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Watercooler: More from Wood Ridge

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

The other day I filed a report from Wood Ridge apartments, the site of a balcony collapse about a month ago. After the massive inspection of the property, code enforcement found a total of 760 code violations at the apartment complex. Though the video which YNN created uses some footage from Occupy Austin (we got onto the property while the media was kept outside), the angle of the story seems strange to me:

A resident YNN spoke with says she welcomes the inspections, and the negative attention at Wood Ridge is not a fair representation of the overall complex.

“In a place like this you don’t expect everything to be fixed on the spot. But I haven’t had anything to have fixed,” Wood Ridge resident Linda Foss said.

According to city officials, all the complaints issued Wednesday were common violations like missing smoke alarms or electrical problems.

Linda Foss calls the code enforcement visit a ‘witch hunt,’ as if it were somehow unfair to the poor, long suffering property managers at Assets Plus to force them to uphold the law. In a way it might be unfair — one can almost certainly find other properties with unstable balconies and stairs, life threatening wiring problems, and other dangerous violations within walking distance in Wood Ridge poor, working-class neighborhood. Meanwhile, Wood Ridge residents have 40 year old air conditioners while the city brass overseeing inspections sit in an expensive command post trailer so cold it made me shiver in the Texas sun when the doors opened.

I feel like expectations have been lowered about what we deserve. You look at a place like Wood Ridge and you can genuinely say it could be much worse — after all, we could live in New York City. But does that make it good? Should we accept this as our lot in life, or is it possible we could make life better if we stop accepting the status quo?

Because, to quote Doctor Horrible, the status is not quo.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight. How about you? This is our latest open thread.

p.s. Check out my photoblog from Wood Ridge, a huge Austin Police / Homeland Security command post, and the C&M Conveyor action over on  Approximately 8,000 Words. I’ll give you a song below…

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Indiana’s C&M Conveyor (& Occupy Austin) Against Blue Sage

3:00 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Who ya gonna call? Occupy Austin!

Protesters with signs circle in front of Blue Sage. Sign: Blue Sage Feel Our Rage

An old-fashioned picket line (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

Last week we heard from the United Steelworkers on behalf of C&M Conveyor, a firm in Mitchell, Indiana. They unionized with United Steel a year ago but have struggled with the company’s owners, vulture capitalists Blue Sage Capital who have refused to give them a contract while cutting their hours, wages, health care and retirement benefits. Though health insurance is theoretically provided, the insurance deductible to cover a family is $10,000, leaving some workers literally bankrupt after medical emergencies. Many workers are so broke that they qualify for food stamps.

Today we protested at Blue Sage’s downtown Austin offices. The action was organized by United Steelworkers with Occupy Austin and the Texas AFL-CIO. Our coalition was joined by the Texas State Employees Union, the Freelancers Union, and the Sierra Club.

When I arrived there were just a few protesters in front of the building, but within minutes a march with dozens more came up the sidewalk chanting & holding signs. As Occupy Austin’s Dave Cortez drummed on a bucket, we took turns signing an oversized letter in support of C&M Conveyor’s demands:

To Jim McBride and Blue Sage Capital:

The motto that guides your firm is inspiring:

‘Twenty years from now we hope to be remembered for exemplary character in all that we have done.’

As concerned Texans, we call on you to live up to these fine words and bargain a fair deal, with affordable health and decent wages, with the hardworking men and women at C&M Conveyor in Mitchell, Indiana.

We commit to watch, monitor and extend our community of concern to our state and national networks until these simple goals are met, in order to improve the lives of people who make Blue Sage — and C&M Conveyor — work.

After hearing from two of the visitors from Indiana about their work and the conditions at C&M Conveyor and forming what Dave called “an old-fashioned, Southern picket line,” it was time to deliver our letter. At first the security guards were going to turn us away, and threatened to call the police. But by the time they finished saying that, we were already boarding the elevator. One guard relented and said three of us, plus Austin Chronicle photographer John Anderson, could ride the elevator to Blue Sage’s eighth floor office under his escort.

As we approached the office, the security guard entered first and I could hear a protest at allowing us to enter (not audible on the video to the left). But we were already in the office, and the visibly distressed employee had no way to refuse our delivery.

As we promised, we turned around and began to exit after delivering the letter. On the ride down we could hear the security guards radio crackle and the head of security demanding we get out of the building. We began a mic check as we left, letting Blue Sage know we’d be back and to ‘EXPECT US!’

With our mission complete, we marched to Congress, the main street through downtown, to hand out fliers about Blue Sage. I saw cops arrive as we left, but they vanished into the office building. I didn’t think anything more of them, since we were leaving anyway.

Until, that is, Austin Police Sergeant J. Spillers (Badge #3559) caught up to us, and grabbed me by the arm! “You’re the organizer!” he declared.

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Life Under Occupation (Occupy Austin Flash Mob)

10:00 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Occupy Austin 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. Read the rest of this entry →

My First Visit to Occupy Austin

2:00 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Last Sunday was my first visit to Occupy Austin.

This post is much later than I wanted it to be because I have been struggling with my health. I’ll open here because part of the reason I identify with this movement is that my voice is a disenfranchised one as a disabled person. I have fibromyalgia, a chronic pain condition closely related (or overlapping with) chronic fatigue syndrome. It is not well understood, but between severe pain in my muscles and connective tissue, and frequent intense fatigue and insomnia I am unable to hold down a normal job. I have managed to eke out a small living as a freelance writer, but I have no health insurance, and no safety net if my health takes a turn for the worse. I feel strongly for this idea of the 99% — in a just society, basic needs like food, shelter and medical care would be considered a human right.

My health has kept me from attending a Occupy encampment or event before Sunday. But on Saturday night, 38 peaceful protesters were arrested at City Hall — some over refusal to take down a food table based on last minute regulations imposed without oversight by the Austin city manager, but others were directly targeted by police for their involvement in the movement. A march was announced to join the vigil at the county jail demanding release of these political prisoners. I knew I had to join.

Much has been said about the protests and whether those involved have valid reasons. Though the protesters have many diverse issues they have come together over, to me at this point the most important reason is to stand up for our right to assemble. In childhood, teachers taught me that the right for the people to speak up and assemble to demand a redress of grievances is one of the most fundamental things that defines being an American citizen. And yet now these 38 peaceful activists — along with a small but notable number of arrests since — are banned from City Hall for one year.

That’s right, a building that is the hub of their city, that their tax dollars pay for everytime they purchase anything in stores — yet if they return they face rearrest and even jail time. Because Austin is ‘cool’ and ‘weird’, our cops won’t go in with the tear gas. Instead they threaten us with dozens of tiny papercuts until our movement will bleed to death. We need to stand up and say this is not right — that we have a right to speak.

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