Story and photos by Alex Wukman
Like protests before it the Occupy Together movement is a litmus test, telling readers more about the writers covering the demonstration than anything about the actual protests. Part of the problem is that since the movement is so nebulous, one of the rhetorical devices used by protestors is “what’s your one demand,” anyone writing or commenting about Occupy has a tendency to try and push it in to a narrative frame they are comfortable with. Whether it’s calling it a fad, a tea party for hipsters or a way for freeloaders to annoy people with real jobs, the criticisms started almost as soon as the protests began. However, the criticisms didn’t deter the over 200 protestors who left from Market Square Park at a little past 9 a.m.
Despite what the critics have said, the group ranged in age from toddlers to the elderly and the reasons that brought them there were as diverse as the crowd. Some were on the Quixotic quest to remove corporate influence in American politics others wanted fairer tax laws and at least one wanted the reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933, the repeal of which has been credited by some economists with contributing to the creation of the current Financial Crisis.
Chants of “We are the 99 percent” and “This is what democracy looks like” resonated throughout the heart of Downtown Houston as the demonstrators marched South to the J.P. Morgan Chase building. The protest benefited from the odd synchronicity of having GOP primary candidate Herman Cain in town at around the same time as the start of the march. Cain, who was holding a “friendraising breakfast” at Houston’s Junior League, had previously labeled the Occupy Wall Street protest that kicked off the movement “class warfare.”
He went on to tell protestors “don’t blame Wall Street, don’t blame the big banks, if you don’t have a job and you’re not rich, blame yourself!” Cain’s words seemed to have resonated with some of the Occupy Houston protestors, but for reasons “the Hermanator” probably didn’t want. While standing on the steps of the Chase building some of the organizers used the call-and-response ‘people’s mic’ technique to decry Cain’s remarks while others attacked the fact that Chase received a $94.7 billion bail out while average citizens are losing their jobs, homes and cars. A few Chase employees stood across the plaza from the demonstrators, separated by half-a-dozen or so HPD officers, seemingly amused by the angry mob yelling at a building. Standing behind the protestors, in the middle of a construction zone, where representatives from the Seafarers International Union. However, the SIU members had decided not to participate.
Like most demonstrations and marches the experience of Occupy Houston jigsaws into fragments of memory defined solely by moments that, while intimate, may not have registered to someone else. Workers up a scaffolding stopping in the application of a coat of paint to the superstructure of the El Paso Corporation building to watch the protestors file through the covered walkway ringing One Shell Plaza. A brown-haired young man with three-day scruff joking “if we occupy City Hall does that mean we’ve taken the city, or do we have to occupy other buildings too?” A silver haired man in a polo shirt and sport sunglasses, looking like he’d be more at home on a fishing boat than in a protest, screaming at an HPD corporal smirking from a van. What was said was lost to the chanting.
Unlike other Occupy demonstrations that have been marred with violence and arrests, the Occupy Houston circuitous trek to City Hall was remarkably conflict free. As the protest reached the reflection pool it became clear that the crowd had grown, a group from the Good Jobs Great Houston coalition had set up on the steps of City Hall was waiving a banner to greet the march.
The demonstrators took to the steps of City Hall waiving signs decrying corporate influence and chanting “We are the 99 percent” while surrounded by tents for the Capital One Bank Bayou City Art Festival. Capital One received a $3.5 billion bailout in November 2008 and in February 2009, citing extraordinary changes in the economic environment, decided to more than double the interest rate for current account holders from 8.5 to 17.9 percent. The regulatory agency that approved that increase was the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, whose office is located half-a-mile from City Hall at 1301 McKinney.