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VIDEO: #FastFoodGlobal Rally in Austin, Texas

7:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

Protester outside Popeyes Kitchen: Austin, TX On Strike For $15/hr & A Union, #FastFoodGlobal

Austin, Texas joined #FastFoodGlobal, an international day of action.

A handful of fast food workers walked off their jobs in Austin, Texas yesterday, the closest thing our city had to a true May Day celebration in the streets. It happened as part of a global one-day strike led by the Fight For 15 movement. Dozens of workers and allies gathered outside a Popeye’s Kitchen on the east side of town, along a strip of fast food restaurants that cluster near the intersection of Martin Luther King, JR Boulevard and Airport Boulevard. This strip of strip mall purgatory could be any arterial street in America, reeking of fry grease and automotive exhaust.

After a member of the local clergy led us in prayer, we heard from several workers. The star of the show was Alonzo Simms. If the press release I got handed hadn’t told me he was 47-years old, I’d never have known — he had more energy than me, despite being older by over a decade. He told us about working sometimes seven days a week at $8.25/hour, with no raises in sight. He’s raising two kids on that salary and struggling to make ends meet, while the CEOs of fast food chains make sometimes as much as thousands of dollars per hour.

After his story he led the crowd into one fast food restaurant after another. Neither the protesters nor the media (with multiple local TV stations putting in an appearance) were phased by the complaints of the store managers, who made obligatory declarations that we had to leave or shut off our cameras. In each restaurant we chanted before Simms spoke directly to the workers. Some were supportive, others indifferent or mildly hostile. In the middle of a school day, these were not the teenagers that supposedly make up the bulk of fast food workers, but people from a range of ages and races.

Other than the brave efforts of local anti-deportation activists, this was some of the boldest action I’ve seen in Austin since last summer’s pro-choice protests at the Capitol. We’re a long way from Seattle, where $15/hour may become reality. One construction worker objected that he handles specialized equipment and still doesn’t make that much — a sign that to many, these protests seem like fantasy, rather than a movement with the potential to elevate us all.

But these workers seem determined, and if the movement grows — if we strike for more than a day – it’ll be days like this that got us there.

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A Conversation with John Jack Anderson, Occupy Photojournalist (UPDATE)

7:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

State Troopers roughly arrest a mn in a santa suit, surrounded by chalk

From the book: “Occupy Austin participant, James Peterson, dresses as Santa Claus, hands out chalk to children and encourages them to use it after an event at the Texas Capitol on December 21, 2012. Peterson also wrote with chalk and as he and others were leaving, DPS troopers arrested him along with Corey Williams.”

UPDATE: John Anderson will join us on the FDL Book Salon on March 30!

More: See John Anderson’s recent collaboration with the Austin Chronicle’s Michael King: “Fun And Games With Stratfor 

John Jack Anderson has decades of experience as a photojournalist. As part of the Austin Chronicle team, he conducted a long study of Occupy Austin from its first beginnings till the point when its activity waned two years later. He continues to be a fixture at local protests, and during the height of Occupy was our embedded reporter — someone activists trusted enough to tip off about direct actions and civil disobedience before they happened, even in those paranoid days of police infiltration and provocation.

John Anderson with a camera in hand, as a State Trooper leaves the frame at right

John Anderson, photojournalist at work (Police photo obtained through open records request)

Though the Chronicle published a continuous photo gallery, Jack Anderson has just collected the best of his coverage into a pair of photo books: In Search Of A Revolution, and the shorter Occupy Austin: The Encampment Months. Both are available as vivid, full-color printed editions, but Revolution is also available as an inexpensive iBook and .pdf.

Anderson has a sharp eye and caught many funny, chaotic and even tragic moments. The books contain both large events like marches and arrest, but also general assemblies, tent city life, and play. Revolution also documents his photos of the undercover Austin Police Department officers who infiltrated the movement — a special glossary in the back shows where to find each known officer in each photo in the book.

Of course I’m partial to the book in part because it contains so many great photos of my friends, myself, and all that we accomplished from the moment that first tent went up on the steps of Austin City Hall right through all the months we continued gathering and acting despite eviction. But anyone interested in the life of social justice movements and the use of public spaces should get a copy.

