In the months since the Occupy Movement has begun, a significant segment of the protest has been focused on issues relevant to college students. The rising cost of higher education and the heavy burden of student loan debt have spurred students to get involved in the movement.
On college campuses around the country the occupy movement has been engaged, and the reaction to the protests by some administrators has spurred controversy. Democracy Now! reported that at the University of California at Berkeley police forcibly removed students and arrested 39 people, and at University of California, Davis, campus police pepper-sprayed student protesters as they sat together to protest the dismantling of the “Occupy UC Davis” encampment.
In Texas the occupy movement has been embraced on some college campuses, but there has not been the same types of confrontations with campus police that have been seen elsewhere. The students have often chosen to work with local occupy movement organizers than to focus solely on campus actions. However, as the movement has grown that appears to be changing.
According to the student newspaper the Daily Texan, a student walkout began the occupy movement at the University of Texas at Austin on October 5 as students joined with Occupy Austin. The event took place nationwide as Occupy Colleges called for students and faculty at college campus across the country to solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
According to the Occupy UT Austin Facebook page, the group stands in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement. “The community is comprised of students, staff, faculty, and anyone affiliated with (or standing in support of) occupying university members.” A semester long event is being planned for January 16 until May 4 to occupy the University of Texas Tower. The Facebook event page says “that beginning on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Occupy Wall Street movement will come to the University of Texas.” According to the group’s web site, a planning meeting is scheduled for December 13.
The Occupy Movement has also come to Texas A&M University. In November students organized with professors and community members in Occupy Bryan-College Station protests. The Texas A&M student newspaper the Battalion reported that a protest in November organized on campus, and an estimated 40 occupiers marched to the local branch of Bank of America.
However, students at Texas A&M have not “occupied” areas on campus, and their activities have been limited to protests and days of action. Junior mechanical engineering major Justin Montgomery told the Battalion that it wouldn’t be effective to set up occupied encampments. “We’re doing this to show our support for what’s going on elsewhere, and also for all these people to have an outlet to voice their opinions,” said Montgomery.
Joshua Christopher Harvey, one of the organizers of Occupy Texas State, told the Texas Independent that he became involved in the occupy movement because “over the years it had become apparent to me that our government has grown less accountable to the people.” Harvey went on to say that the “encroachment of corporate personhood in our society and its impact on our political system was also of great concern.”
“Here in Texas,” said Harvey, “grants and funding for higher education were and are being cut. These cuts have led my university to increase the student population in an attempt to balance the $10 million budget cut by the state. This puts a great burden on our teaching staff. Due to further cuts next year, our tuition will rise. The Occupy Colleges Movement, which started in California allowed me and others an outlet to be a participant in the greater movement at a local level and to seek solutions to counteract the negative effects of corporate personhood and a failed economy on education in our state.”
Like Occupy UT Austin, Occupy Texas State is also planning future events, including the possibility of acts of peaceful and minor civil disobedience. These events could be “sit-ins or erecting a tent on the Quad and occupying it for a number of hours or possibly days to challenge university policies that we feel limit free speech and expression,” said Harvey. In addition Occupy Texas State is planning on working with the Texas State Employees Union, CWA-TSEU, in the coming weeks to “address cuts and freezes to faculty and staff pay at our university.”
Moving forward, Harvey says that the Occupy Movement on the Texas State campus is going to continue its efforts to further the message of the movement and engage students in action. “We will hold more Days of Action rallies, shows of solidarity to the greater Occupy Movement and seek to work with our local and state governments. We feel it is time to move from demonstrating to action and we are planning a host of activities for the Spring semester including a voting drive to register the incoming students in time for the 2012 elections,” said Harvey.
Hey guys, we thought you might be interested in this video our friend made a couple months ago to commemorate two weeks Occupying on Wall Street.
Texas Civil Rights Project
James C. Harrington
7 December 2011
Statement from the Texas Civil Rights Project regarding Occupy Austin, by Jim Harrington:
We’re greatly concerned about the statements that Austin officials are releasing, both publicly and behind the scenes, in an apparent attempt to undermine and perhaps even delegitimize the Occupy Austin Movement. Many of those statements are incomplete, and even disingenuous.
The statements take two approaches: one is to raise unfounded questions about the protesters themselves; the other, is to question the expenditure of taxpayer funds to protect First Amendment rights.
As to the first point, any impartial observer must concede the overall peacefulness of the protesters, especially given their numbers and length of time they have been at the city hall free speech plaza. To be sure, some incidents have occurred. Some have been provoked by unwise decisions of authorities, such as the Halloween night move against protesters because they had food tables set up at the site. This issue is in the courts. Some of the incidents have resulted from homeless people attaching themselves to the demonstration, sometimes even gravitating there just for food. That is unfortunate but more a symptom of Austin’s homelessness issues than anything to do with the Occupy protests.
More to the point, however, is that the authorities use these isolated incidents to paint a broad canvass against the protesters, when the overwhelming majority of protestors are and have continuously been totally peaceable. Even worse, the authorities often relate sketchy, unsubstantiated charges for which they never offer any proof other than the own prejudicial hyperbole. One would hope that the media would begin to call the authorities to task on this irresponsible tactic against Occupy Austin, and investigate the facts.
On the second point, about taxpayer costs, again this is a tactic being used here in Austin and in other venues in an attempt to delegitimize the message of the protests. It is precisely maneuvers like this by government authorities against which Occupy Austin protests. If the City was really concerned about the expense, most of which is due to the number of police it deploys at the free speech plaza, it might consider trimming back the amount of officers stationed there, which is clearly excessive.
Moreover, if the City was really concerned about taxpayers’ money, it ought to end its blatantly unconstitutional procedure of summarily “banning” protesters from the free speech plaza, which clearly violates the First Amendment and exposes the City to liability. One would hope that the media—as both bastions and beneficiaries of the First Amendment—would begin to report not just on costs related to the protests, but on the critical free speech issues involved when the city’s government bans protestors for exercising their First Amendment rights. These bans have been imposed for periods of up to a year. This issue, too, is in the federal court. Some of the bannings are clearly ridiculous (and unconstitutional) – such as banning a person from returning to City Hall for any purpose (including to engage in free speech) because his dog got off its leash.
We call upon the City to end its efforts to discredit the Occupy Austin movement and to respect the First Amendment, clearly our most cherished and valuable democratic right in our Constitution. The City should divert its resources elsewhere for legitimate purposes, rather than for doggedly using and defending unconstitutional measures. And we encourage the media to report not just on the costs of protecting free speech, but also the benefits of that speech and the harms that occur when the government restricts lawful speakers from protesting against it. The cost to citizens of limiting free speech is incalculable.
- SIERRA CLUB TEACH-IN at Occupy Austin on moving beyond coal as part of Mercury Aware ness Week. Warm drinks. 5pm. Capitol south steps.