National protests spread to campus

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People engage in a group-breathing exercise in front of Austin City Hall Thursday afternoon to relieve stress and provide a respite as part of Occupy Austin — one of many like-minded social movements inspired on Occupy Wall Street in New York more than one month ago.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

In a sea of about 1,200, protesters gathered to express their opinions about corporate greed and political corruption.

City Hall saw a crowd of about 150 people at 10 a.m. Thursday morning that grew to about 1,200 people by 6 p.m. Gathered around the front steps of City Hall, people of all ages and varying economic and political backgrounds held signs, gave public testimonies and played music to promote the interests of the 99 percent — a percentage used by protesters to differentiate the American public from the wealthy elites.

Single mother Danielle Cortar stood proudly beside her 9-year-old daughter Kierstin holding a banner reading “We The People.”

Cortar, a medical biller at the Rhino Bill health insurance claim company, said she went out to demonstrate in an effort to get the government’s attention on a broken economic system.

“Our minimum wage does not match our living wage,” Cortar said. “I make too much to get any government help, but I make too little to survive. I have to buy my child food and clothes and it doesn’t leave me much for anything else.”

Occupy Austin spokeswoman Sylvia Benini said the occupation would continue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week until there was no need for it.
Lauren Welker, also an Occupy Austin spokeswoman, spoke at the demonstration to remind the crowd about the key principles of the movement.

“The people are the supreme authority in our democracy,” Welker said to a cheering crowd. “Let your voices be heard. You are participating in our democracy.”

Inspired by the recent Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, Occupy Austin began holding public discussion meetings last Wednesday and has held meetings ever since. Occupy Austin issued a series of goals and demands of the movement after their general assembly meeting Wednesday night.

Members said their main goal is to promote democracy, economic security, corporate responsibility and financial fairness.

In contrast to the 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested in New York on Oct. 1, Austin Police Department has yet to make any arrests for violence or disturbance of the peace. Austin Police Department’s chief of police Art Acevedo said he was happy to protect the protesters and enjoyed the energy of the crowd.

“We’re just here to protect rights, the constitutional activities,” Acevedo said. “This is what democracy is all about and our primary mission is to protect the demonstrators.”

Engineering and philosophy sophomore Kathleen Hetrick said she was glad people were educating themselves about current events and taking an active role in determining the nation’s future. Hetrick, an out-of-state student, receives helps from her parents to pay for tuition but has to pay rent on her own. She currently banks with Wells Fargo, but plans to switch to University Federal Credit Union to take a stand against big corporations.

“When banks start charging to own a debit card, it’s not fair because I didn’t sign up for this,” Hetrick said, referring to Bank of America’s recent decision to charge $5 monthly for all debit cards. “If there’s a different option, I’m going to use that option.”