Silent Message

Occupy Houston protests big oil at Energy Day — and it's a family friendly affair for all

Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson
Photo by Julie Knutson

Donning white T-shirts stenciled with the 99 percent logo, more than 100 Occupy Houston demonstrators marched around Hermann Square Park in front of city hall Saturday afternoon. It was an act of silent protest aimed at the city-sponsored Energy Day 2011 event.

Uniformed and plain-clothed Houston Police officers kept watch, asking protesters to stay in a single-file line to free up sidewalk space.

The Energy Day event filled the entire park, as attendees enjoyed a catchy smooth jazz band and scores of booths maintained by companies such as Shell Oil, United Airlines, and engineering and military contractor KBR.

In Tranquility Park across the street from the main festivities, where Occupy Houston set up camp several days ago, Energy Day hosted an additional set of booths promoting environmentally-friendly energy sources.

Douglas Burgos, who help to initiate the silent protest action this week, said the idea came about after reading the Energy Day website, which advertised Saturday's fair as a family event.

“We didn’t scare kids or alienate the adults with a loud protest,” he said. “Instead, we decided to put tape and dollar bills across our mouth’s to symbolize that 99 percent of Americans are not given a voice.

"Most of us just don’t have the money to buy politicians.”

A recent graduate of the University of California-Berkley, Burgos hoped the protesters numbers (there were more than 100) would attract fair attendees to the anti-greed movement's cause.

“We picked white for the shirts since it's the complete opposite of the color of oil," said Maria Heg, who serves as a facilitator and informal spokesperson for Occupy Houston.

"We stand in protest again the continued government support of oil companies, who yield profits by causing long-term damage."

As at most of the occupying protests across the country, Occupy Houston maintains a full medical booth as well as an area offering free food.

Area workers have been generous with their support, noted a surprised occupier.

"The other day, this women in a nice car drove up dropped off bottled water for us. This morning someone gave us breakfast burritos — half vegan, half meat."

High school teacher and silkscreen designer Patrick McSwain created the poster he used in the march. Over the past year, he has protested budget cuts to education and fluctuating student-teacher ratios that result in more children per classroom.

Occupy Houston spent the morning spraypainting and airbrushing posters for the march. As the 12:30 p.m. start time approached, volunteers switched to T-shirt stenciling to ensure that protesters who wanted it could get the 99% logo on their white shirts.

During the silent march, volunteers for Occupy Houston handed out fliers sharing information about proposed Texas tax cuts for oil companies, state subsidizing of Formula One racing and the environmental effects of TransCanada's Keystone Pipeline for tar sands.

Promoting a strong education initiative, Energy Day offered a host of activities for younger attendees. Kids could fly a weather balloon with the University of Houston, visit an off-shore oil rig exhibit, hunt fossils with Apache Oil, or enjoy an educational iPad gaming area with Keystone Pipeline owners TransCanada.

"I'm glad to see how respectful the protestors have been today," said Natalie Joubert, senior policy director for the Consumer Energy Alliance, which organized Energy Day. "I hope they recognize that this is mainly an education event."

To make way for the Energy Day event on Occupy Houston's original grounds in Hermann Square Park, demonstrators set up camp across Walker Street several days ago. Sleeping gear covered the new site, as the number of overnight protestors increased this weekend.

One of Occupy Houston's key facilitators, medical student Dustin Phipps, has been splitting his time between overnight protests with the occupy movement and his academic work at the University of Houston.

A number of demonstrators brought their children to today's march, helping to mesh with Energy Day's family-friendly atmosphere.

Across the United States, the Occupy movement has made efforts to bring local municipal workers like police officers and firefights into demonstrations. While HPD keeps the peace during protests, Occupy Houston volunteers are quick to note the surprising amount of cooperation they've received from local law enforcement.

This cropped up on Occupy Houston's Twitter feed around 5 p.m Saturday.: "Only in Texas! @ . Mayor Parker says big oil is here to stay... without kickbacks they'd be held accountable..."

(Parker's office points out that the mayor has said the first part of the  sentence - "big oil is here to stay"  - but never said the last part in the Occupy Houston tweet.  The use of  ellipses indicates that the last part of the sentence is the sentiment of the tweeter.)

Occupy Houston facilitator Scott Gregory laughed about sharing the park across the street from Hermann Square with Energy Day's alternative fuel booths. He's hopeful the representatives of those organizations might reach out to Occupy Houston at some point.