Though Anderson is an unapologetic supporter of Occupy’s goals, he stood at just a step removed from the rest of us citizen (gonzo) journalists in the camps with our tweets and streams. His loving outsider’s view of this uprising should not be missed. From occupiers raised in chants and song to the faces of police as they swing a baton or fist, there will be much that lingers in your memory here.

I sat down with Jack recently to talk about his experiences at Occupy and the new books.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: Tell me a little of your background before Occupy.

John Anderson: I started getting into activist photography when I lived in Washington, D.C., as a photo student. There’s always a protest, march, rally or something in D.C. It made for easy assignments. My first photograph that was published in 1986 when Reagan bombed Libya. I went down to the White House and it got published in the paper and I got hooked on that.

The intentions of the Occupy movement really got my attention. It was something I’d been waiting for, for years. It was trying to get at some of the root causes — capitalism — of the structural issues in our society. Instead of chasing environmental issues over here, and education issues over there, Citizens United — instead of all those separate issues, Occupy wanted to bring them all together to strike at the root, which to me was too much corporate power in our government and the resulting inequality.

I wanted to go to Occupy Wall Street but just couldn’t manage it, but then of course the movement spread and came here to Austin and I thought ‘great!’ Now I can document Occupy without having to go to New York. At the same time, the Chronicle started putting together photo galleries for the website and we realized an ongoing encampment at City Hall would certainly be worthy of a photo gallery. At that point we were ambitiously hoping to update it every day, but you were having general assemblies every day and marches every night, and everything else in between.

I loved the energy, the 24/7 aspect of it. If I were downtown and between assignments I could just go down to City Hall and hang out. You can’t compare that to anything else, at least that I’ve covered. It started as an assignment and then became a labor of love. No one at the Chronicle expected it to go on for years!

Balloons labelled LULZ attached to a banner: Today's Strategic Forecast 100% Chance of LULZ

From the book: “Members of Occupy Austin float signs outside the windows of the private global intelligence company Stratfor to protest their involvement with the infiltration of Occupy Austin on March 5, 2012. Recently hacked Stratfor emails revealed the Texas Department of Safety had infiltrated Occupy Austin and shared information with Strafor that was gathered while undercover.”

FDL: Do you have any favorite moments from documenting Occupy?

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 2: Mutual Aid

7:05 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Previously: Part 1, Occupy & Activism

Banner on Occupy Sandy relief site: "Occupy Sandy, Mutual Aid Not Charity" with Circle A

Radical activist networks are powerful sources of mutual aid during disasters. But what comes after?

One reason I wanted to chat with Scott Crow was his experience with Common Ground Collective in New Orleans. In recent years, we’ve seen similar collectives spring out of the activist networks formed by Occupy Wall Street — projects like Occupy Sandy. Late last year, alongside key Common Ground Collective organizer Lisa Fithian and many others, I organized Austin Common Ground Relief to respond to a record-breaking flood on Halloween. As the group’s dispatcher, I relied on the networks and skills formed during Occupy Austin.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: You mentioned projects that appear during lulls. I see Occupy Sandy, or the Common Ground Relief work we did here recently and all that ties into what you were doing at Common Ground Collective. 

Scott Crow: Right.

FDL: Mutual aid is good for its own sake, but how do we connect that politically? We don’t want to turn anyone off. We don’t want to politicize our aid but our aid is political. How do we make that connection? What happens next after an Occupy Sandy?

SC: I think it only is what it is. You can only ‘politicize’ it as much as you can. I think what’s really important is the culture we create internally within our political movements and social movements and also the way we engage outwardly with other people — though it’s more permeable than that. We’re not trying to convert people to anarchy or to communism or whatever it is — although communists did try to convert people just like religious wingnuts. Really what we do is you just make it make sense to people.

FDL: Sure!

SC: When you go to help someone and you name it mutual aid, people see that in real life and real time. Unfortunately, that’s the only way to do it. There is no conversion.

“It’s the idea of attraction, not the idea of conversion.” That actually comes out of Alcoholics Anonymous, I didn’t make that up. The aid work is something which just emerges sort of by accident out of all these projects. Like at Common Ground Collective in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast, we were able to pull from the alternative globalization movement: street medics, indy media, and Food Not Bombs and all these things which had been going on.

FDL: These were networks built through activism that then were pulled in for aid.

