Austin: Racist City Government Clears Out Black Activist Encampment

By Sandra Harris

The nearly month-long occupation of Rosewood Park in East Austin by the organization 400+1 came to an end without confrontation at 11AM on Thursday, March 11 as city parks employees accompanied by Austin police officers began to dismantle tents and upend the makeshift campsite that had been set up, dumping items into garbage trucks.

A tent at the encampment during the occupation.

400+1, a group which describes itself as, “a framework for the global empowerment and wealth of Black people,” initiated their occupation on February 14, the same day that the extreme winter storm set in on Texas. They declared Rosewood Park the capital of “Orisha Land”, which comprised an area of the historically Black neighborhood of East Austin. As part of its founding, the group conducted a vehicle caravan and march around the 11-mile perimeter of their self-designated “cop free zone”, saying it was now under the protection of 400+1 and that they would defend their encampment against any attempts to vacate it.

During and after the storm, organizers utilized the space to shelter and feed community members who were struggling through the effects of the capitalist-caused crisis in the wake of the extreme conditions.

They named the encampment “Jordan’s Place” after Jordan Walton, who Austin police murdered on February 10 while he was having a mental health episode.

During the almost 26 days of occupation, the City of Austin made various attempts to signal to camp organizers that they intended to shut them down. In contrast, Austin has not been enforcing camping bans elsewhere, but made special efforts to shut down a political camp set up in protest of the City’s racism and APD’s reactionary presence in east Austin.

Representatives of 400+1 at their camp last week

In an interview conducted with Tribune, 400+1 representatives said that the encampment faced racist harassment from passersby, but also gained significant community support, especially from the working class and poor Black families still living in the area.

The encampment had been expecting an eviction since receiving notice, originally being told that they needed to leave by noon on Friday, March 5, which came and went without any action by the state. The group claimed that they were prepared to defend the encampment, though the final eviction saw no confrontation with the state’s forces.

The occupation has come to its expected end, similar to larger experiments such as the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone in Seattle or the Occupy Wall Street movement. A substantial difference is that 400+1 is primarily comprised of members of Austin’s Black community who have grown tired of the same expected avenues for “change” such as electoral politics. Some are Austin natives who know deeply the struggle of seeing their community displaced and their historical neighborhoods reconfigured by market forces and the ruling class.

Temporary encampments and self-declared “autonomous/cop-free zones” cannot accomplish or sustain their stated aims, power in the hands of the state rests on their violent apparatus, power in the hands of the community cannot be set up or built, it must be conquered and defended, with the appropriate use of violence. The only solution of the ruling class’s racism against Black people in the US is socialist revolution which will destroy private property which is at the root of all oppression and exploitation.

The militancy of oppressed peoples like the activists with 400+1 must be supported as it breaks from typical legal avenues. When community members and activist leaders occupy a public park and attempted to turn it into a real community center, this was a good thing. However the old reactionary state will never tolerate Black people choosing their own destiny, and the people must be organized in the fight for their daily demands, to seize and defend power, nationwide, with armed revolution. The loss of the occupation is a loss to the community, it is also a lesson which can be used to improve the fighting capacity, the tactics and strategies of the people.