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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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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.

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VIDEO: The Do Not Kill List (OATX Obama Unwelcome Notes)

11:45 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

On July 17, 2012, President Barack Obama visited Austin, Texas for a pair of fundraising events — one, a $250 event at the Austin Music Hall and later a $25,000 per plate fundraiser at a condominium over the prestigious Four Seasons Hotel owned by a Dell Computers executive. Occupy Austin was there to Unwelcome him — to demand he keep his promises and that he stop escalating warfare of all kinds; along the way, we hoped to educate a few of his supporters about the consequences of his policies.

The Do Not Kill List sketch was conceived during a meeting of the OccuQueers as a way to engage about the so-called ‘Kill List’ — Obama’s claim that he can kill anyone for any reason anywhere without due process – as well as the  rapidly growing domestic use of drones. Lisa Glick led the team with help from Brian Svaboda while I filmed; Comrade of the Peaceful Streets Project filmed at a distance to ensure we weren’t harassed by police. Brian created an official looking ‘Executive Voluntary Do Not Kill List’ form which contained talking points and a loyalty oath based on the one the government used on United States citizens of Japanese origins during World War II, as reported by Michelle Chen on myFDL in “Tule Lake: The Quiet Legacy of No.”

The Do Not Kill List action was just part of a full day in the hot Texas sun, protesting at multiple points along Obama’s route through downtown.

Banners, Mic Checks and Marching in Austin

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Texas Occupies Independence Day

1:43 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

A street march in Austin. Banners: We the People / Workers of the World Occupy. Sign: Choose Love Over Fear

The #OccupyJ4 March on Cesar Chavez in downtown Austin (Photo: Kit O'Connell).

Yesterday, I spent all day with my favorite radical activists, people I’ve come to think of as family, occupying Independence Day. But this wasn’t simply a gathering of the usual Occupy Austin core members —  this was a coalition of occupiers from around the state, along with representatives of several other activist groups from Iraq Veterans Against the War to Texans for Accountable Government. The weather was mild for a Texas summer with a breeze that provided actual relief, and the trees on the beautiful grounds of the Texas State Capitol provided plenty of shade. We had good food, 16 different teach-ins, music, inspiring speeches, and a beautiful street march.

A state trooper admonishes a member of IVAW for her chalk art.

Texas State Trooper Craig Cummings accuses IVAW's Lindsey of Criminal Mischief (Photo: Kit O'Connell)

It might have been a perfect day except for the interference of the Texas State Troopers, who guard the capitol. The grounds are used almost continuously by tourists, workers on their lunch breaks, quinceañeras and weddings, and guerilla dance parties, not to mention activist groups. Once, antiwar protesters pitched tents there for continual occupations in support of peace. Then, about a month after Occupy events began in Austin, the State Preservation Board, the group which oversees the building and its environs (Governor Rick Perry is a member) changed the rules for its use. Now tents are banned, despite their legitimate use as tools of free speech; these same regulations led to Troopers claiming last year that we could only be there for three hours at a time without a permit. Though they backed down and now allow us to assemble for as long as we choose, they are determined to harass us and make that assembly difficult.

In fact, it was the same Sergeant Craig Cummings who appears in the above linked videos who was responsible again yesterday. The harassment began when we erected food tables. Mac, a member of the Occupy Austin OccuQueers, told me about how the table — and he and others at it — were surrounded by ten Troopers with hands on their holsters. Later, they watched members of the Iraq Veterans Against the War use chalk on the sidewalk, a feature of previous ‘die-in’ style protests, before approaching, collecting IDs and arbitrarily giving one member, Lindsey, a warning for ‘Criminal Mischief.’ Later, they told IVAW and others that ‘unattended signs’ were against the law, and that banners spread on the grass must have people sitting on them at all times or their owners would face legal action. Water pistols (even neon-colored or animal-shaped), he said, when aimed at anyone, might merit the use of deadly force. That evening, Christopher Michael (a.k.a. @OccupyURCapitol) began erecting a tent during our permit hours, Troopers approached him and asked him to take it down, then arrested him when he hesitated in doing so. After 24 hours in custody, he was released without charge.