SC: We didn’t consciously say, ‘Hey, we’re going to do this for aid!’ Now we’re starting to see that this has become a newer model, another point of intersection against the crisis of capitalism.

Make it as political as possible without drawing fake lines: like “we’re anarchist and you’re not.” Or, “this is radical and you’re not.” And also just being honest about who we are. I don’t want to convert anyone.

FDL: But you’re honest about where you’re coming from.

SC: Absolutely! I told people I was an anarchist from the beginning in New Orleans. And these are people, in some communities, who had hardly ever seen white people. I’m literally serious about that. They’d say “I’ve barely seen white people except on TV. You’re an anarchist, what is that? And why are you here?”

Now they’ll tell you, “The anarchists came. No one else showed up, but the anarchists came.” I’m sure your experience with Austin Common Ground was maybe not as extreme, but similar.

FDL: Sure, I had some people who took me aside who were like “I get what you guys are doing here.” We didn’t avoid talking about our politics, people knew we were organizers but it was never about that, obviously. It was about “here’s a meal.”

SC: Right.

FDL: During some of the later events in December, people told me, “We will remember you and what you did.”

SC: It’s also about connecting things. So when you’re gutting somebody’s house, you can come in like a service organization and say, “Yeah, we’re going to gut your house. Then we’re going to go on to do something else.” That’s the charity model. But if you come in with the solidarity model, it’s like, “We’re doing this because we want you to get back on your feet, because we want you to build your own community power the way you see fit.” It’s a different way to approach it.

FDL: We’ve been able to pass the work off to the new Onion Creek Park Neighborhood Alliance, which we helped them form. 

SC: That’s what I’m talking about! These things happen all the time, and I don’t care if we name them as anarchy or not. It’s not a brand. There’s no gain in it. It’s just a point of reference, at least to me.

FDL: I feel the same way about Occupy. Some people want to fly that banner and it’s really powerful to them, and other people don’t want anything to do with it. At the end of the day, I don’t care as long as they’re doing something.

SC: Right, right.

In Part 3: Technology and intersectionality.

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A Conversation with Scott Crow, Part 1: Occupy & Activism

8:15 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Scott Crow in jeans and a button shirt sits in a chair at the left of a long table, against an alley wall.

Scott Crow talks with Firedoglake’s Kit O’Connell about activism and anarchy.

Scott Crow is a co-founder of the Common Ground Collective which provided grassroots solidarity and mutual aid after Hurricane Katrina. An anarchist activist, author and public speaker, he travels regularly to share his views. The second edition of his book about Common Ground, Black Flags and Windmills is due out soon. It’s one of multiple book-length projects in the works.

Both Scott & I call Austin home, so I invited him out for coffee and conversation on a recent break from an unusually chilly Central Texas winter.

Kit O’Connell, Firedoglake: There’s always been activism happening but the last few years it seems there’s been more activity, more people in the streets, more stuff happening. Do you agree?

Scott Crow: Yeah, but what happens is there are times of rupture, where things kind of jump off. And then times of lulls, in-between times. Look at it like a sine wave where it rises and falls. So the twenty plus years I’ve been doing activism, I’ve been engaged with community organizing, I’ve been engaged in national struggles, international struggles, I’ve seen a lot of ruptures and falls. When I came back in really seriously was in the alternative globalization movement, the post-Seattle stuff. When that kicked off it was huge huge huge. We could get 10,000 people to a demonstration internationally with the summit hopping that was going on.

After September 11 it sort of died down. But then the wars kicked off. And I don’t mean the War On the Poor or the War On Women, but the international wars. And in that you saw another rupture where thousands of people were in the streets.

And then it kind of leveled off and then we were struck with some pretty serious disasters. One was the man made and natural disaster of Hurricane Katrina. That actually drew a lot of people to it, which was another form of a rupture. Because then people came to the Gulf Coast by the hundreds of thousands, literally,

Then there was a lull, but then we come to the next disaster which was the economic collapse of 2008. All of these things have been brewing since the millennium as capitalism’s been in crisis and then finally Occupy comes. And it’s just a natural progression of all this. So that was just the latest rupture to happen.

It’s always interesting to watch — the way I actually look at it is like an ocean, like waves coming to the shore. Is this too long?

FDL: No, No! Go on!

