Austin City Hall

An Occupy Austin protestor, who chose to remain anonymous, sits Monday afternoon on the stairs of City Hall, which are now covered with makeshift sleeping pads, pamphlets and posters. Entering its fifth day, Occupy Austin plans to create committees in order to begin making changes.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Though their united anger against political and financial institutions created Occupy Austin, their love for the cause is what’s keeping them together, said occupation member James Staton.

Occupy Austin, the Austin associate of the Occupy Wall Street movement, is part of a national protest against the “monied corruption of [America’s] democracy,” according to the Occupy Wall Street website. The protest peaked last Thursday when it started at a presence of 2,000, and the number of those living at Austin City Hall has risen to about 45 with fluctuating numbers throughout the day.

As Occupy Austin enters its fifth day, the occupation is expanding beyond its general assemblies with streamlined meetings and an organizational structure based around committees headed by “magnets,” volunteers who elect to specialize in a certain field to aid the protest, said IT magnet and occupation member Cesar Fuentez.

“The biggest criticism we’ve had was that we were just talking and not doing,” Fuentez said. “We’ve made an agreement to change that and make the subgroups and infrastructure to do it. People are passionate about certain subjects, and we tell them to go out and get it done.”

Emotions also ran between calm and impassioned Tuesday, as occupation members gathered in various groups to discuss how to implement change and address the claim that the occupation is “class warfare.”

“We want the next generation to come up and enjoy life for who they are, not what they are,” Fuentez said. “Have as much money as you want, but do it the right way.”

Occupy Austin is also reaching out to labor unions like those joining Occupy Wall Street and creating a “base camp,” an off-site facility that provides basic necessities like showering facilities for those who stay overnight at Austin City Hall, said occupation IT member Jonathan Vann.

“The occupation movement is going to occupy until things are changed,” Vann said. “It’s time for our voices to be heard, not just the voices of the top 1 percent.”

Occupation members also expressed their gratitude for the numerous donations of various Austinites who have donated items ranging from communication devices to donuts and tacos to the occupation, Staton said.

As opposed to previous clashes with law enforcement in Boston and New York, Austin Police Department have been tolerant and cooperative in working with Occupy Austin, even symbolically allowing protesters one tent in front of Austin City Hall, Fuentez said.

“On the first day of Occupy Austin, chief of police Art Acevedo came out to the protest and mingled with all of us,” Fuentez said. “Austin police have been more than helpful.”

A march through downtown Austin is planned for this Saturday to protest “corrupt and consolidated banking,” and, according to Fuentez, other events are also planned including guest speakers like David Graebar, organizer of Occupy Wall Street, who was at Occupy Austin on Monday.

“If we accomplish nothing else, we can educate the populace as to how the system works,” Vann said.

Pre-med junior Joe Gailey stands in the South Mall on Wednesday afternoon as part of Occupy Austin’s campus walk. The walkout was a preview of Thursday’s protest that will take place at City Hall.

Photo Credit: Lawrence Peart | Daily Texan Staff

A group of approximately 40 students met at South Mall on Wednesday at noon and held signs advertising Occupy Austin while chanting slogans like “money for jobs and education, not for wars and occupation.”

Occupy Austin student-outreach coordinator Jonathan Cronin said both social media and traditional tactics played a role in advertising Wednesday’s on-campus demonstration, called a walkout, in which student participants were encouraged to leave class in order to promote the cause. Inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests that began in New York City, activists have been organizing and preparing for the Occupy Austin protest, set to begin at 10 a.m. Thursday at Austin City Hall.

The Occupy Austin protests are based on the same message of criticizing the American financial industry through tactics similar to those being used in New York City and will continue until no longer necessary, according to the website.

Finance lecturer David Miller attended the walkout and spoke with students about how to refine their message and participate in a successful protest.

“The students at UT should use their passion and intelligence to put forth positive and creative proposals,” Miller said. “The key is to find a solution to all of these problems you are talking about instead of just listing all of them.”

Geography junior Landre Wilson said he learned about the walkout while in class and learned of the Occupy Wall Street protests from the website Reddit. Wilson said he plans to attend the Occupy Austin protest.

