Occupy Austin Feels Growing Pains
Dozens of Occupy Austin protestors were arrested Sunday morning, most on trespassing charges for violating a city rule for distributing food after 10 p.m. on the city hall plaza. That marked the first significant round of arrests since the Occupy Austin movement started outside City Hall nearly a month ago. For the most part, the number of protestors has been modest, but they continue to stick it out despite the colder weather.
Police officers regularly patrol the plaza of City Hall, where the occupation is taking place. The group has had a few, relatively tame brushes with the law. One of Occupy Austin’s challenges is the bookshelf.
Every occupation has a library. The Austin group’s library is a small wooden bookshelf. Michelle Mullet calls herself an ‘info scribe’ for Occupy Austin.
“Every single time it’s out there, for some reason City Hall takes offense to it and starts yelling about it being a permanent fixture,” Mullet said. “Well, it moves, so it’s not a permanent fixture. In fact, we’ve moved it several times easily.”
Food distribution is also a sore spot for some in the movement. Zachary Rodriguez, who helps hand out food that’s been donated to the protestors, said it’s normally a pretty laid-back job.
“There’s just sometimes that some people just get kind of greedy and they want to come back and forth to eat, even though they know some people haven’t eaten. We just kind of try to regulate that and make it equal for everybody,” Rodriguez said.
One man was arrested after he allegedly threatened someone handing out food with a knife. Free food has attracted the homeless, too. Michelle Mullet said that’s okay with her.
“You know that’s part of the 99 percent. And we need to remember that part of our economic problems have led to an immensely growing homeless population,” Mullet said.
They’ll have to work on how to efficiently feed everyone, she said, but donations are regular. One woman dropped off fresh corn, sliced tomatoes and cheese for the occupiers. Another person brought two jugs of coffee.
Retired Marine Larry Latchel said he participates in the occupation because of Austin’s no-sit, no-lie ordinance.
“My personal thing is, I advocate little issues like city ordinances that make it almost unlawful to be poor or homeless here. Why designate an area for homeless people and then send the police over there to enforce a sitting law? That’s crazy,” said Latchel.
Perhaps the biggest growing pain of Occupy Austin has been its communications strategy. There was no designated spokesperson at first, but now the movement’s info scribes talk to the media. The scribes also issue news releases and calendar events.
Innes Mitchell, a communications professor at St. Edward’s University, said one reason there’s not much media attention on Occupy Austin is because the media isn’t used to covering this kind of long-term protest – especially when it’s more docile than dramatic.
“People are making this up as they go along, and journalists sort of have to go along with how the movement is evolving,” Mitchell said. “It’s not something that you can necessarily say to an editor, ‘This is a great story. We’ll get this in by the deadline.’”
A bus passenger that participated in Occupy Austin said maybe it’s because this is capital of Texas…where protest are a dime a dozen.