SC: So like the waves are out here and there’s the lulls and highs and then they just finally crash into the shore. All the waves aren’t coming at the same time but they are definitely crashing on that shore. Then they kind of recede back.

Then what I like to see is what happen in the lulls, in between the ruptures right — what comes out of it? So when the rupture happens there’s thousands — I just want to be clear I’m not saying ‘the Rapture!’

FDL: *Laughter*

SC: The tensions are the highest and when the people are the most. We saw in the Occupy movements, it was incredibly beautiful, internationally but definitely in the states, all across the country. But then it starts to recede and we see who’s left and what projects come out of it. Because that helps build for the next level.

I think that what came out of Occupy and the Occupy movements was a really beautiful rupture because you’d already seen the largest influence of anarchy and anarchist ideas in the modern times since the time of Emma Goldman and the IWW and people back then. We’re in an anarchist renaissance. So when people came into Occupy, they came in with these horizontal organizing ideas, the ideas of participatory democracy, the ideas of direct action, without even thinking about it.

And that’s forty years of organizing for a lot of people in the United States but for me that’s twenty years of organizing — not that I was a part of all of it, but seeing it come to fruition –

FDL: You and all your allies.

SC: Absolutely. I’m not taking credit for it in any way!

In Part 2: Disaster relief and the meaning of mutual aid.
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What Flood? 2 weeks of disaster relief in Austin, Texas (#ATXFloods)

7:30 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Collapsed house after Austin Halloween Flood

A condemned houses in the aftermath of the Austin, Texas Halloween 2013 flood.

In the early hours of Halloween 2013, Austin, Texas suffered from a record-breaking flood. Some 1,100 homes were affected by the floods with hundreds of those seriously. Flood response was dangerously delayed by a faulty flood gauge and improper human monitoring of the rapidly rising Onion Creek. Because of the city’s seemingly laissez-faire attitude toward the residents of the floodplain, many remained asleep as water began to pour into their homes:

Onion Creek was transformed into a raging river last Thursday. The Halloween flood set a new record for high water levels in the creek. More than 1,000 homes were damaged and five people died.

At a town hall meeting in the Dove Springs area Tuesday night homeowners had a lot of questions, and one comment caused concern.

‘We relied too much, me, on technology and gauges that were not working properly,’ said Police Chief Art Acevedo.

Flood survivor Norma Jeanne Maloney took to Facebook to tell how she and her partner Dawna Fisher were awakened by rising waters:

Dawna Fisher woke me up to tell me we had a problem. Half asleep I said ‘Say again, what kind of problem?’ ‘We have some water outside and it looks pretty high.’ I went to our front window to see a raging body of water about 3 feet high. I said ‘We need to wake up the kids we are in serious trouble.’ I woke up Ruby and she woke up Texie. I went back into our bedroom where the water had already begun to seep up into our floors, I heard my cat Pickup howling, yes cats howl, under the bed. I managed to grab him and while he clawed me to pieces ( and he has never ever hurt anyone ) I said to him, go right ahead pal, I’m not letting you go. Texie and I shoved him in a bag and zipped it up. …

We all had gathered in the living room wondering if anyone on earth knew what was happening and how we were going to get out. We saw someone trying to escape in their car, it flipped on its side and was washed away. I heard voices and saw a boat in the street and my immediate response was to open the front door to swim to the boat to get help for my family. Do not try this at home, it lets more water in. We began flicking our porch light on and off and were seen. A beautiful tall firefighter walked through the raging water and made it to our window and asked how many lives we had in our home including pets …

He said he would be back. We waited and watched the water continue to rise, our belongings beginning to float about the house. My daughter Ruby asked me if we were going to die. That was the hardest part. Of course not I said, wondering if I just lied to my child and if we were all going to perish. I said guys, I know this isn’t really your thing, but can we pray? Without hesitation we all grabbed hands in a circle and asked that we be spared, at this point the water was past our waists. … The firefighter came back, we heard our neighbors screaming and we said go back for them, they are elderly and need your help. Our neighbors (we know now) were screaming go get them, they have babies! On his last trip to our window they finally managed to get the boat near our living room window against the current and said they were ready to load us. These brave men loaded our family and our animals in the tiny craft and we were transported less than a half mile north up our street where it was completely dry.

