Occupy Austin Protest Includes Many Students, Alumni

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Backpack-toting UT undergraduates. Hula-hooping hippies. Frost Bank and Wells Fargo employees wandering over after work. Little kids climbing trees. Ron Paul fanatics, Jews for Jesus, and Dennis Kucinich devotees. A uniformed U.S. Marine brandishing a sign that read: “I fight for my country, not for Wall Street.”

The 1,300 Austinites who gathered at City Hall on Thursday for the Occupy Austin protest couldn’t have been more diverse. They were young and old, fanatical and skeptical, liberal and conservative. It was a little unclear what, exactly, they were protesting—corporate greed and political corruption for sure, among other issues—but what the peaceful crowd lacked in clarity of message, it made up for with its festive mood. No one was arrested, and an almost party-like atmosphere pervaded—complete with singing, dancing, a full jazz band, and a chorus of cheers every time a passing car honked (and many of them did).

Occupy Austin was one of many such rallies across the country this week spawned by New York City’s Occupy Wall Street. Similar events coalesced in Houston, Dallas, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Seattle, and both Portlands (Maine and Oregon), among other cities. Inspired by the Arab Spring protests, the movement grew quickly over social media. Protestors’ unofficial tagline of “We are the 99%” criticizes the 1% of wealthiest Americans who, protestors allege, wield too much political and economic power.

About 40 UT students walked out of class yesterday for the protest, according to the Daily Texan. One of them was Raul Medina, a junior studying economics and finance. Medina said he skipped a calculus class to attend. “This is really educational, really relevant to studying finance,” Medina said. He added, “I learn calculus on YouTube anyway.”

Medina had engaged in a long debate with an older man, a banker who said he wanted to talk to young people at the event. “It was really cool,” Medina said. “He works downtown and just came over to give a different viewpoint. We ended up realizing we had a lot in common; we agreed about subsidized banks.”

Susan Haney, BA ’77, JD ’87, Life Member, found out about the protest on Facebook. “I saw a lot of posts online about how the mainstream media was slow to cover Occupy Wall Street, and that piqued my interest,” she said. “I want to see the election system revised. I want accountability for our elected officials, and I want to know where their money comes from.”

Regina Goodnow, a PhD student in government, stood quietly in the shade behind a crowd of cheering protestors. “I study the politics of other countries,” she said. “I see this trend in America of greater and greater inequality. That worries me. It’s not about socialism, it’s not about politics. It’s about making sure we have a society where people can live with a minimum level of dignity.”

Photos by Jeff Heimsath


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