Visiting an Occupation, even a relatively small one like ours, is a little surreal. The energy is so heated. There’s so much passion, energy, even anger. Then you step away and realize the world continues as normal. Despite the global nature of this movement, people everywhere are living life; Re-entry is jarring when one steps from any temporary encampment to the bright lights of a grocery store.
One of my girlfriends has expressed some discomfort about the Occupy movement and we got to sit down together over Pan-Asian snacks late one night and talk about it. Not only is this very different from her family upbringing (conservative, non-activist parents with ties to the oil industry), but I am reminded that before me she dated a police officer. She spoke about how they put themselves in danger for us, and I agreed — I don’t think they are our enemy, but they are the tool of the 1%.
She talked about how she felt like she could not participate because she works for a major corporation in Austin, buys corporate goods, and other ways she participates in our capitalist system. But I responded that we are all forced to do that; the issue this movement has is not with the people working for hourly wages as tech support workers or bank tellers. The problem is the CEOs of those corporations who take home millions a year while others struggle to make ends meet — as she does, between rent, student loans, and other debts.
Of course, I know she also just worries about me and the risk I go through when I go to an encampment. I don’t plan to get arrested; my fibromyalgia makes it all but impossible for me to spend the night and would also make an overnight stay in a prison cell extremely painful — the kind of pain that might debilitate me for days. Yet I have to acknowledge that, with our protests growing more heated, that there is some risk when I take part. It’s a risk I feel is worth taking.
Saturday night showed me how much support we really have — it’s one thing to hear the honking horns of people driving by the City Hall encampment, but quite another to hear the cheers and see the supportive faces of hundreds of Sixth Street revelers. For those from outside Austin, Sixth Street is the hub of our music scene, though recent changes in noise ordinances have been choking the life out of it. On a Saturday night like the one just past — possibly one of the last warm Saturday nights of 2011 — it was packed with people.
At an agreed upon time, dozens of us converged in the middle of 6th Street (which is already closed off to vehicles on busy nights by police), near the intersection with Trinity Street. After all of us put on our Guy Fawkes masks, we formed into two circles, each joining hands to create a human wall. One of us in the center got on the “human mic” — the ritual where a crowd of Occupy activists will repeat each other’s words. However, in a unique variation we created a double human mic — the inner circle repeated the man in the center, who were repeated in turn by the outer. The effect was breathtaking as hundreds of people stopped their regularly scheduled party to watch, photograph, and applaud:
I got happy chills when the mob said “We Are Occupy Austin!” and the crowd erupted into wild cheers. There was a single man who kept trying to start a chant of ‘Get a Job!’ and then looking around to realize that no one would join him. In its way, his failure to motivate a counter-chant was as inspiring as the widespread support. The rumor in Austin is that police will arrest or ticket you for wearing masks, but the crowd kept us protected from the nearby police and we vanished at the end of 3 minutes.
I spent some time before and after the flash mob at the encampment — meeting people, uploading videos, and asking questions. I hope to secure winter clothes for us from Occupy Supply and have been communicating with Jane from FireDogLake so I took a poll about how many we have sleeping. Because the city restricts us to sleeping on the City Hall steps, we can only fit about 50 most nights — any overflow are rousted at 6am sharp by security guards. One of the regulars is Larry Singleton, an US Marine Corps veteran who operates our info booth, waves his flag and makes friends. Occupiers recently helped him set up his first Facebook account. He is also the owner of the first Occupy Austin tattoo.
As I finished uploading my videos and prepared to head home, I saw a man in his 50s out walking his dog. He approached a trio of young occupiers in their early 20s. I eavesdropped on their debate — that both sides listened, shared their views, and bonded over shared disgust at the state of our world gave me as much hope as anything else I saw Saturday night.
This post was originally published on Approximately 8,000 Words. For more photos and the official text of the flash mob, visit the original post.