As is so often the case in these disasters, city organizations and big nonprofits poured into the neighborhood to offer assistance and ask for cash donations in the immediate aftermath, but it didn’t last. The Red Cross turned up to serve thousands of hot dogs before halting meals a week after the floods. A city-operated shelter opened for a mere 2 weeks. And while the Austin city government offered buyouts to over a hundred of the worst damaged homes, residents are expected to wait months to receive that money:

Manning Solidarity at Austin’s Queerbomb

3:51 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Free Chelsea Manning float rolling in a sea of queers at Queerbomb

The OccuQueers and CODEPINK represented Chelsea Manning at Austin’s Queerbomb.

This post has been updated to accurately reflect Chelsea Manning’s gender identity.

After the well-publicized cowardice of San Francisco’s Pride in the face of pressure to drop support for Chelsea Manning and with her trial beginning this week, several Austin queers and allies wanted to act in support.

Austin’s “official” Pride event (with heavy corporate sponsorship and organized by the Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce) takes place in September. For the fourth time, independent activists honored Pride Month with Queerbomb, a rally and street march last Saturday. Thanks to the Occupy Austin OccuQueers and CODE PINK Austin, Manning was well-represented.

A Queerbomb volunteer provided us with a wheeled platform and helped the first stage of float-making, which was the creation of a frame made from chicken-wire and egg-carton material in the shape of an oversized human torso and head. On Saturday, more of the OccuQueers gathered in my back yard to cover the frame in paper maché and then paint it. We were assisted by one of Occupy Austin’s talented artists, the same woman who helped us create and deploy the Fuck Hyatt banner for Pride 2012.

Joined by the Austin Audio Co-Op and their famous “Party Wagon” (#OATX’s mobile sound system), we arrived just in time for the parade, which was forced to leave early. As we took the Austin streets under police escort, many cheered for the Manning float. We were soon joined by representatives of CODE PINK Austin and the Manning Support Network. Many queers and spectators asked for more information, and we offered fliers and answers in return. Along one part of the route, a few spectators joined our “Free Manning” chants.

Since almost every time I’ve posted about Manning to Facebook I’ve attracted trolls (including repeated disruptive attempts by a known past or present Obama For America employee), it was disappointing but not surprising that our real life efforts attracted one too. As we rolled down Sixth Street, Austin’s night club district, a lithe blond woman aggressively approached a marcher who carried a large Manning banner. The situation became tense as she shouted “Manning should rot in hell!” but the pressure of a fast-moving parade and the intervention of many other supporters kept things from escalating further.

Overall the action was a success, bringing increased awareness of Manning’s case. At the end of the night when I parked the Manning float and took a rest on a bench at a nearby coffee shop, it was fun to watch people stop to pose with him for photos as they left Queerbomb.

Trouble Ahead for Queerbomb?

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Travis County District Attorney Released From Jail This Morning

6:31 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Portrait of Rosemary Lehmberg

Rosemary Lehmberg was released from jail this morning.

Travis County is home to Austin, Texas and well over a million residents. The county’s district attorney, Rosemary Lehmberg was released from jail about 1am this morning after serving half of a 45-day sentence for driving under the influence of alcohol.

From the Austin American Statesman: 

Lehmberg, who was sentenced April 19, served half of her jail term under a law that gives two days credit for every day served for good behavior. Travis county jail records no longer showed Lehmberg booked by 3 a.m. Thursday.

Predictably, in this Republican-led state there have been calls for her resignation from the right, even satirical bumper stickers that lampoon her behavior on the night of her arrest. Looking deeper, the situation is far more complex.

First, while the office of Travis County District Attorney is elected, if Lehmberg resigns than Republican Governor Rick Perry will appoint her interim replacement. But more so, many reports suggest that Lehmberg is suffering from an illness — alcoholism — which may benefit from treatment rather than further punishment.

Sources write that Lehmberg had a known drinking problem, and a Point Austin editorial in the Austin Chronicle argued for compassion and treatment over judgment:

Ours is a culture (including a cop culture) rampant with binge drinking – and it too often has deadly consequences – but if everyone who received a first-offense DWI also lost his job, the drinking wouldn’t stop, and the unemployment rolls would be staggering as well.

