Reflections on Gulf Port Action
One year ago today, Occupy Oakland declared a National Day of Action against Goldman-Sachs.
The action would center on the Port of Oakland, which they shut down for over two days. Solidarity actions around the country took place at other ports, at Walmart distribution centers, and Goldman-Sachs offices in New York City.
About 200 occupiers from around Texas gathered at Occupy Houston’s encampment, Tranquility Park, and from there traveled to the Port of Houston where we blockaded the main entrance. There were twenty arrests.
I wrote about the Gulf Port Action on my blog, Approximately 8,000 Words and what it was like to step out onto the road around the port and see an army of law enforcement waiting for us:
l felt a little overwhelmed as we jumped from the car at the port, seeing a massive collection of law enforcement might. There were helicopters overhead, a couple dozen officers lining the street including mounted police on horses, and, behind a fence inside the port itself, we could see dozens more including a bus for arrests and the sheriff and SWAT team.
I’d never been to the port before, and there was a palpable sense of almost Cyberpunk-level desolation. The air smelled as bad as you imagine it does in a William Gibson book. At first there were few of us, but more and more began to get dropped off in waves until we had a couple hundred protesters at the peak, finally outnumbering the police. We chanted and spoke with a few members of the mainstream media that had managed to get inside. Then, suddenly, everyone — police and occupiers alike — were running.
Though I did not intend to do more than chant, observe, and livetweet, in the intense response to the blockade I found myself helping form a human wall to keep occupiers from being trampled by horses. Though I have attended many other activist events, including eluding a potentially violent arrest inside Chase headquarters at the September 17, 2012 anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, these attacks by police were the most intense I have personally faced. Despite our efforts, a young woman near me was kicked in the stomach by a mounted officer’s steel-toed boots while a hoof stomped the shoe of Corey Williams, an Austin livestreamer (whose footwear was fortunately also reinforced). And then came the most psychologically violent act of the day: the ‘one percent tent.’ In an image that quickly went viral (and contributed to Oakland continuing its blockade into a second day), Houston Fire Department firefighters assembled a red inflatable tent over the activists to hide arrests from sight.
A Direct Attack on Corrupt Capitalism
This violence was no coincidence; it was one of Occupy’s boldest moments on the national stage. Locally this was one of Occupy’s most intense direct (though nonviolent) attacks on the heart of crony capitalism itself, featuring more civil disobedience than most Occupy Houston actions — Houston’s mayor accused Occupy Austin of being ‘outside agitators.’ With unprecedented coordination through social media, this national action had to put images of peasants with pitchforks and torches in the minds of the one percent. The government tipped its hand that day when a Department of Homeland Security vehicle appeared at Tranquility Park that afternoon. Coordinated efforts to suppress the movement, already underway by December of 2011, only became more intense in succeeding months.
In her recent editorial for Wired, embedded Occupy reporter Quinn Norton writes a moving eulogy for the movement’s glory days. Her beautiful essay (which should be read in full) is unflinching about what she perceived as the movement’s faults but also movingly depicts the lasting effects of that time. She writes:
The world says you need a thick skin. Occupy didn’t say that. It didn’t deny pain, or the time it takes to suffer that pain. They came to call each other brother and sisters. In the exhaustion that followed the Zuccotti eviction, a man got on the people’s mic and spoke to the stragglers, the homeless, the not-yet arrested. “You all have become my family in the last 43 days,” he said over the strange echo of many throats. “You’re all so beautiful. I love you all. No matter why you’re here tonight know you’re doing the right thing.”
There was no real cynical distance in this movement. It was the opposite of politics that way; it was dirty and smelly and dark, and if you scratch past the patina of personal cynicism, every heart was made of crazy-glued porcelain. Every body was made of scars.
No one walked away from Occupy the same person. The occupiers will always say “we learned so much,” and the simplicity of the words belie how deep the change runs. We all learned so much in the season of Occupy. We learned there is a hostile army threaded through our nation. We learned that children can be casually brutalized, just to keep traffic from being inconvenienced.
We learned that Americans can come together and care for one another. We learned there is a great and terrible spirit in this land, the sleeping giant of our spirits summed together.
Though the movement lives on — cities worldwide including Austin have active groups, and efforts like Occupy Sandy and the Rolling Jubilee have kept the movement on people’s minds — it’s hard not to mourn the sense of possibility of that moment when a call out of our country’s most rebellious city could mobilize intense nationwide direct action from dozens of camps. As threats of austerity loom over our nation and residents of Michigan gather at their legislature, its easy to see why the government felt it necessary to undermine our numbers.
Seven of the activists still face felony charges after they linked arms with lock-box devices in an attempt to prolong the blockade. We now know those lock boxes were built by Austin Police Department infiltrators. The Gulf Port 7 case is expected to reach trial in February 2013. One of the seven, Eric Marquez, remains in jail. Tomorrow, I’ll share more occupiers’ reflections of the event and its lingering consequences.
More: Firedoglake’s Kevin Gosztola from December 12, 2011 on the risks posed to journalists at activist actions. One year later, journalists of all kinds still routinely face police repression from Occupy events to the Tarsands blockade.
Photos by Kit O’Connell, all rights reserved. Video by @DBCoopa.