Kirsten Bokenkamp, Communications coordinator for the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, said her organization hopes to educate student protesters on their rights and responsibilities while they protest Thursday at City Hall.

“We are recommending that people document their interactions with city officials, make a record of who they spoke with and what they were told, keep copies of all permits and relevant documents,” Bokenkamp said. “We are reminding people that they are free to take photographs or videos of groups, including the police.”

Cronin sent out a Twitter announcement Sunday regarding the walkout, in addition to announcing it at a Tuesday night general assembly meeting.

The logistics and goals of the demonstration have been the focus of Occupy Austin’s general assembly meetings, which began last Saturday evening and extended through Wednesday evening.

David Ring, the representative for Occupy Austin’s local action committee, said the goal of the general assemblies is to construct a platform that reflects the grievances of people in Austin as well as support the Occupy Wall Street protests. The general assembly meetings use a consensus-based process in which the audience participates by approving or rejecting the presented proposals, asking questions and reminding the speaker to speed up their proposal. Tuesday’s general assembly meeting dealt with many issues such as organizing the supply of first aid, preparing for possible arrests during the protest, organizing transportation around the city for protesters and organizing educational presentations for people to learn about the movement.

“The process is tedious, but we’re trying to figure out why we’re all here,” Ring said. “We’re here to make a difference and to get this protest off the ground.” 

Printed on October 6, 2011 as: National protests spread to campus

More than 700 runners departed from Austin City Hall for a 5K on Saturday, but this was not your normal race.

The first Austin Gorilla Run benefited the endangered mountain gorillas in Africa by raising more than $40,000, said Unji Udeshi, race director and co-founder. The participants ran the 3.1 miles in gorilla suits, Udeshi said.

“The Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund is dedicated to the conservation and protection of the highly endangered mountain gorillas in Africa, their habitat and working with the people around the national parks,” Udeshi said.

The money will go directly to the Mountain Gorilla Conservation Fund, helping expand the wildlife department in Makerere University in Uganda and train locals in Central Africa on wildlife conservation.

In the late 1980s, there were only 250 mountain gorillas living in the wild. Because of the fund, there are now more than 700, and none are in captivity, Udeshi said.

“Mountain gorillas are one of our closest relatives, sharing 98.6 percent of our nuclear DNA,” Udeshi said. “This makes them the closest link to mankind, and as a group, we are trying to help save these animals from extinction.”

Paul Underbrink, who has run a lot of 5Ks, including the “Keep Austin Weird Fest and 5K,” said he enjoyed seeing all the variations of the gorilla costumes.

“This is definitely a weird event,” said Underbrink, who dressed as a gorilla in UT paraphernalia and attended the event with his wife, Sherri. “I enjoy the opportunity to get out and run in a good race, and the weather cooperated. You see events like this every now and then reported and you think, ‘I could do that.’ I heard this was the first one they were doing and there were a bunch of people signed up and I thought, ‘Okay, sign me up.’”

Saleswoman Adrienne Nelson attended the event with friends who were dressed as ballerinas.
“I participated in the Capitol 10,000,” Nelson said. “People dress up and do group costumes, but I think this is the craziest 5K Austin’s ever seen.”

Although participants paid $99.95 if they needed a gorilla suit and $50 if they already had one, Nelson said the organization is doing good work.

“It’s expensive, but it goes to save the gorillas,” Nelson said. “And outside the age of three, when do you get to dress up as a gorilla in a tutu? That’s really the cherry on top.”

