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Thursday Watercooler Wants Justice Now

8:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell


About a month ago, Workers Defense Project led a march through downtown Austin for what they call the Day Of The Fallen. This action draws attention to poor labor protections for all Texas workers, but particularly to the plight of Texan construction workers, for whom this state is the deadliest in the nation. The Worker’s Defense Project, also known as the Proyecto Defensa Laboral, supports labor on multiple fronts — in addition to direct action and lobbying, they hold weekly meetings where anyone can get free legal advice on a conflict with their employer.

I’ve been owed money by a contractor since December of 2011 in what has turned into a civil lawsuit, and I’ve gone several times to Workers Defense Project meetings. In addition to helping navigate the slow and confusing legal system they also gave me a fascinating though incomplete insight into what it’s like to need help in a place where you don’t speak the native language. You see, I’m one of those Typical White Americans who only picked up a smattering of foreign words in school and is otherwise shamefully monolingual. Workers Defense Project meetings are held entirely in Spanish, which means I needed a translator except for the period where I met one on one with an advisor.

At the beginning of each meeting, the whole group shares their new achievements and gathers in a rousing shout which you can hear in the above video:

¿Qué queremos? (What do we want?)

¡Justicia! (Justice!)

¿Cuándo queremos? (When do we want it?)


At one meeting I attended they announced they’d recovered over $800,000 in worker wages just in 2011. Here’s hoping they can include mine in their total in 2013 — and that they keep up this important work for many years to come.

Tonight’s video is by Jeff Zavala and the team, working for Austin Indymedia Center.

What’s on your mind? This is our latest open thread on MyFDL. Come chat about anything in the comments.

Austin Overpass Light Brigade Faces Police Repression (#OATX)

3:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Austin Police insist that Occupy Austin is breaking the law when it holds lighted signs on highway overpasses.

I spoke with two occupiers, Corey Williams and Joe Cooper, about their experiences.

The Overpass Light Brigade began in Wisconsin during the “uprising” of 2011, and has since spread to at least 10 other locations. In this simple, nonviolent action, protesters hold lighted signs on the sidewalk of a freeway overpass while night time traffic passes underneath. One of the newest divisions is in Austin, Texas; it formed in early October during Occupy Austin birthday week. Though police drove by the first display, which proclaimed UNFRACK THE WORLD, occupiers successfully held signs for about an hour at an overpass on the south end of the city.

Lighted protest sign: LOVE > $$$

The new Occupy Austin Overpass Light Brigade at Tent City Rising, October 6 2012.

But police shut down a second attempt that week, and another more recent mobilization.  At the second Austin OLB the message began as LOVE > $$$. Police arrived as the group began to rearrange letters to make a repeat of the UNFRACK message. The officers refused to cite what laws were being broken, but expressed concern that signs could be dropped from the overpass railing on which the activists were holding the display. While regrouping, the Light Brigade consulted with long-time Austin activist Debbie Russell who referred to a previous consultation with Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo:

[Y]ou can’t have signs that when holding, are “over” the roadway–you have to hold them inside the railings such that if it was dropped, it falls on the sidewalk and not below on the freeway. Some officers know this, some don’t, but Acevedo has very specifically said this is the case and a few years ago … he gave this mandate to his officers so they’d know. They’re out of practice tho.

Another data point: one afternoon a month at 4:20pm, the Texas Hemp Campaign displays a cannabis legalization banner held on the sidewalk of a busy overpass. Though sometimes monitored closely by police, they allow the display to continue.

If the issue was the danger posed by signs, activists decided to try yet another approach. The third attempt occurred on Saturday, October 27. It was the closest Saturday to Halloween, a night when police are typically busy downtown patrolling the club district for drunken costumed revelers. It was on a similar busy weekend closest to Halloween in 2011 that police made dozens of arrests at Occupy Austin’s standing encampment. In keeping with the symbolism of this anniversary, approximately a half dozen squad cars were waiting.

The message on that night was to be LOVE > FEAR, a response to recent hate crimes against queer people and people of color. This time, the Overpass Light Brigade used an overpass at St. Johns on Interstate Highway 35. This location is across the street from the abandoned Home Depot we attempted to encamp during the occupation’s birthday. Most importantly, this overpass is completely fenced in. It would be impossible to drop signs onto traffic.

Immediately, officers arrived and attempted to shut them down but the display continued for about twenty minutes. While part of the group held the signs, others demanded police cite a specific law that was violated. As the perceived threat of arrest grew more immediate, the OLB took down their signs and waited as police returned to squad cars to look up the law. Eventually, with the help of a Texas Department of Transportation employee summoned to the scene, they cited a portion of the Texas Transportation Code which applies to SIGNS ON STATE HIGHWAY RIGHT-OF-WAY. This law, a class C misdemeanor when broken, says:

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Watercooler: Minor Mishap Marching Band (#ArtOutside)

6:07 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Interruptions are frustrating for any journalist, but much less so when the interruption is as delightful as the Minor Mishap Marching Band. On Saturday of Art Outside while conducting interviews with members of 999 Eyes, the nearby stilt-walking workshop was invaded by this beautiful madness. I had no choice but to pause my interview and record the above video instead!

The Minor Mishap Marching Band are part of a trend toward modern ‘freak’ marching bands — what happens when band geeks grow up and get exposed to Burning Man, psychedelics, and other alternative culture. Perhaps the most well known is the Bay Area’s Extra-Action Marching Band. New York City has the Hungry March Band, which appears in the finalé to John Cameron Mitchell’s delightful Shortbus. Minor Mishap hosts the annual Honk TX! festival which draws in street bands from around the country.

Here’s a short film on Minor Mishap from the / Austin Indymedia Center team:

For more from Minor Mishap Marching Band, see

This is your Friday open thread. What’s on your mind?