Trevor Hoag

U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel declared a city policy used to ban Occupy Austin protesters from City Hall unconstitutional this past Thursday, following suit with similar recent rulings nationwide.

The declaration from Yeakel comes as part of the final ruling in a lawsuit filed against the city by Rodolfo Sanchez and Kristopher Sleeman, two protesters with Occupy Austin. The Austin movement is a subset of the national movement, Occupy Wall Street, which promotes financial and social equality. The suit was filed by the plaintiffs in response to being banned from City Hall in October of last year, according to the order.

The overturned policy is titled Criminal Trespass Notices on City Property and addresses the rules and procedures for issuing bans from city property that often accompanies criminal trespass charges received there. The policy allows for police discretion in determining the duration of a ban. It also specifies the review and appeal process for the bans, according to the order.

Sanchez and Sleeman were both banned from City Hall following criminal trespass arrests. Because of the policy’s vagueness and appeal process, it was ruled to be an “erroneous deprivation” of First and 14th Amendment freedoms, according to the order.

The overturned policy was signed into effect last November by City Manager Marc Ott, roughly one month after Occupy Austin protesting at City Hall began, according to the order.

English graduate student Trevor Hoag has participated in protests with the Austin and UT Occupy movements and is focusing his graduate dissertation on the national movement’s struggles. He said the policy is one example of many policies passed throughout the country in regard to the Occupy movement that trample First Amendment rights. He said the policy sets a precedent that could be used to defend public freedoms for years to come.

“It shocked me deeply the way that the protesters were responded to because it seemed to be such an obvious disregard for freedom of speech and the First Amendment,” he said.

Hoag said he hopes this ruling will now be used as a precedent to dismiss other policies in order to further protect the freedom of speech that the nation was built on.

“The precedents from these cases are going to be important because the same things are going to happen again,” Hoag said. “Legal and other actions need to be taken to ensure that those actions, those protest actions, can be as successful as possible in the future. People deserve access to their full rights of speech and assembly without fear.”

The policy enacted in Febuary restricting public use of the City Hall between the hours of 10 p.m. and 6 a.m. remains in effect. Hoag said he hopes the policy is overturned next so the Occupy encampment of the City Hall can resume again and the movement can gain back lost visibility.

Dr. Edmund Gordon, African and African Diaspora Studies professor, leads students and faculty on a tour highlighting periods of racism at UT Friday morning. Stops along the way included statues of Confederate soldiers, Littlefield Fountain and Darrel K. Royal Stadium.

Photo Credit: Ty Hardin | Daily Texan Staff

An inscription next to the Littlefield Fountain honoring the Confederacy is one example of the University's racist legacy, Edmund Gordon, professor of African and African diaspora studies explained on an Occupy UT-sponsored tour.

Gordon led about 30 students around campus in an effort to display UT's racist heritage. Gordon led the students to Littlefield House, the South Mall, San Jacinto Dormitory, Darrel K. Royal Stadium, the Texas Cowboys Pavilion, Creekside Dormitory and Robert Lee Moore Hall.

“The purpose of this tour is to point out the neo-Confederate aspects of UT's history and geography,” said Gordon.

Gordon said the University's geography and history of racism are products of the time period when it was founded in 1883.

“The University came into being during a particular time, and its initial kind of build-out and conceptualization was done at a time when racial issues were really coming to the fore,” Gordon said. “Privileged and elite white folks felt like vindicating the Confederacy and what the Confederacy stood for.”

The South Mall contains numerous references to the Old South, Gordon said, including statues of Confederate leaders that flank the west side of the lawn.

“The truth becomes revealed when you spread the branches,” he said.

Amy Rattananinad, anthropology senior and Occupy UT member, said Occupy UT organized the event to raise awareness about UT's history and to promote racial equality.

English graduate student and Occupy UT member Trevor Hoag, said Occupy UT's larger goal includes putting an end to racism and racial inequality.

“The Occupy movement as a whole began at its instantiation as a movement for economic justice,” Hoag said. “But questions of economic justice and racial justice are intertwined.”

Hoag said UT's ever increasing tuition prevents people from many middle and lower-class families from attending the University. “Who are those families? Well, they're disproportionately people of color,” said Hoag. “By creating financial barriers, you're creating race barriers.”

Rattananinad, who helped organize the event, said she wants the symbols of the Confederacy remaining on campus to be removed.

“We definitely don't want to keep glorifying racists on campus,” she said.

However, Gordon said he found it important to preserve and study these images and symbols rather than getting rid of them.

“I am one who is not for erasing those things,” he said. “We need to leave the history intact in its embodied form,” he said. “To deny the past and its importance to the present is to deny the truth.”

Dave Cortez holds a modified American flag in front of the Texas capitol on Saturday afternoon. Cortez was part of the “December

Photo Credit: Jorge Corona | Daily Texan Staff

Occupy Austin protesters marched from the Capitol to the corner of 24th Street and Guadalupe Street on Saturday to express their opposition of banks that received bailout funds and to celebrate the restrictions lifted from protesters on Capitol grounds.

The group of about 75 people, escorted by police, protested in the “December 3rd: Be Heard” march in front of the Chase and Wells Fargo banks on Guadalupe Street and gave their support for the University Federal Credit Union on the wet Saturday afternoon.

