Occupy Austin in Solidarity with Turkey; Detained for Chalking City Hall
Turkish allies and Occupy Austin gathered at Austin City Hall on Monday for a special #OccupyGezi Solidarity General Assembly. Police temporarily detained gonzo journalist Kit O’Connell.
This week has been a hard one. It’s not news to anyone paying attention that the state of national and global affairs is bleak, but there are times when the enormity of how fucked we are settles hard into the gut.
Monday saw the return of Occupy Austin to its original home at Austin City Hall. During the Texas Legislative session we moved our weekly gatherings to the Capitol. The anticipated wave of legislature-based activism never materialized (from Occupy, anyway — other groups like GetEqual staged multiple actions) and our small weekly group felt a little lost on the giant capitol grounds. Though the Leg has extended its session into ‘extra innings,’ we consented to move our gatherings back to City Hall and focus on our next steps for the future.
As June 3rd approached, the Occupy Gezi movement grew into global prominence and #OATX started receiving requests for solidarity. We invited any local allies of the Turkish people to attend our weekly assembly. About two dozen supporters joined the Assembly and we agreed to drop the usual assembly process and just create an open mic for discussion of the recent events in Turkey.
Detained for Chalking City Hall
While the Austin Audio Co-Op (fresh from an appearance at Queerbomb) set up their sound system, we chalked the plaza and steps around Austin City Hall as we have many times before. I wrote Occupy Gezi & Occupy Austin on the steps, and an older Turkish man followed me, outlining my words in yellow and others adding a colorful ISTANBUL! More of the steps soon read TX <3 Resistanbul, the message which the Austin Overpass Light Brigade would display that night.
Police appeared just as we were preparing to begin. Defiantly, I picked up a piece of chalk and wrote ‘OUR CITY HALL’ in large white letters as three officers approached. So of course, they detained me.
I know my rights and, once I knew that I was actually being detained, I identified myself with my legal name, birth date, and home address as required by Texas law. Then I invoked my right to remain silent. Three police surrounded me while others moved through the plaza. Bicycle cops soon arrived too. At least a half dozen cameras came out in the plaza, filming the police and me.
One Turkish woman spoke up: “They are killing our people in Turkey. Why are you harassing us here?”
An officer tried to placate her while another, my main interrogator, Officer Howell, badgered me with questions and sarcastic comments, adopting the tone of every high school’s mean girl bully. When I broke my silence to mention several legal precedents which show that chalk is free speech, she asked me if I was aware that Florida is three states away. Another exchange went like this:
Officer Howell: You have chalk all over your face.
Me: I invoke my right to remain to silent.
Howell: I know, I’m just saying you have chalk ALL OVER your face.
As I looked from her hard, angry eyes to the assembled crowd (Howell: “Why ARE you looking around? We’re having a conversation!”) I realized that the only thing separating these police from the pigs murdering people in Turkey was their orders. It’s a thin blue line indeed, and I felt like Officer Howell would go just as eagerly about her duties either way whether it was badgering me for my free speech or shooting a tear gas canister directly at my head.
This was far from my worst encounter with police (that honor goes to the Houston Police Department), nor even my most unpleasant with Austin Police. I’ve known for a long time that the police serve the 1%, but it would be hard to underline that fact more severely than at a moment like this: harassed by the police state as we tried to honor the victims of police violence across the world.
All our grievances are connected.
Everywhere Resistance Everywhere Taksim
The police released me after reiterating that they considered chalk to be criminal mischief. Several cars would continue to monitor the gathering.
At last, we could hear the voices of our Turkish guests.
— Kit O’Connell (@KitOConnell) June 4, 2013
Because of my near-arrest, I ended up being an informal emcee of the evening’s events. I spoke about the imporance of knowing your rights, then turned the microphone over to a succession of people from Turkey, or those with friends there, or even a few who had visited and fallen in love with the people and the country. They spoke with emotion in their voice and sometimes tears in their eyes of the hope of a people gathered to defend a park and a secular way of life.
In the background during the speeches, power tools hummed and whirred as the Austin Overpass Light Brigade worked to assemble their latest signs. We listened to Turkish music and shared Taksim chants. Banging pots and pans, we declared in lights that TX <3 RESISTANBUL, first on the City Hall steps and then on the sidewalk by Cesar Chavez, a major thoroughfare at the edge of downtown.
While I don’t wish the suffering of tear gas and police violence on any people, the unity of thousands of Turks in the face of this oppression is inspiring. Occupy Austin continues to meet on a weekly basis, stage direct actions and support other groups though our numbers have dwindled. To my knowledge, we are the final Occupy group to remain truly active in the entire state. The police state forced us off the streets and back into our homes, if we have them.
I hate watching some reactions to this past week’s revelations. Each time new evidence about the corruption of our leaders appears, more people seem momentarily shaken out of complacency. Yet it only takes a moment’s glance at Twitter’s #UniteBlue hashtag to see loyal Democrats franticly working to fall in lockstep with the administration’s talking points about leaks and NSA spying.
But the world still feels different, perhaps in part thanks to the new technologies that enable both that spying and these moments of global solidarity. As long as somewhere in the world free people raise their hands to flash a peace sign or a solidarity fist, it gives me hope for change at home too.
Photos and media by Kit O’Connell, except We Love You Chalk by James Peterson (used with permission). All rights reserved.