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Award-Winning Watercooler Tuesday

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

The Austin Chronicle‘s readers named Occupy Austin as 2012′s Best March Or Rally in the annual Best of Austin poll:

It’s a unique category, but it makes sense for this winner: Occupy might well be described as a permanent ”march or rally” against economic injustice and in support of basic democratic rights. Since its beginnings as Occupy Wall Street and as it spread nationwide and into Austin, Occupy has turned the national discussion to questions of social justice and equity, and also generated reconsideration of police power and public engagement. Austin’s Occupiers are small in number but large in persistence and public impact – as Chronicle readers enthusiastically confirm.

I’ll be attending the awards party tonight at Emo’s (2015 East Riverside in Austin, Texas). Say hello if you see me there!

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

Thursday Watercooler

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Tomorrow I’ll have an update on the Austin Overpass Light Brigade which returned successfully Monday night. Tonight I’m attending a community meeting about recent hate crimes in Austin. I took a step back from activism for a couple weeks to sort out some non-Occupy things I needed to do, but now I’m back and glad to be there.

It’s Thursday. How’s your week going? This is our latest open thread.

#Occupy Votes (Updated 2:25pm PST)

1:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Tuned Out Hippies?

Since the Occupy movement began, many have attempted to position the group in opposition to electoral politics. Occupy in its purest form is nonpartisan, and since the beginning of the movement this has been a source of criticism.

If we want to really make a difference, we were told time and again, we should organize similarly to the Tea Party and begin to field candidates for office. When occupiers protested Mitt Romney or other hyper-conservative politicians, they’d be accused of being in bed with Barack Obama. If the movement protested neo-liberals like Obama, we were accused of being traitors to all that was good in the world because we obviously wanted Romney to win (Carnacing is not limited to blogs). Most of all, occupiers got accused of being disconnected from what their critics perceive to be real politics — we were lazy hippies who didn’t understand how the world works and worst of all we don’t vote.

Spelled out in lights: DO MORE THAN VOTE

Austin Overpass Light Brigade on November 5, 2012

Occupy and many allied activist groups stand in opposition to the idea that electoral politics should be the focus of American political engagement. It is especially opposed to the idea that just voting out one plutocrat and replacing him with a new one will fix our problems — even if that new plutocrat is a woman, from a racial minority, or practices an alternative religion or sexuality. Its ranks are full of activists who supported Obama with hours of hard work in the run-up to the 2008 election, only to “wake the eff up” over the succeeding years and realize real change doesn’t come from far-away leaders.

It’s my experience that occupiers are far more engaged with mainstream politics than mainstream America, which for the most part unthinkingly abstains from participating at all. While the average American simply does not vote, the question of whether to vote and how was an important concern to OWS. Members of Occupy Chicago spent hours in a heated debate over whether it was ethical to burn voter registration cards as a form of protest. Occupiers created street theater around the election: Occupy Chicago members took coffins to the Obama headquarters and launched Revs4Romney. On election day, Occupy the Stage in New Orleans protested the fact that Louisiana is one of eight states which disallow write-in candidates for President by performing a puppet show about the 2-party system at a polling place then accepting symbolic write-in votes (I voted via Twitter for Vermin Supreme). Occupiers held public debate-watching parties, helped Anonymous trend the hashtag #StopNDAA and livetweeted the elections.

Occupy groups also became closely involved in local issues at multiple elections since last September. Here in Austin, one Occupier made an unsuccessful bid for city council, while others became involved in the successful bid to make the city council itself more accountable. Austin will change from one of the country’s only completely at-large city councils to one where each council member represents part of the city.  The Occupy AISD working group fought new in-district charter schools by, in part, helping to unseat charter-supporter Sam Guzman. His replacement, Dr. Rev. Jayme Mathias, will be the first openly gay member of Austin’s school board. One of the Gulf Port 7, Ronnie Garza, is featured in the video at the top of this post. Another, Remington Alessi, ran for sheriff as a Green Party candidate. San Antonio’s Meghan Owen took 1.5% of the vote for the Greens in a bid to unseat NDAA-supporting Democrat Representative Lloyd Doggett.