[O]ne can only wonder what might have happened to Bob Bullock or Ann Richards (or a host of other officials) had the Internet been available to chronicle and repost their every bibulous indiscretion. Anonymous trolls would be demanding their immediate ejections from office, and editorial writers (hardly squeaky clean themselves) would be anonymously chiming in. Yet we have long known that alcoholism is a treatable disease, and that reflexively treating alcoholics as criminals only fills our prisons without addressing the underlying problems.

Though the kind of reckless behavior Lehmberg engaged in is never acceptable, KVUE suggests that grief exacerbated her behavior:

Sources confirmed Lehmberg was distraught the night before her arrest on April 12th after attending the funeral of a dear friend and employee.

Investigator Lorraine Kerlick died in a motorcycle accident April 7th. Friends say Lehmberg appeared extremely emotional and depressed at the funeral.

As of now, Lehmberg intends to complete her term as well as seek treatment:

Lehmberg, who was released before 3 a.m. Thursday, also thanked the Travis County jail staff for their ‘professionalism and dedication’ in a statement issued shortly after 5 a.m.

‘In the coming days, Rosemary will be making arrangements to seek professional treatment and better understand her behavior,’ the statement said. ‘She will also meet with members of her staff with whom she been communicating throughout the last 3 weeks.’

Jason Stanford, in a sharply worded Statesman opinion argues the situation is representative of overall corruption in the Texas legal system:

But just because she’s a drunken mess of political entitlement doesn’t mean Lehmberg doesn’t have a role to play when she gets out of jail. The Travis County district attorney heads the Public Integrity Unit, which by law has jurisdiction over corruption in state government. Unless the Obama-appointed U.S. attorney decides to make a federal case out of something, the only one who can prosecute any of these Banana Republicans in elected state office is Lehmberg.

And if she resigns, Rick Perry gets to appoint her successor, explaining why local Democrats want her to stay on the job.

But should she? Making corruption charges stick is hard enough with one’s credibility intact. Ronnie Earle found this out when he tried to prosecute Kay Bailey Hutchison. It’s hard to imagine Lehmberg withstanding the political backlash that comes with trying to hold powerful public officials accountable. It says a lot about Texas ethics when the only check on political corruption is currently sitting in jail after pleading guilty to drunken driving.

Ken Anderson, District Attorney before Lehmberg and now a state district judge is facing charges of corruption. Ross Ramsey of The Texas Tribune argues that state officials are no longer untouchable:

Texas DA’s used to be indestructible. The political potshots at long-serving former prosecutors like Dallas County’s Henry Wade, Harris County’s Johnny B. Holmes Jr. and Travis County’s Ronnie Earle were part of their jobs. But each left on his own.

Times have changed. In the 1980s, crime was the major issue in many local and state elections. In the early 1990s, the people who won those elections went on an epic prison- and jail-building spree.

Voters are worried about other things now. Wrongful convictions and prosecutions have shaken public faith in the criminal justice system.

And, it turns out, in the people at the top.

Update: The Austin-area coordinator of the Texas Department of Public Safety resigned today after a DUI arrest.

Antonio Buehler & Peaceful Streets: Grand Jury & Sticker Update

12:19 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For more on this topic, see Antonio Buehler and the Peaceful StreetsThe Peaceful Streets Police Summit, and More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests in Austin.

Antonio Buehler at the Texas State Capitol

Antonio Buehler dodged a felony charge, but continues to struggle with multiple misdemeanors and another arrest.

Earlier this month, a Grand Jury in Austin, Texas finally ruled on Antonio Buehler and his allies in the Peaceful Streets Project in a case which stretches back to New Years 2012. Though Buehler will not face felony charges, he and other allies will go to court to answer to several misdemeanors. And Buehler found himself back in jail again after the Grand Jury ruling.

Felony charges date back to this Westpoint graduate’s controversial first arrest on New Years, when he filmed a violent arrest of a driver suspected of DUI and her passenger. Buehler was arrested and accused of spitting on an officer. Though the Austin Police Department refused to release the officers’ dashboard camera footage, other witness footage collected by Buehler seemed likely to exonerate him and it seems the Grand Jury didn’t think this charge would stick.

But Buehler’s first arrest launched him on a personal crusade to fight for police transparency and the constitutionally-protected right of citizens to film the police. Other arrests during the ensuing months were rolled into the investigation. The Grand Jury also made at least a token consideration of whether police had engaged in wrongdoing too.