I’ve received negative criticism when I speak out against this behavior by agents of the 1% and the police state. It’s true that Austin’s police, whether APD or Troopers, are not as violent or corrupt as elsewhere — we haven’t dealt with stop and friskactivists shot by tear-gas cannisters, or pepper spray assaults on queer folk. I don’t think this is an excuse: any abuse of police power is inexcusable. I think it’s a sign of how far our free speech rights have fallen that these excuses are made — it’s not as bad as it could be. That’s true — police could be firing on us with live ammunition, too, but does that mean we shouldn’t demand our right to peaceably assemble regardless of whether the reaction is violence or arrests and threats?

While I want money out of politics, and basic human needs met for all people, I continue to believe that free speech itself is enough of a reason to protest. When we take the streets, I’m happy to march for independence, for gay rights, against the NDAA, or any other cause. For me, though, the core of almost any action is our absolute right to freedom of speech.

Sharing Knowledge, Forging Connections

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Austin Stonewall Rally & RiseAboveH8 Vigils

2:46 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

For more of MyFDL’s coverage of OccuPride, see also Why Occupy Pride, Gay Crumbs from the Table of the Masters, and the Watercooler posts Pride, Pride Revisited and Vigil.

As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on MyFDL, unlike most cities Austin celebrates ‘official’ LGBTQ pride in September. However for the past two years the same organization which holds pride has honored the actual anniversary of the Stonewall Riots with a rally at the Texas State Capitol. A small contingent of the Occupy Austin OccuQueers attended last Thursday, bringing our new Stonewall Was a Riot banner along with fliers for OccupyJ4 (our own all-day Independence Day rally at the Capitol).

About 75 people gathered for the rally by the south steps of the Capitol. As members of the queer community recited the history of the day and read from first-hand accounts, it was hard not to compare the radical, angry nature of the original riots with the sedate, low energy rally. Though there may be valid complaints about Austin’s official queer pride events (such as their sponsorship by Wells Fargo), I can’t lay all the blame at their feet — in weather over a hundred degrees, it was hard to imagine much more revolutionary fervor from that crowd. It was still interesting to compare where we’d been (angry drag queens throwing pennies at police) with where we are now (long debates between nonviolent activist groups about the definition of nonviolence), for better or worse.

For me the highlight of the rally was a drag show with about a dozen drag queens. It may have been a historic occasion — possibly the first every drag show at the Texas Capitol. Just as importantly, it was a gesture by Austin’s Pride organizers that they aren’t trying to whitewash the history of pride, as has often been the case with other events (or groups like Human Rights Campaign and their anti-transgender stances).

There was an even bigger sense of community — and I believe a bigger turn out — the following day for a vigil for Kristene Chapa and Mollie Olgin, the two victims of a shooting in Portland, Texas, one of two dozen vigils organized across North America by Get Equal TX. Mollie Olgin died at the scene, but her girlfriend Mary Kristene Chapa remains in the hospital without health insurance, though she has recovered consciousness, motion to one side of her body, and memory of the night of the shooting. In Austin, our numbers filled City Hall steps and spilled over beyond.

Two occupiers in rainbow clothing hold a banner, "Stonewall Was a Riot."

Two members of the OccupyAustin OccuQueers 'Rainbowbloc' at the Austin Stonewall Rally (Photo: @OccuQueers, used with permission).

This rally was an opportunity for the queer community to draw together in our grief, to send not just supportive energy, but also comforting notes, gifts, and financial support to the survivors of this tragedy. We set up a small altar; it began with a stuffed animal and some lights and ended the night covered in signs, flowers, glowing LED lights and other gifts as each of the dozens in attendance visited it to pray, reflect, or meditate on the events. I choked up a little when I saw a sign reading “Your Austin Family Loves You” surrounded by glowing offerings. That was hardly the only moment that tugged on our hearts — I was not the only one with tears in my eyes as Michael Diviesti led the vigil in singing (see video above) or when event organizer Amanda Williams and gay dad Paul Rodriguez‘s voices quavered with emotion as they compared Kristine & Mollie to their own children.

