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?
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.
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.
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.
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].
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:
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?
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 (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.
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.
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:
Undercover APD Detective Shannon 'Butch' Dowell stands next to Natalie Atwater, a member of Occupy Austin facing felony charges in Houston because of using his lockboxes. (Photo: John Jack Anderson / Austin Chronicle, used with permission).
Since I broke the story of Austin Police infiltration and provocation at Occupy Austin on Firedoglake, the story has become international news. To review, Austin Police Narcotics Detective Shannon G Dowell, along with two other still unidentified undercover agents, infiltrated Occupy Austin under orders that reach all the way to Chief Art Acevedo. While undercover, Dowell (known to activists ‘Butch’) built and delivered lockbox devices (a.k.a. sleeping dragons) to activists to use at the Houston Port Shutdown, resulting in 7 activists facing state felony charges.
Monday I was interviewed by Marlo Blue of 90.1 KPFT, Houston’s Pacifica station. Below is a transcript, but you can also listen here. The interview begins at 1:55.
Marlo Blue, KPFT: The Occupy effort seems quiet these days but controversy continues to swirl around the group’s efforts and that of some of its members, also officers who allegedly infiltrated that camp. Well, back in December of last year, groups of Occupy members from Austin, Dallas and Houston took part in the National Port Shutdown Day of Action.
Seven activists blocked the main entrance into the Port of Houston by laying in the road and linking arms inside lockboxes (also known as sleeping dragons) which physically linked them together so that police [must] 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.
One of those in attendance has followed the action through his blog and he joins us now. Kit O’Connell. Kit, thank you for joining us.
Kit O’Connell, myFDL Editor: Hi, thanks for having me.
KPFT: Your blog has quickly become one of my very favorites so I’m very pleased to have you on today.
Kit: Thank you!
KPFT: In your blog, you talk about how Austin undercover officers infiltrated this camp. What led you to suspect these officers or was it discovered after the arrests?
Kit: It was discovered after the arrests. Specifically, the arrests of course occurred on December 12 on the Port Shutdown Day. In the first days of February of 2012, the first inkling came in as an anonymous tip to Occupy Austin’s email saying specifically that a person a person who was known to us as Butch was an undercover officer. It didn’t give his full name so it took quite a bit of investigation to find him after that.
KPFT: Now your blog points to a key question in this incident: 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, Texas? Did you actually get an answer to that question?
Kit: We did not. It’s unclear to what degree the Austin Police Department knew about this. They’re admitting, even bragging about their use of undercover officers. The police chief has been talking on Twitter about how it kept the people safe to do this but they’re at the same time saying that they weren’t aware of Dowell buying the lockboxes. I find that hard to believe and I would still like some answers.
KPFT: And of course when the arrests took place, you know, in order I guess to keep everyone safe, they also droppped tents on the protesters to I guess to prevent other people from seeing the dangerous protesters inside or…?
Kit: I wish I had a good explanation for those tents. I was present when those went over people and it was one of the scariest moments of my life to see friends of mine vanish under an inflatable fire department tent.
KPFT: That must have been terrifying. I mean, because, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. There is no transparency when a big ‘ol tent is being dropped.
Kit: Exactly. And, I mean, there were no threats from the protesters. At that time, we were being corralled, even trampled Houston Police Department horses to be kept back, well back from the scene where they were, I guess, cutting the lockboxes apart under that tent.
KPFT: Now, you did mention at first of course, Austin Police Department Shannon G Dowell. Was he the only one who infiltrated the Occupy Austin group?
Judge Joan Campbell has threatened to dismiss the case unless these documents are presented along with the names of two other undercover officers at the next hearing, scheduled for September 5 2012.
An artist's rendition of Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell when he infiltrated Occupy Austin as "Butch." Butch built and delivered lockbox devices to Austin activists, resulting in 7 felony charges at the Port of Houston on December 12, 2011 (Image: Anonymous).
Yesterday I wrote about the sworn testimony of Austin Police Department Detective Shannon G Dowell, who revealed that he operated undercover at Occupy Austin with at least 2 other officers. Dowell, or “Butch” as occupiers knew him, didn’t just spy on the group; he built and delivered devices known as lockboxes to Austin activists. These devices, also called sleeping dragons, physically link protesters together and resulted in seven activists receiving felony charges for blocking the entrance to the Port of Houston. One activist, Iraq veteran Eric Marquez, has been in jail since December as a result of these charges.