Of course, many see Elizabeth Warren as a massive win for the goals of Occupy Wall Street.

An Ethical Dilemma At the Voting Booth

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#BurningMan, the Death of Paul Addis, and Radical Activism (UPDATED 11/3)

1:34 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Paul Addis, the man accused of arson at Burning Man, the massive fire arts festival, committed suicide on Saturday night.

From the Reno Gazette-Journal:

Remains of the burned Burning Man effigy.

The charred remains of the iconic Burning Man effigy after Paul Addis burned it early at the 2007 event.

Paul Addis, a longtime Burner and artist fed up with the way Burning Man was being organized, died after he jumped in front of a moving BART train at Embarcadero station on Saturday night, according to multiple Bay Area news reports. He was 42.

Addis was convicted of felony arson after setting fire to what festival-goers call “The Man” on that early Tuesday morning [in 2007].

Burning Man is an annual gathering in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada which attracts over 50,000 attendees and has spawned a worldwide subculture of smaller regional events and year-round communities. The event is based around ethics of a gift economy and radical participation, and has its roots in anarchic gatherings created by groups like the Cacophony Society and Crash Worship (whose descendants Flam Chen were profiled here last weekend).

Its central ritual is the end of week burning of a massive effigy of a human figure. Addis short-circuited this ritual in 2007 by setting fire to the icon on the event’s first night. Reports differ on the circumstances of this action, with Addis claiming warnings were given and attempts made to clear the area while other eyewitnesses tell stories of helping endangered, inebriated people away from the flames. Addis was arrested, convicted of destruction of property (a felony), and spent two years in jail.

Burning Man offers a place where some people (those who can afford it) come to explore the nature of identity, creativity and social interaction free from the constraints of mainstream capitalist culture. Yet as the event grew, this experiment in temporary community naturally adopted rules. Steven T. Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian reporter who has chronicled many Burning Man events, cites an accidental death in 1996 as the beginning of the end of the event’s true lawlessness.

Addis, a Cacophonist who participated in Burning Man’s early days, had infamously (but more harmlessly) pranked before by attaching a pair of testicles to the sculpture in the late ’90s. He grew bitter at the changes to his beloved community and styled himself a direct action hero who would reclaim the free spirit of the event by making good on an annually recurring rumor — that the Man would Burn early. Addis seemed to identify with larger-than-life figures like Hunter S. Thompson, who he played in a one-man show.

In his book Tribes of Burning Man, Jones describes Addis’ motivation for the costly prank:

Addis seems to believe that big gestures like torching the man can prompt people to rally for change. “In any situation, it only takes one person to make a difference. I firmly believe that.” Beyond just taking back Burning Man, Addis wanted to reclaim the country from the screwheads and war mongers, to end the Iraq War, and help “rehumanize” the returning soldiers.

As he announced grandly, “We’re taking it back, that hulking retard known as America.”

There’s no more divisive figure in the Burning Man subculture than Addis. A lengthy profile of Addis’ life and death by Whatsblem the Pro on the Burning Man commentary blog along with the heated comments that follow offers a glimpse into the kind of debate which erupts any time his name is mentioned:

Read the rest of this entry →

Medicaid Mic Check Wednesday Watercooler

5:30 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Today Occupy Austin OccuKripz mic-checked the Texas State Capitol in solidarity with ADAPT who completed five days of intensive direct action in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania today. Activists there faced police brutality as they tried to force meetings with government officials to protest cuts to Medicaid. The potential cost of Medicaid cuts is very high — cuts would force disabled people now living independently into virtual imprisonment in nursing homes. 86 activists were arrested yesterday, but only 50 were processed before Harrisburg police gave up and sent the rest home. Occupy Harrisburg also joined the protests.

