Editor’s note: This is the eighth in a series of excerpts from Jim Gober’s book titled “Deep in the Heart of Occupy Austin.” A new excerpt will be published at OccupiedStories.com every Wednesday, so come back next week to follow Jim though the evolution of Occupy Austin.
It was Sunday, and I awoke to the news that on the previous day, hundreds of thousands of people had marched for the occupation in cities all over the world, and although 3000 to 5000 people marched in Austin, the local newspaper, The Austin American Statesman, covered it as if it was a minor car accident on the Travis County line. But we knew better because we were there.
Later in the day, The Austin American Statesman offered a few photographs on their website, and they were tastefully done. There was a picture of two children in a wagon holding balloons while being pulled through the Austin protest, which at least helped our image a bit. They were not like pictures from other news organizations cherry-picked to show the most downtrodden or bizarre characters because they think Americans will laugh or make fun of us. Fox News and a handful of other conservative news sites are doing their best to make us look like outlaws, but as anyone can see from looking at pictures of us from all over the country, we are all, simply and beautifully, Americans.
But the day before, the day of the mighty march, I was dressed loudly as possible and ready to go at the designated time. You are supposed to be colorful when you attend a peaceful protest. It helps lighten the mood, puts people at ease and hopefully, they’ll join us. If we all wore black, covered our faces and carried hammers, something tells me the mood would go sour rather quickly. I brought my tambourine, plenty of water, wore my favorite Grateful Dead tie dye given to me by my friend Erica, and a big hat. The crowd got mobilized in the plaza at 11:30 am sharp.
Our first stop was Chase Bank where a few protesters went in to close their accounts and move their money to local credit unions. On Friday, in New York, 30 protesters were allegedly arrested for trying to close their Citibank accounts. That’s right. Citibank, the company that used Robert Rubin to lobby President Clinton to implement the very tactics that brought down the economy, and took in almost 2 trillion dollars in bailout money, is now having people arrested for trying to flee from them with a few thousand dollars of their own money.
We made a lot of noise during the march. I gave a fiery speech on the corner where Chase Bank sits. In a booming angry voice, I shouted, “Look at the protection Chase now gets. Just look at all the police standing by the doors. This is after Chase and other New York banks stole trillions from you and brought down our economy. Where was our protection when Clinton, Bush and Obama opened the safe and dished out your money to them, and now these same banks want to kick you out of your home before they’ll lower your mortgage rates while they get their gambling money free? Now look at these fascist pigs standing behind me ready to throw you in jail because you are angry that you can’t pay your bills because of what these people have done to you. These pigs are protecting the fascist scum that is destroying our world. Who is protecting us now? Nobody! This is what fascism looks like! This is what a police state looks like!”
The crowd flowed around me like I was a rock in the middle of a fast-moving stream. Cameras and microphones came and went. I was giving the battle call to the troops as the cacophony and immensity of the protest swelled. I jumped back into the crowd and made it to another vantage point atop a planter box of some sort. “And for all the soldiers who are overseas giving their arms and legs for our country and even their lives, they aren’t fighting for you, they are fighting to keep the fascist war machine in power and keep you impoverished while your money is taken from schools, bridges and healthcare. This is what fascism looks like! Don’t be stupid! Join us! Join us!” I shouted at the gawkers on the other side of the street.
I hopped from one location to another and repeated variations of the speeches very loudly. By now I was losing my voice, but I managed to yell at an older man with his arms folded as he stood with a larger group of stalled pedestrians, “Folding your arms won’t protect you when freedom comes, because this is what America looks like-this is what democracy looks like-it does not look like the America the fascists are trying to paint for you. You’ve been living a lie. We are fighting for the America the fascists have promised you and never delivered! We are fighting for the small businessman, the house, yard, 2 kids and a dog, not for an America littered with the broken bodies of the fascist war machine!” That was a good one; I had to admit to myself. I was alive, liberated and in the mix. I didn’t feel the jackboot of oppression on my lifestyle or my political beliefs. It was all lifted away and carried over the tops of the buildings along with chants of “We are the 99%” and “You are the 99%” and “This is what Democracy Looks Like!” Occupy Austin had reached the peak of its power.
