Occupy Houston began its recent push with a large demonstration Thursday morning. Gathering at Market Square, the group marched through Downtown to the JPMorgan Chase Building. CultureMap reporter Whitney Radley and the Houston Police Department both estimated about 300 participants, while an Occupy Houston tweet reported more than 700.
Demonstrators shared Hermann Square Park in front of City Hall until Friday afternoon, as the group temporarily relocated to Eleanor Tinsley Park to make room for the Bayou City Art Festival.
Thursday's early morning meet-up at Market Square brought Uncle Sam characters (one on stilts) and numerous protesters in Guy Fawkes masks, two recurring icons throughout occupy movements across the country. Later in the day, as demonstrators occupied Hermann Square Park, there were drum circles, break-dancers,and musicians entertaining crowds into the night.
A motley band of musicians, which included a brass section and a handful of drummers, offered upbeat tunes for Thursday's protestors.
One of the initial Occupy Houston organizers, Craig Blaylock, clarifies that he's not the leader of the group, but rather a part of the group's horizontal structure. The movement, he said, is all about "positive collective thinking," but Blaylock is quick to assert that his personal sentiments do not necessarily reflect those of the others in attendance.
“All decisions are made by group consent,” says Occupy Houston volunteer Maria Heg. “This is a dynamic group and we aim to be mutually respectful of each person’s voice.”
"We always need more people and we always need more signs," occupier Maria Heg told CultureMap Friday morning after more than 60 protestors slept on Hermann Square Park's lush green grass for a full night of occupation.
That evening, jazz musician Cory Wilson and members of the Free Radicals entertained occupiers late into the night.
At the corner of Smith and Walker, just off Hermann Square Park, protestors chanted “this is what democracy looks like” while waving banners and upside-down American flags. Cars honked as they passed on Thursday evening, showing support.
Local professor "Dr. V" works with the aide committee for Occupy Houston.
"I'm too old to sleep on the concrete," he said at the Thursday morning march, "but I will be back for the weekend. There are a number of patriots who will be occupying as long as necessary."
"My biggest concern is the tax code. It just breeds corruption," says Houston salesperson Christopher Keeble. "Politicians use it to create loopholes and breaks, and it gives them too much power. We need a strict system where everyone pays... I think that this is something the left and the right can get behind."
A reference to the disparity in wealth between the top 1 percent and the rest of America's citizens, the "we are the 99%" slogan has become the occupy movement's rallying cry.
Occupier Alex Nikkhoo noted a considerable amount of cooperation from the Houston police, who helped protestors navigate through city traffic during Thursday's downtown march.
“There was this angry counter protester shouting at us, trying to start trouble with people,” said Nikkhoo, a Houston DJ and producer. “The police removed him. It was amazing. The HPD is part of the 99 percent, just like the rest of us, and they’re showing their support.”
Throngs of demonstrators marched on City Hall Thursday. An Uncle Sam on stilts reminded onlookers, "We're doing this for you! You are the 99 percent!"
Reporting from Thursday morning's march, CultureMap's Whitney Radley noted: "People walking to work in suits, carrying file boxes and briefcases and Starbucks cups, got caught up in the crowd and walked along to the beat of the drums, alongside aged hippies and young punks."
During a recent talk in Washington, D.C., Vice President Joe Biden likened the occupy movement to the grassroots frustration of the Tea Party.
"What is the core of that protest?” he asked the audience about the Wall Street demonstrations. “The core is the bargain has been breached. The core is the American people do not think the system is fair, or on the level.”
"There's a lot in common with the Tea Party," he said. "The Tea Party started, why? TARP [2008's Troubled Asset Relief Program]. They thought it was unfair."
“This is not really a big protest town,” said civil rights defense lawyer Randall Kallinen, who is offering pro bono legal advice for Occupy Houston. “It’s great to see such a big turnout.”
"We're here to familiarize Occupy Houston with their rights," Kallinen said, who has worked with the ACLU. "We're been looking up laws for the demonstrators and will threaten city officials with lawsuits when absolutely necessary."
The group's legal team helped to negotiate this weekend's temporary occupation of Eleanor Tinsley Park, while the Bayou City Art Festival uses the park grounds at Hermman Square.
The group will return to Hermann Square park Monday to continue the occupation