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

#Chalkupy Continues In Austin

3:10 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

The Crackdown on Chalk

Austin Police Department Joins State Troopers in Targeting Chalk

More on MyFDL: The Crackdown On Chalk, More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests

During the week leading up to Occupy Austin’s October 6 birthday, the group participated in the Cop Block’s Chalk The Police Day of Action. We began by chalking at Austin City Hall, where the police monitor was in session and in honor of a recent court ruling that said bans from City Hall were unconstitutional. As we chalked, we were confronted by security guards who insisted that City Hall was private property, and therefore we were engaged in illegal graffiti. We continued to chalk, pausing only to quote court rulings backing up our right to chalk. The group left as bicycle cops began to converge on the site.

Chalk on the APD Headquarters: Murderers

Austin Police Department Headquarters, October 1 2012 (Photo: Jeff Zavala / Zgraphix.org / Austin Indymedia, used with permission.)

We stopped briefly at One America Center, the office building which houses both a Chase Bank and Strategic Forecasting. After a short chalk adventure there, we visited the Austin Police Department headquarters. An audacious chalking of the word ‘Murderers’ on the building would win Cop Block’s Best Location Award and the enmity of the police. As the group left the premises, police arrived in multiple vehicles, a transport wagon, and on bicycle. The whole group was detained on 6th Street, the nearby club district.

Though police had no grounds to make arrests for chalking itself, they confiscated two boxes of chalk as evidence and made two arrests. One was a man who had past traffic warrants. The other was Peaceful Streets Project member Lynn Foster. Though Lynn only filmed and did not chalk, police arrested him when he refused to identify himself. According to Pixiq, this is legal under Texas law:

He was charged with failure to identify, which according to Texas law, is an offense if the suspect refuses to provide his name after he was lawfully arrested on another charge or if he refuses to provide his name if he is a witness to a crime.

Police confiscated his camera, the fourth Peaceful Streets Project digital video camera stolen by Austin Police since the police accountability summit.

Texas Department of Public Safety’s Lips Are Sealed

Two activists in handcuffs with State Troopers on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol.

August 9, 2012: Audrey Steiner and Corey Williams are processed on the grounds of the Texas State Capitol after being arrested for chalking a public sidewalk nearby (Photo: Kit O'Connell, all rights reserved).

The first set of Chalkupy-related arrests occurred when Texas Department of Public Safety State Troopers nabbed Audrey Steiner and Corey Williams from the sidewalk across the street from the Texas State Capitol. Both were arrested for “criminal mischief” — a class C misdemeanor though the DPS threatened in the press to increase charges to class B — but when they reported to court for their first hearing, no record of their charges could be found. The Troopers neglected to file their charges, or perhaps hope to withhold them for a later day as a threat.

John Jack Anderson, photojournalist for the Austin Chronicle, filed an open records request seeking DPS documents containing the word ‘Chalkupy.’ Despite the lack of charges, the DPS refused to provide the documents on two grounds:

Because this is an ongoing criminal case, the release of potential evidence would interfere with the investigation and prosecution of this case.

[and]

Revealing the requested records would provide wrong-doers, terrorists, and criminals with invaluable information concerning the methods used by the Department to detect, investigate, and prevent potential criminal activity and could jeopardize security in the Capitol Complex.

Are chalkers wrong-doers, terrorists, criminals or all three? The open records request now gets sent to Texas Attorney General Gregg Abbott, whose office will decide how to respond.

Thanks to Zgraphix.org / Austin Indymedia Center for their coverage of Occupy Austin’s Birthday Week

#D12 Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Department vs. Houston

1:58 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell is Not Amused and Austin and Houston Police Coordinated Through Fusion Center.

Pre-Trial Hearing to Resume October 31; Criminal Instrument Charges Proliferate

Ronnie Garza interviewed by mainstream media while wearing mock lockboxes.

Members of the Austin media interview Ronnie Garza while he wears mock lockboxes at Austin Police HQ. (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

The Texas fusion center enabled Austin Police to entrap activists in Houston, but apparently it can’t help settle a dispute when that entrapment comes to light. The Austin Chronicle reports that the Austin Police Department would rather drop the charges against the Gulf Port 7 than reveal their undercover officers:

If the city of Austin – and, importantly, the Austin Police Department – had its way, the charges pending in Houston against a handful of Occupy protesters charged with blocking a road last winter at the Port of Hous­ton would be dismissed. If that happens, the APD will not have to reveal the names of two undercover officers who were part of a three-investigator contingent that worked to keep tabs on the activities of Occupy Austin members; the department would like to keep those two names confidential. Unfortunately, it does not appear that the Harris County District Attorney’s Office is interested in what the city or APD wants. During a court hearing Oct. 4, Assistant D.A. Joshua Phanco told Judge Joan Camp­bell the D.A.’s office is “prepared to turn over those two names” and to move forward with the case against the Occupiers, including OA member Ronnie Garza.

