Austin: Activists Begin Tent Occupation at City Hall in Protest of Homeless Camping Ban

By Josefina Morales

On May 3, activists and homeless protesters established a tent occupation on the plaza in front of Austin City Hall in protest of the electoral passage of Proposition B, which reinstated a previous ban on public camping in Travis County. The reinstatement of the camping ban will place further hardship on the homeless in Austin area, who are already criminalized under capitalist society regardless of bourgeois legal formalities.

Activists have stated their intention to remain until May 11 as they push for an end to the camping ban, a stop to city “sweeps” of homeless camps, and year-long apartment vouchers for the homeless, among other demands. Signs displayed at the occupation read, “This could be YOU—you can’t sweep us away!” and “Working class solidarity—no camp ban, housing!”

The occupation is organized by local activist groups Little Petal Alliance and Stop the Sweeps. Their supporters, some of them homeless themselves, lined the sidewalk outside city hall with tents, using social media to request supplies and call for more people to join them.

On the day the occupation kicked off, activists addressed a crowd who expressed anger towards the City of Austin and the ruling-class interests who backed the camping ban. One homeless man at the encampment told Tribune about his mounting struggle to survive after losing work and housing due to the economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, saying that Austin’s services to the homeless are “just not enough for the amount of people that are out here on the streets. The pandemic has probably made the homeless population twice as large now. There’s more and more people like me, who can’t afford these condos. … Austin has a lot of resources, and they knew this was coming and they didn’t do anything about it.” He also told Tribune that police harassment of homeless camps happens regardless of whether camping bans are active or not.

Stop the Sweeps has previously brought attention to the donation of more than $36,000 by the Austin Police Association (APA, the local police union) to Save Austin Now, the “bipartisan citizen’s group” composed of ruling-class politicians and business interests. APA president Ken Casaday also sits on the board of Save Austin Now.

The occupation of Austin City Hall is expected to continue for now despite reports of reactionary and police harassment. Like similar past activist occupations, the encampment cannot achieve long-term, permanent gains for the people, only the conquest of power through armed force can establish the basis for a new society. Nonetheless, progressives and revolutionaries should oppose the state’s predictable repression and violence against such encampments, knowing that the Old State wishes to silence any protest that is outside the bounds of the ruling class’s restrictive and useless bureaucracies, including its decrepit electoral process.

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