AUSTIN — An American flag inched into the waiting hands of an Austin City Hall employee. The rope running along the side of the flagpole bounced off the metal edge, making a loud crashing noise. About 30 feet away, under two bright fluorescent lights, 31 people have gathered on a March evening for an Occupy Austin general assembly.
Three evenings a week, Occupy holds its assemblies in the City Hall mezzanine. The continuous occupation that brought the group notoriety ended in February, when the Austin Police Department cleared the protesters after the city limited non-official business uses of the plaza to between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m.
The sight of people camped out at City Hall and of protesters waving signs that proclaimed the will of the “99%” have disappeared from the intersection of West Cesar Chavez and Lavaca streets.
With the visual symbol of the movement gone, organizers have had to rethink the value of a consistent physical presence to their goal of social change. Occupy Austin is working through growing pains. A movement that prizes its lack of hierarchy is trying to figure out how to achieve the financial and organizational structure that will allow it to survive.
Occupy Austin still has an estimated 60 to 75 active members. They do not work as a single group but instead are organized into “work groups” that focus on individual goals. Kit O’Connell, who manages Occupy Austin’s social media efforts, describes it as an “umbrella movement” that targets “systemic problems” surrounding social class in the United States.
One of Occupy’s big successes so far started in the Bank Action group. Since last fall, it has pressured the city of Austin to move its money out of accounts at large national banks. In response, the Austin City Council decided unanimously on March 1 to study whether to close accounts with Bank of America and shift the money to local credit unions.