Occupy Austin plans to expand because of loss of momentum


Thomas Allison

Puneet Kumar smokes a cigarette surrounded by sleeping members of the Occupy Austin movement Tuesday evening at Austin City Hall. Over the past four months, members of the Austin Police force have accumulated 11,699 overtime hours in order to curb drug use and crime at the protest sites.

Kayla Jonsson

As temperatures decrease, so do the number of Occupy Austin protestors willing to demonstrate outside City Hall, said Caitlin Pigford, 16 year-old protester on the verge of homelessness.

In its fourth month at City Hall, the Occupy Austin movement is losing stamina, and members blame the weather, Pigford said. Protest signs now serve as cushions and blockades against the wind on City Hall steps instead of being held high, she said.

“Right now everyone is just sitting around when before we would have been holding signs by the street, playing drums and talking to people,” Pigford said. “The spirit has definitely gone down since we first got here.”

Nearly all of the Occupy Austin protesters at City Hall are homeless, and the demonstration gives them a warm place to huddle up, said unemployed and homeless protester Dallas Aycock.

“A lot of people say the homeless are just taking advantage of the movement because food and blankets are offered, but I wasn’t homeless when I first got into Occupy,” Aycock said. “As I became homeless I just supported the movement even more because I felt firsthand how bad the economy is.”

Drug use has also infiltrated City Hall steps and people approach the group daily looking for drugs, protester Joshua Dixon said. He said he tells people asking if “anyone knows where they can get some bud,” to leave the steps immediately because they are making the entire group look bad.

“It pisses us off when people come over drunk and asking about drugs because then we all get labeled as drunks and druggies when we’re actually here to prove a point,” Dixon said.

The Austin Police Department has worked 11,699 overtime hours since the protest began, costing an extra $502,607 in an attempt to prevent drug use and other crimes at protest sites, according to APD documents.

Occupy Austin protestor and 2003 UT alumna Virginia Lu said the movement is dying at City Hall because it is time to expand to other communities. Lu said she will soon start going door to door in neighborhoods outside of central Austin to educate community members about the movement.

“Everyone who is around this area and interested in Occupy has already come by,” Lu said. “Now it is time to let all those people in other areas who have never heard of us know who we are.”

Printed on Wednesday, January 18th, 2012 as: Occupy Austin loses Momentum