The seven activists, who came from Occupy groups in Austin, Dallas and Houston, linked their bodies with lockboxes (or ‘sleeping dragons’). As a result, they were charged with using a criminal instrument, an obscure state felony unused since the days of Deep Throat (the pornography, not the informant) when it was invented to prosecute projectionists. The pre-trial hearing continues October 31st, where the names of the two Austin Police Department officers that worked alongside Detective Shannon G Dowell are expected to be revealed. Although the Occupy movment will be better informed about its infiltrators and their methods, seven of its members face prison time in one of the country’s worst state prisons.

One of the seven charged with using a “criminal instrument” is a veteran, Eric Marquez, imprisoned since the December Port Shutdown thanks to complications with previous charges. After Occupy Austin successfully raised thousands in bail to free him from Houston, Dallas immediately imprisoned him again — because he missed court dates in Dallas while jailed in Houston! His bail in Dallas is now $100,000.

If the Gulf Port 7 case goes to trial, the verdict could set an important precedent for activism elsewhere in the state. Though lockboxes have a long history of use in nonviolent civil disobedience, the criminal instrument charges have spread to the Tarsands blockade. Alejandro de la Torre, Maggie Gorry and now Shannon Beebe all now face this charge reports Tar Sands Blockade:

There is also a new and outrageous development in the story. Our brave friend Shannon Beebe is now being charged retro-actively with felonies for using a device to lock arms with Benjamin around a piece of Keystone XL construction machinery as part of a peaceful protest. This is an archaic charge (use of a ‘criminal instrument’) that has literally no case history in the last 30 years. This adds ”insult to injury” with slapping additional FELONY charges against our friend. Yesterday, Shannon was pulled over and arrested because of this new, outstanding warrant for a retro-active felony charge. She’s currently in jail on a $7,500 bail. Its clear that the industry is pursuing a strategy to utilize their deep pockets and corporate lawyers to drain the limited grassroots resources we’ve managed to raise.

Previously on myFDL, Benjamin Franklin reported on his and Shannon’s torture by police at their arrest.

 

Tent City Rising: Occupy Austin Attempts New Encampments (#OATX Birthday, UPDATED)

2:37 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Austin Police Repeatedly Evict End Homelessness Campers and Arrest 3

On Saturday, October 6, a week of events and direct action celebrating Occupy Austin’s 1st birthday culminated on its official anniversary with an attempt to reoccupy space; the goal was to create a new transitional encampment for those without homes in a city which has criminalized their existence.

The Popular Assembly at Austin City Hall

The Popular Assembly at Austin City Hall (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

The day began with a March Against Hate to protest a hate crime on Pride weekend (previously mentioned on myFDL). Occupy Austin, in addition to joining the march, lent our portable sound system to the community for use at the Texas State Capitol, then danced along the sidewalks on the way back to Austin City Hall for our Popular Assembly. In between blowing on party horns and whistles, members of the community got on the microphone to talk about the accomplishments of our movement, our favorite memories, and our hopes for next year.

From City Hall, Occupiers left by car, bus and bike for a rendezvous point at Highland Mall, a failing mall which was recently bought out by Austin Community College (though classes have not yet begun there). The bicycle contingent was the last to arrive, and by the time they did the Austin Police department and mall security had amassed — at least a dozen police cars, not to mention the helicopter circling overhead. It was time for Tent City Rising.

