Occupy protesters shift to Capitol grounds

Kayla Jonsson

Occupy Austin protesters challenged authorities within hours of expanding from City Hall steps to the Capitol grounds Saturday.

Many protesters made the move to the Capitol as a result of the Oct. 30 arrests of 38 people protecting a food table after 10 p.m, which was banned at City Hall since the protests started, Occupy Austin protester Jessica Deleskey said. About 90 protesters have been arrested or criminally charged and banned from City Hall, she said.

“This is more of an expansion, not a move,” Deleskey said. “I was one of the 38 arrested, and I believe it was a statement. There is no law saying we can’t have food at City Hall. They’re just making up rules to try to stop us, and that’s an infringement of our rights.”

Deleskey said the bans from City Hall were significant enough to prompt a change of location because the number of people allowed to protest at City Hall had dwindled.

Protesters hoped to remain on Capitol grounds around the clock but learned the first night that the group will be allowed only three hours each day. The day after the move, the group’s Facebook page announced they would protest every day for three hours on the Capitol south steps.

Mexican-American studies senior Lucian Villasenor pitched a tent on the steps of the Capitol in protest of the public camping ban. He said he thought the action would bring attention from Capitol police.

“We need to challenge the authorities,” Villasenor said. “When tents were banned in 1995, they basically banned the homeless.”

Villasenor removed the tent to avoid conflict and because he could not afford another arrest, he said.

The tent needed to be removed because sleeping is prohibited on the Capitol grounds, and it was obscuring the sidewalk, Sgt. Dan Bristow, a state trooper at the Capitol, said.

Occupy Austin protester James Staton said he believes if Texas can put memorials on Capitol grounds, then tents should be allowed.

“Isn’t that a symbol, and that?” Staton said pointing to memorials on Capitol grounds. “The whole building is a symbol, just like the tent.”

Protester Michelle Millete said she thinks the group will find more safety and freedom at the new location than at City Hall.

“Coming to the Capitol is like a rejuvenation,” Millete said. “Protests happen here all the time, and the state troopers aren’t going to breathe down our necks.”

Printed on Monday, November 28, 2011: Occuping in more ways than one