Several people have contacted me regarding the #OccupyAustin movement. Some thought I maybe participating, others that I might actually be a chief organizer. Neither is the case but they were all right to assume I had a strong interest in understanding what its about, who’s behind it, and what if any connection it has to the Occupy Wall Street movement.
I had heard about satellite events popping up across the country but my first tangible experience with the Austin version was Oct. 5th when I came across the website OccupyAustin.org. It prominently displayed customized fliers advertising the Oct. 6th launching of the local movement. I could tell by the graphic design and advanced nature of the start up website that these folks had access to some very talented human resources. The facebook page had over 8,000 likes and the event had over 4,000 RSVPs and I began to wonder how such a movement could gain so much steam right under my nose without my knowledge. I have built many websites in my day and designed even more fliers which is why I was initially skeptical that a real grass-roots movement could work together so seamlessly, (at least digitally) without a real funding source. This led me to believe there was most likely some preexisting group that was attempting to establish themselves as a mouthpiece of the Austin faction of OWS. I started perusing their website for clues like links to other organizations, names of prominent individuals or even sponsors. What I found was a page of over 10 email addresses all at the “OccupyAustin.org” domain. I was curious if there could really be this many individuals involved so I began sending emails. Within hours I received replies thanking me for my interest and jumping right ahead in asking me what skills I might have to offer. I explained my interest was from a media perspective but that it could offer away to help others understand what their movement was about. I was given a couple of names and signs to look for once I reached City Hall. I knew that if I wanted to understand better who was behind this intense effort I would have to get there early and start asking questions.
Once I got to City Hall at about 11am I sat for a moment and observed the crowd looking for someone who was clearly asserting authority. There were a few folks sitting around taking notes and doing busy work but it wasn’t until a young gentlemen, named Ronny, stood before the crowd and announced a “General Assembly” meeting would be held at 3pm that afternoon that I knew who to talk to. When he returned to the crowd I visited with him and asked him a barrage of questions regarding the web site, the General Assembly and the difficulties of “representing” a movement that claimed no leader. Addressing the website first he listed an IT guy, web designer and content manager and assured they were all volunteers. He said the General Assembly met once a day and “made decisions based on consensus”. They developed elaborate hand gestures to keep meetings from devolving into shouting matches. At some point the General Assembly broke into smaller groups called “magnets” run by “facilitators” with specific issues such as media, fundraising, childcare for demonstrators, housing, legal, web and so on. Each would take minutes and report back to the GA. They then would discuss strategy and the future of the movement’s activities such as which bank to march on and on what day. Though we live in a constitutional republic this group was exercising a primitive form of direct democracy and every meeting the facilitators rotated to prevent any inkling of “centralized power”. After a few days the General Assembly released a list of goals and demands attempting to ally themselves with the Occupy Wall Street movement that included: “economic security”, “financial fairness” and “corporate responsibility”.
I was amazed to see pop-up tents, a large PA system and a network of supply chains for food, water and even shelter for demonstrators. They attracted a little over 1,000 people that day from all demographics but generally the young and frustrated. Each day since has seen smaller numbers in comparaison but those that remain are a determined group. Ronny said they not only planned to grow the “occupation” in Austin but to help other groups across Texas organize within their cities. There has been a lot of talk in the mainstream media about who these people are and what they stand for, but one thing I am certain of is they are not lazy.