Cries of ‘Occupy San Antonio!’ ring throughout downtown
Supporters of N.Y. protest make their presence known.
By Jessica Kwong
Gathering in solidarity with ongoing anti-Wall Street protests in New York, a group of mostly young people, numbering about 200 at its peak, brought San Antonio onto a national bandwagon Thursday.
“Occupy San Antonio!” the group shouted from dawn to dusk. “We are the 99 percent!”
Members repeatedly decried concentrations of wealth and power at a morning assembly in Travis Park and during a scrupulously well-behaved sidewalk march to the Alamo, the Grand Hyatt, CPS Energy offices, federal offices, Main Plaza and City Hall.
The group, like others that began popping up in many major U.S. cities this week, was piggybacking on Occupy Wall Street.
That campout by the young and disaffected started Sept. 17 in Lower Manhattan and eventually drew support from more organized groups and labor unions, whose members have swelled the protesters’ numbers into the thousands.
The concerns over Wall Street practices and economic inequality reverberated up to the White House on Thursday, with President Barack Obama saying the protesters are expressing the frustrations of the American public, the Associated Press reported.
Los Angeles police arrested 11 demonstrators who entered a Bank of America branch during a downtown march by hundreds of people Thursday.
San Antonio participants said the discontent is driven by a belief that corporations, financial institutions and a small handful of people control too much of the country’s resources and direction. It differentiates this protest from others in the past, said Meghan Owen, 30, who’s on workers compensation.
“We need to cut off the head of the beast in order to succeed,” she said. “We’ve always been told to work from the bottom up, but it has never worked in the past. This time, we’re going to take it all at the same time.”
The protest “was extremely peaceful” and the marchers didn’t interfere with traffic flow, San Antonio Police Department spokeswoman Sandy Gutierrez said.
“Peacemaking Committee” members made sure of that, said Vaughn Tangero, 28, who is unemployed and homeless. Though meeting for only a week, the group formed transportation, medics, legal and food committees.
“We’re leaderless but we’re organized,” Tangero said.
And it doesn’t counter the spontaneity that sparked Occupy Wall Street, said Rosa Martinez, 25, a digital design student at San Antonio College.
“We have a general assembly here; everyone votes,” she said.
Conflicting views were occasionally expressed, however. Stopping by to get a feel for the movement’s mentality, Vietnam veteran David Fasci, 60, said it was an insult to see a University of Texas at San Antonio student wearing nothing but fake marijuana leaves and a U.S. flag.
The history major, Vonia Smith, 27, said she wore a flag diaper to demonstrate “that the government is full of crap.”
It started with a Facebook page that local musician Bryan Hamilton, 28, created Sept. 28 for a few friends who wanted to join Occupy Austin. Then it snowballed.
“We thought, ‘Why should people have to go to Austin? We have problems here in San Antonio,’” he said.
About 30 protesters planned to spend the night at HemisFair Park, where the chants and cheers continued past sundown.
Though the fervor in San Antonio paled in comparison to the protest in New York and those she witnessed as a little girl in the 1960s, Evelyn Adamo, 51, said she still saw a “reawakening of a consciousness” in Thursday’s event.
“They started seeing the troubles around them and they realized they have the power to change that with love,” she said of past demonstrations. “That is what is happening today — things are not working, and people are waking up.”
NY protests spread to San Antonio
Protesters plan week of rallies and camping at HemisFair Park.
About 250 people marched through downtown Thursday afternoon as part of “Occupy San Antonio.”
Participants walked from Travis Park to Main Plaza via the Alamo, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and the Bexar County Courthouse and empty Federal Reserve building.
They gathered in support of “Occupy Wall Street,” a New York protest rallying to show frustration with class inequality and economic imbalance in the country.
The Occupy Wall Street protest began with a handful of people Sept. 17 and has grown to an estimated 20,000 camping at Zuccotti Park, 1 Liberty Plaza, New York.