Unsurprisingly, the cleared police of charges. At the same time, they chose to indict Antonio Buehler on four Class C misdemeanor charges of failure to obey the obey the police. Area activist Sarah Dickerson, arrested while filming one of Buehler’s arrests, was indicted for a single count of the same charge. Norma Pizana, the passenger in the New Years situation, will go to court for a Class A misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest.

According to District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg,

The Grand Jury met on six occasions and heard from 13 witnesses, including Antonio Buehler and Officer Patrick Oborski. The felony charges considered by the Grand Jury were tampering with a governmental record by Officer Oborski as well as harassment of a public servant by Antonio Buehler. The Grand Jury also considered whether Officer Oborski committed official oppression.

But according to the official statement on the Peaceful Streets website:

[The Grand Jury] did not hear from either Buehler or Dickerson regarding the post-New Year’s Day incidents, nor any of the Peaceful Streets Project volunteers who witnessed those incidents. … There was no evidence that either Buehler or Dickerson ever obstructed or interfered with an officer engaged in his official duties.

Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo continues to insist that none of the arrests were motivated by the filming, but by interference with police duties:

The Austin Police Department wants to once again reiterate the fact that simply filming police actions are generally lawful. However, interfering or obstructing a lawful police action, failure to obey a lawful order, and/or resisting arrest is a violation of the law.

Thanks to the Austin Chronicle for their continued coverage.

Buehler’s activism — and arrests — continue. The Austin-American Statesman reports that Buehler was arrested in mid-April for putting Peaceful Streets stickers on the back of city signs near the Travis County Courthouse, part of a major hub of law enforcement activity in downtown Austin — he spent the night in the jail on the same block. The initial charge was for misdemeanor Class C Criminal Mischief, but after a city technician assessed the “damage” to signs at $99, the charge was upgraded to Class B.

Peaceful Streets Project members continue to regularly gather for copwatch events and Know Your Rights trainings.

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Decentralized Dance Party Wins the Nobel Prize for Partying (#SXSW)

7:10 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

What does it accomplish to dance in the streets?

On March 16, 2013, Tom and Gary brought their Decentralized Dance Party back to Austin, Texas for a third time. The “DDP” is a roving dance party created by boomboxes carried in the crowd. The boomboxes are all tuned to the same micro-radio station powered by a backpack mounted FM transmitter. Playing popular hits that are easy to dance and sing with, mixed with bass-heavy newer tunes, the party begins at a designated meeting place leaked through social media and then roves all through an urban area.

Partying is misunderestimated by 99% of the populace.

Accordingly, it is rarely done properly and has never received the respect it deserves.

Partying is: “forgetting who you are while remembering what you are.”

It is the complete loss of the social conditioning that makes adult life monotonous and depressing and has the power to be a transformational spiritual experience. — from the Decentralized Dance Party manifesto

The Bill & Ted’s-esque mythology of the DDP is that two best friends travel back from the future to teach humanity how to party. The real story begins in Vancouver in 2009, which Gary Lachance calls “no fun city” for its lack of acceptable night life. To liven up the experience, Gary and his friends would rove with a pair of bicycle-mounted sound systems connected to iPods. One night around midnight, an iPod ran out of batteries so they tuned both sound systems to the same radio station while they rode and the idea was born. In 2010 the DDP began traveling North America, and within six months they say 20,000 people had experienced this street party. It’s only grown from there.

Tom at the DDP, wearing a power glove & a fuzzy future outfit.

Tom is here from the future to teach us to party.

“Tom” is a role that several have played, but Gary says the current Tom is a keeper. A military veteran who served two tours in Iraq, he began traveling cross-country and sleeping in his van in order to follow the Decentralized Dance Party from location to location. After he constructed a powerful sound system out of a baby carriage (they call it “The Baby Boomer”), the DDP team knew they’d found their perfect Tom. He sees it as a healthy transition from being part of the machinery of war to bringing humanity together through the joy of dancing. “This is my passion,” Tom told me as thousands danced under Congress bridge in the heart of downtown Austin. ”I will do this for the rest of my life.” Now Tom leads the Decentralized Dance Parties by the light of his glowing “Disco Trident.”

Dance parties in public spaces were — and still are — a frequent part of the Occupy movement and modern global activism. The Portland eviction made headlines for including a dance party, and Occupy Austin has a huge and very loud “Party Wagon” that frequently appears on marches — including this most recent DDP — when it’s not simulating earthquakes. Yet it’s instructive to contrast police response to Occupy with their response to the Dance Party.