Occupy Austin’s Ending Homelessness Working Group called for the action with the goal of creating new temporary housing for those without homes. The encampment, if allowed to exist, would follow strict behavior guidelines for all those present. It would provide critical meals and shelter for a city which has thousands of homeless (about 4,000) and only hundreds of beds in dangerous, overcrowded shelters. Austin has also made it illegal to camp on public property, against city code to erect tents on private property within city limits, and even illegal to sit or lay down on the sidewalk. The timing of the action was perfect to shed light on the problem, because the Austin Police Department has started an initiative to ‘clean up downtown‘ for the Austin City Limits Festival and the upcoming Formula 1 Race in November. Arrests of the homeless have increased as much as 200% or more by some reports.

Police wrestle a man holding a backpack to the ground in front of a tent.

Jeremy Cruts is arrested for camping, September 6 2012 (Photo: John Jack Anderson, used with permission).

Moments after the cyclists arrived at the ACC property, police and security cleared the parking lot. In the process they made two arrests — including the Peaceful Streets Project‘s Joshua “Comrade” Pineda, who they grabbed off the sidewalk, later claiming he’d stepped a single foot back onto the “private property.” Regrouping, the occupiers marched to an abandoned Home Depot, shadowed by the helicopter and an unmarked law enforcement agent in a white SUV.

On the night in February when police evicted the 5-month long occupation from Austin City Hall, the city allowed people without anywhere else to go the opportunity to sleep for a single night at this disused big box construction store. The site was chosen symbolically to make a stand. If the city was willing to house people there for one night, why not many nights when so many sleep in their cars or try to find a hiding place from the police to get a few hours rest?

The gate to the Home Depot was opened, and three Occupiers parked their cars inside. Soon after, many police officers arrived and told them to move their vehicles. As soon as they reentered the property to do so, police boxed them in and placed all three in handcuffs. One member of the group was due to visit a sick relative the next morning and became extremely distraught. Even the police seemed affected; one officer appeared near tears and helped occupiers recover a bicycle belonging to one of those arrested.

Read the rest of this entry →

#PeacefulStreets Project: More Unconstitutional Copwatching Arrests in Austin

2:04 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Peaceful Streets Project: Antonio Buehler and Peaceful Streets, Police Accountability Summit, and The Buehler Bubble

Under your department’s rules officers are free to create a chilling effect upon far more speech (photography/recording is deemed a form of speech for First Amendment protections) than is necessary to achieve a substantial government interest … We believe that if challenged, such a directive would be deemed to be unconstitutional. -National Press Photographers Association General Counsel Mickey Osterreicher in a letter to Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo

Police accountability activist Antonio Buehler arrested a third time for filming police; Occupy Austin’s Sarah Dickerson arrested also

Antonio and Sarah embrace as others look on.

Antonio Buehler and Sarah Dickerson embrace outside the Travis County Jail after their copwatch arrest (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

September 20 marked another Peaceful Streets Project copwatch. Though these happen often, this copwatch had a heightened tension due to a recent court decision in the trial of long time copwatcher John Bush. Bush was arrested for filming the police in mid-December of 2011, before Antonio’s New Years Eve arrest which inspired the Peaceful Streets. Despite video evidence showing a lack of interference with police duties, John Bush was convicted for refusing orders that would have put a traffic sign between their cameras and notorious Austin Police Department Officer Jason Mistric. Mistric is known for harassing cyclists and for threatening Occupy Austin members, including myself, with pepper spray in February.

Pixiq has the lurid tale, from Mistric’s Facebook stalking of Bush and his wife (using the porntastic nom de plume Max Rock) through to last week’s conviction for “interfering with public duties:”

A Texas cop watcher was found guilty Wednesday for not moving away while he was video recording a cop on a public street last winter. John Bush was charged with failure to comply with a lawful order when a cop ordered him to stand behind a street sign to continue recording. Austin police officer Jason Mistric claimed he was ‘interfering,’ even though the video shows he was merely standing on a sidewalk, several feet from where officers were making an arrest.

