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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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#D12 Gulf Port Action, One Year Later

4:17 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

More on the Gulf Port 7: Austin Police Enabled Houston FeloniesJudge Campbell is Not AmusedAustin and Houston Police Coordinated Through Fusion Center and 2 More Undercover Officers Revealed

Reflections on Gulf Port Action

One year ago today, Occupy Oakland declared a National Day of Action against Goldman-Sachs.

A mounted officer points and shouts as they attack a crowd of activists at the Port

Mounted Houston Police Department officers at the Port of Houston on December 12

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

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#D12 Gulf Port 7: Undercover Austin Narcotics Detective Enabled Houston Felonies

1:19 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A red tent is erected over a blockade.

The Houston Fire Department places an inflatable red tent over protesters using lockbox devices built by Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G. Dowell (Photo: December 12, 2011 at the Port of Houston by Kit O'Connell)


Update

Why did undercover Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G. Dowell provide material support for an activist protest that resulted in them being charged with a felony in Houston?

That’s the question I want answered after speaking with Ronnie Garza, a member of Occupy Austin who faces felony charges resulting from actions at the Port of Houston on December 12, 2011. On this day, the National Port Shutdown day of action, seven activists from Austin, Dallas, and Houston blocked the main entrance into the port by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons), which physically linked them together so that police cut them apart. The use of these instruments resulted in these seven being charged with Unlawful Use of a Criminal Instrument or Device, while others who merely linked arms and legs faced lesser misdemeanor charges. I was present at this day of ‘Gulf Port Action‘ and wrote about it on my blog, Approximately 8,000 Words.

But it turns out that a secret undercover agent with the police department had infiltrated the activist group, and he is the person who acquired the materials and built the “lockboxes” for this action. Further, apparently other members of the police department were also involved in enabling an action which, but for the undercover agent’s intervention, might never have been classified as a felony.

In addition to Garza, other members of the Gulf Port 7 include Iraq veteran Eric Marquez, who has been stuck in jail since December and Remington Alessi, a Green Party candidate for Houston sheriff. If convincted, they face up to two to ten years in state prison.

The cases were brought before Judge Joan Campbell of the 248th District Court who dismissed all charges due to lack of evidence. However, the felony charges were later reinstated by a Houston grand jury. Garza told me that the latest development of uncovering an infiltrator came to a head at a discovery hearing on Monday, August 27, but is the result of months of hard work by many including his attorney, National Lawyers Guild’s Greg Gladden. Photos of the officer at Occupy Austin have been obtained by Gladden.

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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 →

#OccupyAustin Takes to the Streets

4:23 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Yesterday in Oakland, tens of thousands of people took to the streets to speak up for their rights and to participate in a general strike. Marches and actions took place all around the world in solidarity with the activists. I joined Occupy Austin again for their march, and then attended my first general assembly that night.

It is inspiring to watch this movement grow and spread around the world. As police (and the Department of Homeland Security, by some reports) try to shut us down, it seems like each police raid and wave of arrests only makes us bolder. The Port of Oakland, one of the top ports in the US, shut down for a full 24 hours along with major downtown Oakland branches of banks like Bank of America, Chase and Citibank.

My friend Gyesika joined me at this march, and it was immediately clear that something was different from Sunday — there was a spirit there, a sense that we could take on the world. The Spirit of Oakland was in us, undoubtedly. For the first half of the march, we were orderly and obedient protesters, staying to the sidewalks and mostly waiting for lights to change.

We marched again to the County Jail, to remind the government of our presence and because this is a place where all of our activists can gather. Despite reassurances from the city, all our arrested activists are still banned from City Hall, where our occupation is taking place. These political prisoners must gather on a traffic island across the street which has a curfew of 10pm because it is technically a park.

As we gathered at the jail, we heard from one of those prisoners who talked about what he’d realized while in prison: Read the rest of this entry →