Occupy Houston was evicted from Tranquility Park Monday as dusk fell, ending a four-month protest that members called the U.S.’s longest-running occupation without violence.
Mayor Annise Parker issued a media release announcing the closure Monday afternoon, citing impending spring festivals in the park and saying the area would have to be cleaned and resodded. The notice gave protesters about two hours to leave the park, although it may have had the opposite effect. The day had been rainy, and the Houston Chronicle notes that the park was mostly empty until word spread of the closing, prompting a small number of protesters to come and be escorted from the grounds by police. There were no arrests.
“I support their right to free speech and I’m sympathetic to their call for reform of the financial system,” Mayor Parker said in the release, “but they can’t simply continue to occupy a space indefinitely.”
The indefinite-ness of the occupation has always been its strength and weakness. Kevin Laude, a 33-year-old software developer and Occupy Houston member I spoke to in January, was enthusiastic about it. “You can have a march, and that’s a single thing. You can do that for a couple of hours and then you’re done,” he said. “But an occupation never ends, in theory. I think that’s a really powerful statement, way more effective than a single protest.”
But he acknowledged that sustained activism was particularly challenging for a group that prides itself on functioning without a hierarchy. “Enthusiasm dies down after a while,” he said. “People get better ideas. People are people. Especially in leaderless movements, that’s the bad that you get with the good.”
Though the eviction may provide closure, Occupy Houston’s presence in the park had been dwindling. The group had hundreds of attendees in October, but their numbers were hard-hit by the cold and the holidays. They were already not allowed to erect tents, although some members were sleeping in bags and under tarps, and their once-robust food station had dwindled through theft and low resources to a folding table with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Moreover, members had gotten involved with diverse projects that suited their interests, rather than operating as a whole.
In this way, the occupation lives on. “Occupy Houston will survive and continue,” Joe Roche, a member, told the Chronicle. “Members are splitting off to focus on their specialties, and they are still here, even if the weather chased a lot of them off.”
Laude also saw change impending for the group, but predicted its continuance. “Good will come of it,” he said, “just maybe not the good that you predict.”