Further complicating matters was the recent Austin Police Department flip-flop on filming distance. As previously reported on Firedoglake, Austin Police Department threatened to require a 50′ to 60′ filming distance from any police situation; this threat was issued after Buehler’s second arrest during a 6th Street copwatch in late August. Last week, APD seemed to back down. KVUE reported, “No restrictions on distance public can stand, film officers:”

Austin police say there are no rules for where you can stand and record what they do. At a news conference in August, they said they’d like anyone filming to stay 50 to 60 feet away, but now there are no restrictions. Of course, it was the Aug. 26 arrest of Antonio Buehler that put this issue in the spotlight. … Police now say it’s up to the officers to decide a safe distance.

To this journalist, this announcement seemed like a victory for first amendment rights. Unfortunately, rather than a message of respect toward our right to film public servents, this was instead a notice to activists — we can arrest you at any time. Early Thursday evening, Twitter’s @chapeaudefee reported that Peaceful Streets’ Joshua “Comrade” Pineda had encountered a tense situation where while copwatching he was threatened to back up or face arrest:

.@Pisce_Incarnate [Comrade] was just harassed by about three officers and DUI officer w/expensive camera. [Police] locked down the sidewalk so Peaceful Streets members could not approach. No reason given why. Told them arbitrary distance to step back. Our teams are debriefing about the situation.

@chapeaudefee is Sarah Dickerson, a member of Occupy Austin who livetweeted during Occupy Boston’s eviction and other events. As a member of OATX Team Chupacabra, she contributed alongside this journalist to Firedoglake’s live coverage of September 17, 2012. Though she’d escaped arrest during tense situations with both Boston and New York police, before the night was out the Austin Police Department arrested her for filming the arrest of Antonio Buehler.

Peaceful Streets Project members use the Lonestar Liberty Bell alert network to communicate by phone. At 1:08am Antonio phoned in an alert — he and his copwatch team were filming a Driving Under the Influence police stop west of the club district; Oborski, the same officer who arrested him for falsified assault charges last New Years’ Eve was running the stop. Five minutes later, another alert came in: Read the rest of this entry →

#D12 Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Coordinated With Houston Through Fusion Center

6:32 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

An angry Jugge Campbell

Judge Joan Campbell explains Brady disclosure to lawyers at Houston district court, September 6 2012 (Photo: John Jack Anderson, used with permission)

For more on the Gulf Port 7 and Austin Police Infiltration of Occupy Austin see Undercover Austin Officer Enabled Houston Felonies, Judge Campbell Is Not Amused, and Kit’s Gulf Port 7 Interview.

Austin Police coordinated felony arrests at the Gulf Port Shutdown with Houston Police through the fusion center known as Austin Regional Intelligence Center.

The pre-trial hearings for the Gulf Port 7 case continued on September 6, 2012; although the Austin Police Department presented the information Judge Joan Campbell requested at the previous hearing, most of it was done in camera – in private, where defense and accused activists could not access it. What was revealed is troubling — that APD coordinated the day’s actions with Houston police through the local Texas fusion center, known as Austin Regional Intelligence Center. This, of course, raises the question of to what degree federal authorities were involved in the entrapment of Occupy activists; I personally witnessed Department of Homeland Security vehicles on the ground at the Occupy Houston encampment on December 12, in addition to photographing men in unknown military-like uniforms who were observing the port shutdown.

Further, it appears that officials involved may have made a decision to withhold information that was requested by Ronnie Garza’s defense attorney. This is in direct violation of Brady disclosure. Campbell’s frustration with the behavior of the state is clear in court transcripts, as she gives lawyers a lesson in this essential aspect of criminal law:

Here’s the thing, y’all – under Brady — y’all can’t make that decision.  Y’all need to scrupulously look through any information that you have. Always. Y’all cannot just rely on, it does not look like anything, that is not what you can do because clearly the result is an Austin police officer authorized … bought the things that made this a felony. That’s what happened. And so that information … is clearly Brady, can be a defense, may make, if this goes to trial, may make a jury find them not guilty and that type of information needs to be carefully passed down through the channels and y’all cannot under Brady make the decision.

The state has brought a Motion To Quash, asking that the names of undercover officers and related documents not be turned over to the defense. Campbell agreed to review the documents in camera and return near the end of September to make a ruling. But she took the time to underline the unusual nature of this case:

Read the rest of this entry →