Occupy Houston got its eviction notice Monday afternoon after four months of continuous protest at Tranquility Park. One of the longest-running encampments in the United States to date, the anti-greed group was given till sundown to remove any belongings from their muddy corner of the park.
"I told Occupy Houston leaders in January they need to decide the next phase for their effort," Mayor Annise Parker said in a prepared statement.
"I support their right to free speech and I'm sympathetic to their call for reform of the financial system, but they can't simply continue to occupy a space indefinitely. We have to get the area ready for the spring festivals and that necessitates their leaving."
"Time for Occupy Houston to move into a new phase," Annise Parker twe eted Monday night, "though I respect their right to protest and agree with many of their calls for reform."
The mayor noted that the Houston Police Department has spent $54,917.68 and $287,268 in overtime and regular salaries, respectively. Houston Parks Department estimates more than $13,000 will be needed to properly restore the park.
Across the street in Herman Square Park, a small number of HPD officers watched about 30 occupiers gather in Tranquility as the sky grew dark.
Protester Racheal Tate told CultureMap she rushed over to the encampment after reading about the eviction on the group's Facebook page.
"Occupy people always talk about the chance of getting thrown out," she said. "Still though, this was a total freaking surprise. It's like they secretly waited for the right moment."
Longtime occupier Shere Dore was busy packing up artwork created during the early days of the occupation in October 2011.
"We're try to gather everything that's sentimental to us in case cops come in and start trashing items," she said. "Other occupations have dealt with that in the past, so we feel we know what to do in this situation."
Just before 7 p.m., HPD barracked Walker and formally requested Occupy Houston to leave the premises. Police horses arrived, as protestors gathered signs and marched out of the park in one final rally.
Phase two . . . Politics?
In early February, CultureMap spoke with Houston occupier Joe Roche to discuss the Occupy Houston's accomplishments and future plans. As an informal Occupy representative at weekly city council meetings, he felt political involvement kept local government transparent and created an ongoing dialogue between the city and "the 99 percent."
"We've re fined our skills here, but the camping trip is over," said longtime occupier Joe Roche. "This is a humanitarian and political movement of mainly non-Republicans . . . and it's still evolving."
As protestors packed up their belongings, Roche still maintained that political action would be the key to the movement's success.
A former campaigner for both Republicans and Democratic candidates — he left the right in the early 2000s over his opposition to the death penalty — Roche said he is looking to a possible full-time return to the political arena.
"Honestly, politics is what I know," he explained. "We've refined our skills here, but the camping trip is over. This is a humanitarian and political movement of mainly non-Republicans . . . and it's still evolving."
The Soft Boot
"Time for Occupy Houston to move into a new phase," Parker tweeted Monday night, "though I respect their right to protest and agree with many of their calls for reform."
The movement itself reported via Twitter that all participants were safe and no arrested were made. Protestors said they would continue to push for social and economic equality, though, as of yet, no further meetings have been confirmed.