Anonymous

Anonymous guides the Occupy Austin Party Wagon at the SXSW 2013 Decentralized Dance Party.

During this recent Austin event, the march had traveled from south of Austin’s Town Lake onto Congress on its way up to the State Capitol when it encountered Austin police investigating an accident or vehicular crime scene. After a brief pause, we found we had police escort for the rest of the journey and every cop was smiling. At the Texas State Capitol, the notoriously humorless State Troopers (who even arrested Santa Claus) briefly detained Tom, but can be seen posing with dancers in later photos.
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Austin’s Feminist Vigilante Gang vs. Texas Rally for Life

5:50 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Anonymous Medic and Feminist Vigilante Gang member

An Anonymous Medic and a Feminist Vigilante Gang member stand with the patriarchy piñata at the Texas State Capitol during Saturday's Rally for Life.

Thousands For Hate, A Handful For Peace

Saturday at the Texas Capitol, thousands (by mainstream media estimates) gathered to celebrate the war on women’s rights. Many had been bused in from around the state to reinforce the numbers in the notoriously liberal capitol city. Standing against them were a tiny group, Austin’s newly formed “Feminist Vigilante Gang.”

Knights of Columbus at the Rally for Life

The Knights of Columbus gather at the head of the parade at the Rally for Life.

From the Houston Chronicle coverage of the rally:

Gov. Rick Perry, finding biblical significance in the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision, assured thousands of activists at Saturday’s Rally for Life at the Texas Capitol that this legislative session will build on past efforts to restrict abortion.

‘The ideal world is one without abortion. Until then, we will continue to pass laws to ensure abortions are as rare as possible,’ Perry told a crowd.

Joined by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, Attorney General Greg Abbott and anti-abortion groups, Perry said he was with ‘men and women who understand those Biblical stories.’

What no mainstream media outlet mentions is the open hatred of the group. Led by the Attorney General, thousands cheered as Greg Abbott laid out their accomplishments: the crowd responded raucously over not just the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the growing restriction on women’s reproductive freedoms, but the state’s ban on gay marriage as well. All this was touted as making Texas the most “pro-family state in the Union.”

Make no mistake, this was a family affair — parents and children stood alongside entire Boy Scout troops, priests and nuns gathered in groups. This was a family affair like a Ku Klux Klan picnic at the beginning of the 20th century: huge, upbeat, and guaranteed to generate shame when the grandkids bring it up decades from now.

How do you protest a group of thousands when you only have a handful? One answer is to be as aggressively eye-catching as possible. Enter Austin’s new Feminist Vigilante Gang. The Feminist Vigilante Gangs are a decentralized movement which believes in responding aggressively to rape, violence, harassment and attacks on women’s rights. One female participant who asked to remain anonymous took to Facebook to explain:

There is also one major issue I notice people are vocalizing and that is the assertive nature of the counter-protest. This was more than anger-based. This tactic is particularly important in feminist actions, where in the past I, for example, have been called ‘rude’ for stating an opposing view, as if I need to have people over for tea, don my white gloves, and explain the day-to-day emotions that come with battling oppression.

I believe in nonviolent direct action, and I believe that people who are from traditionally oppressed groups are free as birds to express their righteous anger. Since we all know power is rarely given up by choice, it seems appropriate for marginalized groups to aggressively oppose their oppression.

Was it effective?

Counterprotesters with a Banner "Smash Patriarchy"

Austin's Feminist Vigilante Gang confronts an anti-abortion activist at the Texas Rally for Life.

Taking On the Persecuted Majority

The religious right-wing of America, urged on by the likes of Fox News, is in love with feeling persecuted. Even at a rally of thousands, attended by the governor of one of the largest and most powerful states in the United States, there were speeches about the brave ongoing Christian struggle against oppression. Since they believe they are at war, the Feminist Vigilante Gang responded in kind with aggressive dress and banners. An Anonymous Medic was present in full riot armor, carrying all his gear. Of course, there was the patriarchy pig piñata too, hanging from a wire coat hanger. Though it was full of candy, activists chose not to smash it because of the extreme reaction its mere presence drew from pro-lifers and police.

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