This is the second 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.
Today was Thursday, October 6, 2011, the day the occupation officially started at the Austin City Hall Plaza. City Hall faces south on busy Cesar Chavez Street, which runs east to west through downtown Austin. South First Street, which runs north to south, dead ends into Cesar Chavez directly in front of the City Hall Plaza, so it makes the plaza a highly visible location for the occupation. So far, the rules set forth by the APD did not allow tents, so Austin was going to need a few adjustments, I could see that straightaway.
I spent the afternoon trying to rally support from my my partner, Frank, and our friends hanging around the house, who were very apprehensive about going, and didn’t share my view of the state of affairs, even though they could see I was super-excited about going and desperately wanted to see a real protest in action. I even wrote a speech airing my grievances I was determined to give the minute I arrived. I imagined myself as Winston Churchill, FDR or even Cesar Chavez himself. I thought about the adoring and heady applause and the look of wonderment on the enraptured crowd. I was going to make everyone stop and listen to me! I alone would lead the people of Occupy Austin out of the woods and single-handedly save the world with my obvious stroke of genius that no one present could deny.
As the time to go arrived, and I became more excited and animated, everyone became more tense and apprehensive. I think they were afraid I was going to give my speech and create a cascade of social unrest that would get us all beaten and arrested. For nearly an hour I tried to convince someone to come along with me. I just wanted to get my freak flag on and give my damn speech. Humanity needed me.
I called David, who was scared to come over and go to the protest once he learned I wanted to give a speech. Another friend, Tom, finally decided to go along with me, although he was surrounded by an air of apprehension about just what was going to go down, and asked pointed questions about my presentation to be sure it was not inflammatory in any way. I tried to reassure him no one was going to throw a Molotov cocktail at us or anyone else for that matter. Finally Tom and I left, and within five minutes were parking haphazardly in a tow-away zone by the South First Street Bridge that spans the Colorado River.
We walked north over the pedestrian bridge and by the time we got halfway across you could see Austin City Hall, a postmodern building with a token solar panel over the front. And best of all, there was the glorious Occupy Austin protest in full bloom. More than 2500 noisy and impassioned people were present. My head was dizzy with love, excitement and revolution.
As we entered the plaza, the police were standing around looking bored and there were-get ready for it-SPEECHES going on! One guy, dressed like Luke Skywalker, got in the speaker’s zone, which was on the first wide step that led up to the mezzanine from the plaza. He had a laser toy thing and closed his speech with, “May the force be with you-Nanu Nanu.” You would think he was a wet blanket, but he talked about love and light, and although few people were listening, it sounded pretty cool, especially the mixing of Mork and Mindy and Star Wars-since they were kind of from the same era and each one about as senseless as the other.
Then a blue-jeaned lesbian got up on the steps and gave a great rallying speech as if she had done it a million times. She reminded me of that masculine cheerleader everyone likes in high school, who no one suspects is a lesbian even though she acts like Don Rickles when she’s drunk. At the end of her speech, she yelled, “Unite! Unite! Unite!” and everyone went for it and yelled it too. She was so electric, I completely forgot about giving my speech. And by just looking around I could see occupy was not about me, it was all about us.
Ringing the speech zone were all kinds of people with home-made protest signs scratched with feeble attempts at original slogans. I’ll put it this way-if the saying was on Facebook last week it isn’t original today. Remember this one: “I’ll agree Corporations are people when Texas executes one?” That was so 10 days ago. But I did see one sign that was new to me. It said, “When we get screwed, we multiply.” I liked that one. The rest of the crowd was mostly younger with some older hippies around for spice and even tourists – some elderly – strolling through the places where less people were congregated.
A group of twenty or so yoga heads was sitting in lotus position while patchouli flavored kids, some with dread-locked hair extensions, stepped over and around them. One young woman, spectacularly pregnant, stepped through the yoga heads and somehow managed to become entangled in their crossed legs, which caused quite a stir before she was unceremoniously ejected.
Even though it was only hours old, you could see people driving by the protest giving the sign-holders standing along the sidewalk the middle finger and thumbs down. But here’s a little nugget for the people making fun of the those protesting the greed and corruption in our government: You will get any benefit that happens because the protesters put their necks on the line without you ever knowing how much work it takes to organize events like this. Sure it’s a little naïve. I mean-get rid of capitalism? Come on, get real. One young woman had a sign that said, “Capitalism is a Disease,” which was doubly hilarious because not too long ago I found a pamphlet from 1960 that my Goldwater Republican father was passing around in those days that said, “Communism is a disease.” But regardless, people are protesting being out of work-because they are out of work. They are protesting getting screwed by the system-because they were screwed by the system.
There were large numbers of handicapped people, veterans and everyday people at the protest that lost everything, because they fell into one financial trap or another set by huge corporations, who used every trick ever invented to pull them in and spit them out. Every road in the American experience now leads to poverty and the system is rigged against the middle class. Just because someone has managed to sidestep disaster so far, doesn’t mean it won’t happen.
My friend Tom, who is a successful something-to-do-with-computers person, made it a point to talk to the policemen and say things like, “You won’t have any trouble,” and “Pretty docile crowd, eh?” But, I think Tom was getting on the cops’ nerves by acting so friendly, and I had this unsettling feeling he was trying to show me how many cops were in attendance so I wouldn’t do anything stupid – like give my little speech. Tom doesn’t know that acting too friendly weirds cops out too, but I didn’t say anything. While the cops were being all nicey-nicey now, I say let’s wait about two weeks when the cops and the protesters start getting tired of staring each other down. The cops were already ringing the rooftops and taking pictures of every single person there because they know this. But hey-it’s all peaceful. Right?
Tom finally decided he was bored and insisted on driving me home, but I didn’t want to go. I was like the rare kid who goes to the circus and isn’t interested in just going to the circus. I wanted to join the circus. But after he implored me to leave with him, I left. But the call of occupy was ringing in my ears all night, and I was more determined than ever to return the next day and help occupy our space