Similar antigovernment protests have popped up across the country. In Texas, Thursday’s demonstration aligned with protests in Austin, Dallas and Houston.
During the first two weeks of Occupy Wall Street, more than 1,000 protestors were arrested.
Hundreds of protestors in New Orleans; Chicago; Los Angeles; Seattle; St. Louis; Portland, Ore.; Sacramento, Calif.; and Santa Barbara, Calif., have also been arrested during the outcry.
Local musician and organizer Nathanial Hughes said he was moved to action by a YouTube video in which a camera pans from the protesting crowd on a New York street up to a balcony where people are drinking champagne.
“At that moment, I felt I had to be a part of this,” Hughes said. “They need to take us seriously.”
As with the protests on Wall Street, “Occupy San Antonio” does not have a specific set of demands. Participants display their individual complaints.
Hughes posted a comment on Facebook, asking friends to join in a planned Oct. 6 Austin demonstration, but a planning session of an expected 15 people Oct. 1 drew 80-plus.
As a result, Hughes organized a local rally.
Back on Facebook, activists organized seven groups: legal, media, transportation, medical, food, peacekeepers and long-term concerns.
A handful of protesters met at Travis Plaza at 6 a.m. Thursday, and the crowd grew to a peak of about 250 in the afternoon.
As the group lifted signs and started down Travis Street toward St. Mary’s Street, they chanted, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” and “We are the 99 percent.”
Passersby stopped to take photos; some cheered, others gawked. No one booed.
Hughes said 99 percent refers to the 1 percent of the U.S. population that economically has taken the other 99 percent of Americans hostage.
The Think Progress website cites the top 1 percent of Americans owns 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, takes home 24 percent of national income and owns half of the country’s stocks, bonds and mutual funds.
For more information visit http://thinkprogress.org/progress-report/the-99-percent-movement.
A bystander, who identified himself only as Tom, shouted across Alamo Plaza, “Get back to work!” as the protestors passed.
Marketing specialist Randy Martinez watched the protestors from the doorway of Pat O’Brian’s on Alamo Street.
He said curiosity gave way to responsibility. “I have to work,” he said. “I’m not going to waste my time marching when there’s no unifying message.”
The group circled around the Federal Reserve building at the intersection of St. Mary’s and Dwyer streets three times shouting, “Shame on you,” while waving their signs, unaware that the building no longer houses the reserve.
Several men and women in business attire left the building as protesters lined the sidewalk.
One gentleman flashed an employee key card toward the press and crowd as they hurried past and said, “We don’t work for the fed; we work for the state bar association.”
The crowd’s chanting drowned out his words.
The march proceeded to Main Plaza where they took a break.
Medics made sure everyone was hydrated, food organizers passed out snacks and two of the protestors sat down to fix their makeup.
Nonprofit employee Debbie Mayer, 56, said she joined the protest out of guilt.
“I’m at that age where I think we fell asleep at the wheel,” she said. “I read about what’s going on and wonder about my kids and grandkids’ futures.”
Mayer walked the 2.5-mile route holding up a sign saying, “Wake up, Speak up.”
Her concerns focused on education.
“I think our system is broken,” Mayer said. “If kids start losing their ability to go to college, our future will be in trouble.”
She said the national news organizations have covered a lot of “fluff pieces” instead of covering the Wall Street rallies.
Mayer said, “We have two wars going on and protests across the country and little or no coverage.”
Artist Angela Weddle, 28, said classism protects the 1 percent and society has seen examples of communism, fascism, socialism and capitalism. “I don’t think an evil is good to keep around just because it is not as bad as the previous ones.”
She said even with the small numbers and the risk people face by speaking out, she hopes the movement grows during the coming week.
The “Occupy San Antonio” movement plans to keep protesting through the week ahead and will camp at HemisFair Park.
“This is a leaderless movement,” Hughes said. “We all know there is a problem; we want the 99 percent to band together and take down corporate oligarchy.”
For more information, visit the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/occupysanantonio.