Occupy Houston protesters looked surprisingly well-rested after spending their first full night in Hermann Square Park next to City Hall. According to the group, more than 60 protesters camped out in occupation overnight Thursday.
While this morning’s occupiers milled about tables of donated breakfast bars and coffee, a smaller group of organizers made preparations for a temporary relocation as the Bayou City Art Festival sets up on the other side of the park.
“Our legal team met with their legal team and we decided to move for the weekend,” said Dustin Phipps, one of the initial planners of the Occupy Houston event. At 4 p.m. Friday afternoon, the group marches to Eleanor Tinsley Park for two days of occupation there.
“Let’s face it,” he laughed, “starting a turf war with a non-profit arts organization wouldn’t look so good.”
“Our legal team met with their legal team and we decided to move for the weekend,” said Dustin Phipps, one of the protest organizers.
Phipps says that the march from Market Square to the J.P. Morgan Chase Bank tower Thursday drew more than 700 people (reporters who witnessed it, including CultureMap's own Whitney Radley, and the Houston Police Department put the number at closer to 300). The group occupied Hermann Square Park in front of City Hall shortly thereafter, getting joined by other like-minded organizations such as Good Jobs Great Houston later.
There were drum circles, break dancers and musicians entertaining crowds throughout the day.
Occupier Alex Nikkhoo noted a considerable amount of cooperation from the Houston police, who help protesters 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.”
The “We are the 99%” slogan — referencing the disparity in wealth between the top one percent in America and the rest of the country — has become a powerful mantra for occupy movements across the country, since the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began last month. Concurrent rallies were held across the United States Thursday, including large events in Dallas, Austin and San Antonio.
Even down in the Valley, an Occupy McAllen protest drew more than 100 people.
During a recent talk in Washington, DC, 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. They thought it was unfair."
“There was this angry counter protester shouting at us, trying to start trouble with people,” occupier Alex Nikkhoo said. “The police removed him. It was amazing."
Acting as the Friday morning spokesperson in Houston, Maria Heg — who helped to organize the Montrose Land Defense Coalition in response to H-E-B's Montrose plans — described the occupy movement as an exercise in community building against the destructive forces of social and economic inequality.
“Occupy Houston has a horizontal structure, meaning that all decisions are made by group consent,” she said. “This is a dynamic group and we aim to be mutually respectful of each person’s voice.”
Thursday evening at the corner of Smith and Walker, protesters chanted “this is what democracy looks like” while waving anti-corporate banners and upside-down American flags. Cars honked as they passed, showing support.
“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.”
“I was smoking a cigarette on the sidewalk this morning when this guy in a huge truck pulled up,” said a Houston occupier, who was getting ready to head to work for the day. “I was a little nervous, but then he rolled down the window and handed me boxes of donuts.”
“It was really pretty cool.”