Though police still say there is no sign that sexual orientation provoked the killer, we all have to join together against crimes that are so hateful, regardless of whether they qualify as hate crimes. At the end of the night, the girls’ relatives and friends seemed deeply moved as we helped them fill bags with our gifts — moved by the outpouring of loving, grieving, unified energy as much as by anything physical we’d given.

Visit Approximately 8,000 Words for more photos from these events.

Watercooler: Pride

6:00 pm in Watercooler by Kit OConnell

Hi, y’all.

Pride celebrations are coming up, or have already occurred, in most major cities — though not in Austin.

Pride traditionally takes place near the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, or at least during the same month. Austin Pride celebration takes place in September in deference to the heat of June. Instead, June in Austin features Queerbomb, a street celebration of LGBTQ rights that follows the original spirit of Pride.

What began as a riot by fed up queer people (largely drag kings) at a mafia-owned watering hole has had its rough edges taken off over the years. Instead of angry activists, we have family-friendly rainbow runs and drink specials at the local bars. What was once about gay rights has instead become about the pink dollar; the mafia has been replaced by corporate sponsors like Budweiser. I’ve never seen so many drunken fist fights in one night as when I attended Pride Weekend in Dallas last year.

Some activists and Occupy-related groups are queerbombing their local pride events. GLITUR, off-shoot of Occupy Seattle, are organizing Drag Out Capitalism:

“Are you sick of the corporate spectacle that Gay Pride has become in Seattle? Do you reject the way local bars jack up their prices to try to make a profit off what is supposed to be a weekend of celebration and unity? Well so are we!!!,” the event announcement reads.

A guerilla street party with high police presence is also expected.

Organizers from Occupy Wall Street NYC’s Occupride celebrations caught the attention of high-profile gay blogger Joe My God when an organizer quit. This looks like a bit of internal Occudrama which unfortunately attracted the attention of the the blogosphere. What saddens me is the speculation in the comments that suggests occupiers intend to ruin Pride. Meanwhile, queer people can still be fired for their sexual orientation or gender identity; to me, the real threat are those corporate sponsors and beer companies who turn Stonewall into another excuse to get drunk.

In any case, OWS organizers have reorganized and created a new Facebook event for their action. My group, the Occupy Austin OccuQueers will have our first discussion of pride plans at our next meeting.

That’s what’s on my mind tonight.

What about you? This is today’s open thread.

Update: Bay Area OccuPride to target Oakland’s Jean Quan during SF Pride Parade.

Occupy Austin OccuQueers Can’t Wait

10:43 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

“We can’t wait! Take the Streets!”

Yesterday was the second action which the Occupy Austin OccuQueers took in support of ENDA, the Executive Nondiscrimination Act. At our first action, we delivered pens and a letter to the Obama For America headquarters in a silent protest.

Since I started the OccuQueers as a way to begin conversations among LGBTQ occupiers, this working group has become one of the most active and effective in Occupy Austin, alongside our Bank Action, Welcome Wagon, and Occupy AISD (education) groups. On the ground, I hear from of occupiers eager for action. It is often said that a week feels like a month to the occupation, and it had been 9 days since we’d marched for May Day. Those of us who showed up were happy to get our activist fix.

It drizzled and rained all day, but the weather broke and the sun came out for just a few hours to let us march. By night, it was pouring down hard again. Between the wet weather and a major protest against the TransPacific Partnership in Addison, Texas on Saturday, it was nice to see a handful of Austin’s core activists meet at the action. We were joined by John Jack Anderson, the Austin Chronicle photographer assigned to the occupation. As we gathered, we talked about our desire to do frequent, smaller actions until our numbers hopefully grow again.

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