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Occupy Austin, 2011

A movement in evolution

By Michael King and John Anderson, Fri., Dec. 30, 2011

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Photo by John Anderson

Oct. 6: Following daily general assembly meetings at Ruta Maya beginning Sept. 29, the Occupation of Austin City Hall began Oct. 6. The event drew about 1,300 people.

Since early October, a few days after the Austin wing of the Occupy Wall Street national movement got under way, Chronicle photographer John Anderson has been following, photographing, and engaging with the Occupy Austin activists who have camped at City Hall, marched on Downtown streets, and rallied at the state Capitol. This photo essay is a small selection of his work over the last three months, reflecting the inception, development, and recent actions of the movement in Austin. (Many more photos are posted in the Chronicle's Occupy Austin gallery at austinchronicle.com/occupy-austin.)

Having observed the Occupiers for so many weeks, Anderson is frank in his interest and admiration, as well as in his conviction that the movement is committed for the long haul. "It's obvious that they're learning on the fly," he said. "And that in each action and over time, they've changed their perspective and tactics according to changing circumstances. But they've had to teach themselves how to do things – to engage in public activism – that have been largely forgotten. And it's clear that they're determined to keep at it. Earlier this month, in freezing rain, several dozen people still took part in the general assembly at the Capitol. These people are not just going to go away."

Anderson's photos capture Occupy Austin's major actions – and major arrests – and the changes in the movement over time. There are the big, broad-based public actions like the bank march and the push to get people (and, potentially, the city of Austin) to divest their financial accounts from huge international banks and move them to smaller, local institutions. "We've expanded it to be an empowerment tool," says Occupier Dave Cortez, "so anybody who does actually move their money can now be part of something." And there are also the less obvious actions – like attempts to see the city's homeless population in a new light. "[The homeless] are a very important presence," said Ronnie Garza of the InterOccupy network, "and it underscored the problem of the homeless not just in Austin but around the nation."

Indeed, one development of the local movement is that City Hall – despite its rules that restrict camping to the plaza steps – has become the overnight camp, a haven for the homeless, and an Occupy information base, while the Capitol (where Occupiers successfully fought attempts by the Department of Public Safety to limit their presence) has become a second location for general assemblies, where activists meet, debate policies and actions, and come to a consensus. (It also accommodates Occupiers still under a dubious "ban" at City Hall.) Each week and action has meant developments in organizing, political perspective, and outreach. The Occupiers are determined to keep on keeping on, or as Occupier Jamie Leigh put it: "To anyone that thinks that the Occupy movement will slowly fade away, you are wrong. ... As the economic state of this country continues to decline, the movement will just continue to grow; this is an experience that we will carry with us for our entire lives. ... We have learned to listen to each other, to stand beside each other, and to fight for each other. ... This is solidarity. This is Occupy Austin!"

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