park full time in a tent but it’s gotten too difficult. “We may switch to occupy weekends,” he says. “We really haven’t decided how we’re going to do it yet.”

Several hours after my visit to the plaza several occupiers were arrested for not leaving the park by the city’s designated deadline of midnight, November 15. The next day the city put up Christmas lights. The occupiers tried to get a permit to move to Cleveland Park near the library but were told it was under renovation. For the moment El Paso’s occupy movement is without a space to occupy. But they’re not giving up so easily. On Friday, they met at their former protest encampment anyway then went to picket the nearby banks.