Almost everyone likes a party in our fiesta town (though not necessarily every party). Give this one a try? The next Occupy San Antonio rally is a 6 p.m. Wednesday drum circle at HemisFair Park. Then on Saturday, a larger rally is planned from noon to 3 p.m. at South Alamo and Caesar Chavez. More info online at various FB pages, including Occupy San Antonio.
Sure, some parts of the country joined the Occupy Wall Street movement before Texas got in the act, but hey, here in SA folks have a tendency to show up at parties late. As actions raged in Austin and Houston last week, Occupy San Anto rallies began Thursday at Travis Park. Then in a convivial “let’s all get-along” gesture they moved to HemisFair Park at the request of City Hall. Damn, we’re polite. The weekend’s rain cut the crowd down to a dozen or so drummers at HemisFair when we stopped in on Saturday, but a rally at the SA branch of the Dallas Federal Reserve greeted Sunday morn with — Alex Jones, Austin-based conspiracy theorist extraordinaire. Jones’ website, infowars.com, lists fellow 9/11 “Truthers” Charlie Sheen, Chuck Norris, and Jesse Ventura as prominent guests on his nationally syndicated talk radio show. Jones was in town to spread the word that the Fed is, well: Evil. Are the SA Occupiers tilting towards Ron Paul’s campaigning anti-Fed message? Some have cast Occupy as a hipster Tea Party contingent, but rather than bashing Congress, Occupiers have honed in on Wall Street, “bankters,” and multi-national corporations as the main usurpers of the public good. What they most dislike (to be kind) are not just the bank bail-outs, but that banks aren’t passing along a chance at the gold ring to the everyday guys and gals, the so-called 99%. That moniker points to another number, not so well-known, the 1% who own a quarter of our economy. But perhaps the most exciting thing is the exchange of ideas taking place. It’s not an anomoly, after all: sit-ins rode hand-in-glove with teach-ins. And even earlier: During the republican era of classical Athens, it was thought that all citizens (slaves didn’t count) in the city should be able to hear the voice of a speaker at the same time, the better to disagree on the spot, if they so desired. If there were too many to fit in (and hear) in the amphitheater, it was time for another colony. Does the same hold in the era of Twitter? Amplification is one thing, communication another. Could it be (to paraphrase Marshall McLuhan) “no media is the message”?
Occupy protesters in SA say they’re trying earnestly to follow in the footsteps of their predecessors, the hundreds of stalwart activists that have swarmed New York City for weeks. The Zuccotti Park contingent have marched, shouted, “occupied,” and passed along their “demands for Congress” — demands like reinstating key provisions of the Glass-Steagall Act, identifying and prosecuting “Wall Street Criminals,” implementing sweeping lobbying reform, revamping the Securities and Exchange Commission, rolling back the Supreme’s Citizens United decision, and ending corporate personhood.
The somewhat lazy critique lobbed at the fledgling movement hinges on the lack of a clear, concise message. The truth is much more involved. As the goals grow more concrete, they become more complex, impossible to distill in a concise soundbite and turn into a rallying cry (how many San Antonians can you really rile up with the phrase “reinstate Glass-Steagal”?). That’s why, rightly or wrongly, occupiers here, as elsewhere, are obsessed with their portrayal in the media. One common refrain at occupy powwows: “The media wants to make us look like idiots.” As one local occupier, 27-year-old Glenn Hotvet, put it, “I really think this is an education for a lot of us.” While many locals turned up at the beginning of the occupation because they were flat-out angry (and for a variety of reasons), Hotbed said traffic has slowed since it’s grown difficult to process, as a group, why they are in the street and in the park. “For a lot of us, it’s forced us to start going back and really understand how we got to this point,” he said. Another organizer, Chuck Robinson, remarked, “Our demands are hard to boil down into one thing, so people need to be patient. … The list of abuses catalogued here is decades in the making.”
How, or even if, Occupy can be localized and draw more San Antonians into the movement, is a question that’s nagged at organizers since their first general assembly at Southwest Workers Union headquarters two weeks back. (MoveOn’s decision to hold their rally this weekend up the road rather than join Occupy downtown seems disingenuous.) At Occupy Austin, local media reported the movement drawing as many as 1,000 protesters during the Thursday statewide Occupy rally. For the most part, City Hall has remained the Austin group’s target. Our local group made notably smaller splash Thursday, though it did reach roughly 200 deep at one point.
Unlike New York, where Occupy protesters have been chased, pepper sprayed, beaten, arrested, you’d be hard-pressed to find any cop keeping tabs on the San Antonio movement — the relationship between the City and Occupy has been remarkably amiable. Austin media reported their own occupy protest brought out a massive, yet restrained police presence, complete with SWAT team officers perched on rooftops and lines of squad cars keeping an eye on protesters. Many here feel District 1 Councilman (and former activist) Diego Bernal has been their man on the inside making sure those in City Hall and SAPD keep things civil. By phone last week Bernal was a little more cautious, saying he didn’t “necessarily support the movement,” but wanted to make sure police, protesters, and city officials don’t clash. “The last thing I wanted was a situation or some sort of confrontation between them and the police department. … I’m proud of the way everything went down.”
With nearly a week under its belt, the future of the movement here is still hazy. Organizers think they’ve got at least a month in the City’s good graces. Numbers hover around 20, with a headquarters of sorts set up at the gazebo near HemisFair’s entrance. And, through the dirty, drawn out process of direct democracy, general-assembly voting, they’re now identifying local issues, events, and marches they feel warrant their attention. Tuesday, a small group marched to the Grand Hyatt, protesting a conference stacked with natural gas big-wigs, Texas Railroad Commissioner (and Senate candidate) Elizabeth Ames Jones, and even former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. For some, it was a rally decrying destructive energy policies. For others, it was a protest against Gates and the military industrial complex he represents. What they tackle next, and how relevant locals feel the actions are, may determine if Occupy sticks around or folds. In the meantime, QueQue wouldn’t mind seeing Occupiers convert HemisFair into a homeless camp. You know, liberate Haven for Hope for a few weeks. Just an idea. •
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