On Monday, August 27 2012, Dowell appeared before Judge Joan Campbell of the 248th District Court in Houston. Yesterday, I quoted the part of the transcript from that discovery hearing where Dowell admits the investigation has ties all the way to Austin Police Department Chief Art Acevedo. Today I want to go deeper into those transcripts, and show just how incompetent (or at least behind the times) Austin Police Department appears.
It’s important to note that Judge Campbell initially dismissed all charges against arrested activists before being forced by a grand jury to try the seven felony cases. Her sense of frustration with Austin Police Department behavior is palpable in the written transcripts, and eyewitnesses tell me the courtroom scene was very tense.
Though the illustration at right shows Butch as he appeared at Occupy Austin, he was clean-shaven and short-haired at his most recent court appearance.
Here’s what the court asked Dowell to provide:
That subpoena asked him to bring with him any police reports, I assume texts, phone calls, among him — between him and any other person, to bring with him all receipts and evidence of money spent and/or received by him during his participation in the investigation of the occupy the port movement or the investigation that resulted in the prosecution that we’re here on.
But Shannon Dowell only brought a few pages of printed notes and a USB drive — which he lost on the way to court!
Detective Dowell: I brought a thumb drive that had photos that I lost en route.
Judge Campbell: You lost it in and or out? What does that mean?
DD: En route to here.
JC: En route?
DD: Yes, while I was coming here.
JC: So it fell out of your car?
DD: Probably my pocket. I would imagine it’s in the gutter in front of the hotel I was in.
After asking Dowell what hotel he stayed at, Campbell presses him on the contents of the thumb drive:
Detective Dowell: There’s photos — what they call the lockboxes and the person that I delivered them to that was involved in Occupy Austin, I delivered those lockboxes to this person and it was a photo of her.
Judge Campbell: Was that a police officer, that person?
JC: Or a police officer of any type?
JC: And is there anything else that was on that drive that you lost?
DD: An electronic copy of that right there [Dowell's printed notes] that I gave you. I believe that’s all.
Peaceful Streets’ Police-Transparency Activists Defiant After Second Arrest, Plan Thursday Night Mass Copwatch
Do police need a 60-foot bubble of safety from activists with cameras? That’s the claim Austin Police Department is making in the wake of the second arrest of a police transparency activist.
Flanked by allies, Antonio Buehler exits the Travis County Jail last Sunday after his second arrest (Photo: Sarah Dickerson @ChapeauDefee, used with permission)
Antonio Buehler’s first arrest came last New Years Eve, when this Iraq Veteran and Westpoint graduate was accused of spitting on a police officer while filming a traffic stop turned brutal. This arrest inspired the formation of Peaceful Streets, which gave out 100 digital cameras to community activists at a police transparency summit earlier this year. Saturday night on one of their regular downtown copwatch outings, Buehler was singled out of a group of four for arrest.
“The individual became really agitated to the point the officer had to use more force,” [Commander Troy] Gay said.
Now APD wants a policy change. They say people should be allowed to exercise their first amendment right, but they need more distance to do their job.
“We would like them to be 50 or 60 feet,” Gay said.
Most mainstream media outlets are repeating APD’s claims that Buehler’s presence interfered with arrest. Buehler tells a very different story in Pixiq:
On Saturday night, police responded to an incident where a man had pushed his fiancée down to the ground. It turned out, the man had a warrant, which is why he was arrested. Buehler and other activists began recording the interaction.
“She walked up to us and I told her we were filming for her safety and she hugged me and walked over to her fiancée and told him,” Buehler said.
“He looks at me and gives me the thumbs up sign.”
But as two cops led the man away and Buehler and another activist began following, a third cop arrived and began ordering “Mr. Buehler” to back away.
“I was standing more than 25 feet away,” Buehler said.
While the cop kept ordering Buehler to back away, the handcuffed suspect began threatening Buehler by saying he is going to kick his ass.
The cop, who Buehler believes may be named “Berry,” then asks the suspect whether Buehler was harassing him. The suspect says yes, which is when the cop made the arrest.
The American Civil Liberties Union firmly believes You Have Every Right to Photograph That Cop. I asked Dotty Griffith, Public Education Director of the ACLU of Texas how that applies to the Lone Star State in particular:
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