So, it goes without saying, everyone was exhausted when we got back to the plaza, but spirits were high. There were awesome fiery rallying speeches by the organizers, as they stood on the rocks near the sidewalk on the south side of the plaza, and the honk if yer horny line was in full bloom. Then, an angry young man arrested a few nights before during the power wash, who was now exiled to the sidewalk, was given the microphone. As he faced the crowd, he loudly complained about the police presence, even though the police could have cracked any of us over the head any second during the march, especially me, who was obviously antagonizing them the entire time. Then this odious jerk demanded we call out Joshua, the guy with the dreadlocks, who has worked his ass off for this campaign, because it was Joshua’s PA and Joshua had told the jerk he couldn’t use the PA to be an asshole to the police, although that was exactly what the jerk was doing.
When the idiot finally got off Joshua’s PA system, Joshua was standing near and the scene was like a high school fight about to happen with the dickhead’s few supporters standing near him, and Joshua’s supporters rallying around him. They included a babbling man with an Italian accent talking very close to Joshua’s face, as European’s often do when arguing politics, but the withering effect it was having on Joshua was obvious. There were a few other folks I haven’t seen hanging around, and me, standing between Joshua and the dickhead. The heat was oppressive. The small crowd gathering around the two was animated, standing very close together and highly agitated. Our most victorious day was being tainted by this sorry pitiful angry jerk, with so many ripe whiteheads decorating his face you has to stand back 3 paces just in case one went off, who really had one issue: he was angry he now had a jail record for standing in the way of a power washing machine, and we couldn’t do anything about it.
Joshua was nervous and had crumpled his empty water bottle to the point it looked like old chewing gum. I took it from him, threw it away, then found some fresh water and handed it to him. He was looking perturbed and of course, exhausted. I talked to the dickhead and asked him why he doesn’t channel his energy in the right direction, and then it occurred to me, he didn’t even know what that direction was. He was literally too stupid to know why we were even there. He was just a hothead with a lot of rage who probably would have been better off cooling his heels in jail for a few days and leaving us alone. I really hated that guy. It was then I saw my beautiful occupation movement had an ugly side, just like everything else in America, and just like everything in life, I suppose. A few cops, one with a bandage carefully taped over 5 or 6 bloody stitches above his left eye walked over and stood beside the dickhead to monitor the situation.
Then I talked to a young man named Alan standing near Joshua who appeared to have a grievance for Joshua. I decided to draw fire for the beleaguered Joshua who was melting in the heat and frustration of the moment. Alan said the community organizers, on the minority dominated east side of town, are saying their constituents are not comfortable coming to the rally because of the police presence. He went on to say the rally organizers, like Joshua, by coddling the police, are keeping some people away, the very people who are the most affected in our economy. I reminded Alan that Joshua was working hard and this isn’t a movement about us against each other, it is us against the past. The angry tones must go, we must forget about our differences and chill out so we can move forward. And there was no reason the minorities he spoke of couldn’t come to the plaza. Indeed, half our group’s spokespeople, or magnets as they are called, or of some minority group or another. I reiterated to Alan that most people in today’s America are so used to arguing and not listening they can’t get their head around how the democratic process is supposed to work. And then you’ve got a group of people with trillions of dollars that want us to go the hell away and make sure the system won’t work for us even if we did understand it. Alan agreed, and since things seemed to be cooling off, we shook hands and I moved along, spending the rest of the day and much of the evening drinking in the excitement and exhilaration of Occupy Austin’s crowning achievement: Our glorious and beautiful mighty march.
Late that night, while sitting on a polished piece of granite waiting for Father Time to deliver me a bus at Congress Avenue and Cesar Chavez, I felt myself becoming urban and gritty after spending so much time in the plaza with my comrades. Glaring out into the night, I imagined myself as a gargoyle sitting on a high ledge staring over the same sooty grey buildings for 100 years. I looked around to see what a gargoyle might see from his perch far above the city, although I was grounded by fate and the need for transportation. I looked toward the third floor of the Radisson Hotel and there was a couple getting it on with the curtains wide open. The room was directly over the intersection where the entire world could easily see them. She was on top for a while, then he was, and after a few minutes there was a spectacular missionary finish with all the bells and whistles and legs high in the air. After the show, he stood up, moved into the light of the room, and hastily put on his clothes. He stood near the door and talked for a moment while she sat cross-legged on the bed. Then he turned and abruptly left, his presence replaced with the impressive wooden door. The door was bare except for the oversized key card reader and the “Do Not Disturb” sign still hanging on the inside latch. She remained sitting on the bed with her legs crossed, and began pulling hairpins from her mouth as she put her hairdo back together from memory.