City facilities around Austin will soon be equipped with electric car plug-in stations, said an Austin Energy spokesman. Austin Energy partnered with California-based Coulomb Technologies, an electric vehicle infrastructure company that works with public utilities across the country to install public charging stations for electric cars. Before next summer, 100 to 200 charging stations will be installed at city facilities such as Austin City Hall and public libraries. Austin Energy Spokesman Carlos Cordova said any public utility can install a charging station for $2,500. “They would show their commitment to the environment and that they are on the leading edge of promoting electric vehicles,” he said. Although there are only about a dozen electric cars in the city now, Cordova said he expects the number to increase to about 160 next year after the launch of the Chevy Volt and Nissan Leaf next month. Kara Kockelman, a civil, architectural and environmental engineering professor, said Austin residents would make a good market for plug-in electric vehicles. She said that early users will provide businesses with an example to further modify the products to make them more affordable and effective. “As in any paradigm-shifting situation, timing of supporting infrastructure is critical,” Kockelman said. “Austin must roll out such charging infrastructure soon.” Having more electric vehicles on the road in Austin will improve air quality and reduce the city’s carbon footprint, Kockelman said. “We would do the world a favor in terms of greenhouse gas impacts and reduce our reliance on petroleum imports,” she said. The investment in the stations is a step in the right direction, but their effects might not be immediately noticeable in the environment, said Chandra Bhat, a civil, architectural and environmental engineering professor. The investments will be successful if government agencies monitor the adaptation behavior of households so that changes can occur without a substantial loss in the investments already made, he said. “It is important that new infrastructure in Austin is introduced in a careful, calibrated fashion so that Austin Energy can get reactions to the first few charging stations, learn from those responses and have the flexibility to design other stations in the pipeline based on that knowledge,” Bhat said.

Each piece of cardboard that makes up the installation “Cardboard Sky” has been hand-selected and cut into a specific shape by architecture junior Daniel Morrison, assembled by him and a group of his friends into what appears to be a giant puzzle.

“It’s a big net, basically,” Morrison said. “It’s born out of an interest in modularity, having the same piece but with different colors and textures, making something very spatial and experimental.“

Morrison has been commissioned by Art Alliance Austin to create a large-scale installation for Art City Austin, a citywide celebration from April 24 to 25. Morrison’s installation is constructed from thousands of small pieces of cardboard and will be attached to Austin City Hall, marking the boundary of the Art City Austin event in the heart of the Downtown district.

Morrison’s coursework in architecture at UT has helped prepare him for the technical and logistical challenges of “Cardboard Sky.” In fact, Morrison was encouraged to submit a proposal for Art Alliance Austin for extra credit by his Design V studio professor, Jack Sanders, who holds a master’s degree in architecture from UT.

According to Sanders, his goal in encouraging students to submit proposals to Art Alliance Austin was “to get the students in over their heads and then demonstrate to the student and everybody else that, when given the opportunity, they can make something happen. Or better, make something wonderful happen.”

Morrison relied on dumpster-diving to collect the material for his installation, sifting through trash to find discarded cardboard boxes.

“I sort of started hanging out at a lot of liquor stores,” Morrison said, laughing. “Well, not hanging out, but I kind of got chummy with the guys there because they would see me every week picking boxes, breaking them down, and then I would take them to the shop that I’m working in and press each of these little pieces out
individually.”

To bring his design to life, Morrison used a variety of techniques and equipment from X-ACTO blades to laser cutters and even old industrial machinery in order to shape each piece of cardboard to match his vision.

“As a student, I’ve really always been interested in trying to reconcile digital and traditional handcraft,” Morrison said. “With this project, I’ve sort of been all over technology-wise, from analog to digital to back to old industrial.”

As both an artist and aspiring architect, Morrison has formed his own opinion on the connection between art and architecture, an oft-debated subject.

“A lot of people like to say that architecture is inhabitable art, but I don’t even necessarily like that statement,” Morrison said. “I do really like public art projects like this because the cost of patronage is effectively zero, since you don’t really have to buy anything. It’s very egalitarian. I really appreciate that about this project and most works of architecture.”

With so much to do in order to get ready for the unveiling of his design at Art City Austin, Morrison has become something of a workaholic, although he still finds time to relax by cooking.

“I’m a big baker. That’s how I sort of find peace, by making pie,” Morrison said.

Daniel has achieved a lot in his short time at UT, and upon graduation, he plans to attend graduating school.

According to Morrison’s former professor Sanders, “Daniel seems to understand that good design is about more than just looking cool and slick — but that it has to have a heartbeat, and at the end of the day, has to, as somebody else said, ‘lift the spirit.’”