The Occupy Austin movement, which began its “occupation” of Austin City Hall in earnest today brought together young and old in solidarity against corporate greed, the Wall Street bailout, crippling student loan debt, joblessness and myriad other issues currently plaguing us Americans.
Movements like Austin’s have sprung up all over Texas and the rest of the country organized through Facebook and other social media sites and mirroring the movement Occupy Wall Street that began in mid-September in New York City. The group plans to camp out at city hall for the next two months at least. Apparently, people are not allowed to sleep at City Hall (unless you’re attending a five-hour city planning meeting), so they’ll be occupying in shifts and presumably drinking a lot of caffeine.
At the rally today there were road worn activists and people who had never attended a political rally in their lives. The crowd fluctuated throughout the day from 150 to at least 1,000 people in the afternoon. For such a wide-ranging crowd with a myriad of issues to get across, it was impressively organized and civilized. Everyone got to have his or her say. Never mind the SWAT team officers in army green perched on the rooftops overhead, which made you feel like you were attending a political rally in a Third World country. From a distance you could see the wall of black and white squad cars before you ever saw the rally. Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo explained the excessive show of force to one local TV outlet thusly “I would rather plan for the worst and hope for the best.”
I don’t know what kind of worst-case scenario Acevedo had in mind but I wouldn’t be surprised if he had a tank parked in the city hall garage. Fortunately, the majority of people at the rally didn’t let the excessive police presence bother them. Tim Frank, 33, a computer engineer, said it was the first political rally he’d ever attended. “I came out with the hope that if enough people turn out for these rallies we can change from the ground up the dialogue in this country and focus on decision-making that really helps people.”
Frank had come to the rally with his younger sister Erin, 28. Frank said his sister had recently graduated with a Master’s degree but couldn’t find a job, so she’d had to move in with their parents and was struggling to pay her student loans. “She doesn’t have any of the options I had just a decade ago,” he said.
Erin said she’d looked everywhere for a job, and had done several internships but no one was hiring. “I think we’re going to see a lot of students and graduates become a part of this movement. We’re trying to pay off our loans but there’s no jobs,” she said.
Jennifer and Fred Doores, who are in their fifties, were there to protest income inequality among other things. “We’re not talking about Communism or Socialism here,” Jennifer said. “We’re just trying to get back to where we were in the 50s and 60s when people had medical coverage, you worked eight hours a day and you could earn a decent living and send your kids to school.”
Fred, a builder, said he’d been unemployed for nearly two years. “There just isn’t any work these days,” he said.
“If the tax system was fairer and the government spent less on endless wars we could have an America we could believe in again,” added Jennifer.
Tomorrow people will march in front of the Bank of America building in downtown Austin to protest against skyrocketing foreclosures and of course the occupation will continue at Austin City Hall. From the looks of turnout today and other reports from across the country this movement has momentum. Or as one woman’s protest sign summed it up, “This is only the beginning.”