Protester Dave Cortez said two people closed their bank accounts on Saturday and approximately $500,200 has been withdrawn from major banks in Austin since the movement began their bank action efforts.

Protester Ihor Gowda said the group was happy to march regardless of the rain because of the new state policy that allows protesters to have 24-hour access to the Capitol grounds.

“We don’t know what made them change their policy,” Gowada said. “It’s kind of mysterious, but I think they are trying to avoid the legal implications of a lawsuit challenging their old three hour policy.”

English graduate student and protester Trevor Hoag said Saturday’s march adjacent to the University increases the visibility of the movement, but he is disappointed with UT’s overall response to the Occupy Austin protests.

“It’s frustrating for me to see thousands of students at other schools protesting with Occupy but not at UT,” Hoag said.

Hoag said Occupy UT will attract more participants when students learn more about the group after they host more events in the future.

“If students know more about what they can do, then they will get more involved,” Hoag said. “It’s not about anyone’s particular ideology, and we invite everyone to participate because these issues affect us all.”

Protester Jamie Tilley said the public reaction to the march was extremely supportive.

“People gave us a lot of peace signs and horn honks,” Tilley said. “In the past we’ve had some negative reactions, but today there was pure support.”

Bryan Gellerup, a protester who closed his Chase bank account during the march, said the clerks were friendly until he told them why he wanted to close his account.

“I said they were an evil corporation,” Gellerup said. “I told them I disagreed with their banking practices, and that’s when they kind of got short with me.”

Gellerup said he was happy to participate in a march so close to the University because it offers increased exposure for Occupy Austin.

“More people will hear about it and see what is happening even if it is raining,” Gellerup said. “We are gaining a lot of attention, which is increasing public support for our issues.”

Economics graduate student Benny Sperisen said he isn’t certain what the movement’s goals are and thinks the march is just a way for people to vent their anger.

“I don’t know if they have produced a set of demands for politicians,” Sperisen said. “I just think this march is an expression of anger about how things are going right now in the country.”

Printed on Monday, December 5th, 2011 as: Occupy Austin marches in opposition to big banks

UT students will be participating in Bank Transfer Day Saturday, where they will close their accounts at commercial banks and open new ones at local credit unions.

While Bank Transfer Day is not officially affiliated with Occupy Wall Street, its goal has garnered support from the movement and the protesters in its satellite occupancies.

The planned event comes after commercial banks announced new and increased service fees for their customers. Kristen Christian, a Los Angeles-based art gallery owner, created the Bank Transfer Day event on Facebook in response to imposed fees and poor customer service from Bank of America.

Credit unions, like the University Federal Credit Union, are usually smaller and locally based. Commercial banks like the Bank of America are financial corporations with branches across the world.

Bank of America announced plans in September to start charging customers $5 a month when they use debit cards to make a purchase. Within days, Citi Bank raised the monthly maintenance fee on its mid-level checking account to $15 a month from $7.50 a month and upped the required minimum balance of linked accounts from $6,000 to $15,000.

After a month of public outcry over the new fee, Bank of America dropped proposed plans to charge debit usage fees Tuesday.

These debit fees are in response to legislation passed earlier this year that imposed a federal cap on debit card “swipe fees,” or the fees charged to retailers by major banks every time a customer pays with a debit card. The legislation capped those fees to 21 cents per transaction from a previous average of 44 cents.

Last year, congressional legislation also required banks to give customers the option to have transactions declined instead of being charged overdraft fees.

To recoup those lost revenue streams, the Wall Street Journal predicted earlier this year, banks would start charging for services.

UT’s own Occupy satellite will be participating in Bank Transfer Day. Headed by rhetoric and writing assistant instructor Trevor Hoag, the group consisting of 35 Facebook-confirmed participants will be walking down Guadalupe to the Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Chase branches to close their accounts Saturday morning.

Hoag said he transferred to the University Federal Credit Union, which is based in Austin, two weeks ago after learning that they offered the comparable services to what he was receiving at Chase. He also said that UFCU was the more ethical banking option for himself.

“Credit unions weren’t complicit in the bailout and they weren’t complicit in the predatory lending,” Hoag said.

The past month has seen bank transfers similar to Hoag’s. According to a poll conducted by Independent Community Bankers of America, 60 percent of responding independent banks saw an increase in new account openings.

That movement of consumers is happening in Austin as well.

UFCU spokeswoman Sheila Wojcik said at the three branches in the central Austin area, the number of new accounts opened in October was twice their original projection.

“People directly said in many instances that they were transferring from a big national bank like Bank of America,” Wojcik said. “We have seen an impact.”

Senior finance lecturer Regina Hughes said the primary difference between credit unions and commercial banks is the ownership.

Hughes said commercial banks, like Bank of America and Wells Fargo, are for-profit entities owned by shareholders. Credit unions are controlled by its members, who directly make policies for other members and are not necessarily looking to make a huge profit. They also do not provide the same variety of services, such as types of investments, offered by major commercial banks. Commercial banks, she said, are corporations that invite people to become customers, but their goals can be different and separate from those customers.

The services offered by credit unions are enough for architectural engineering and philosophy sophomore Kathleen Hetrick, who said she will be participating in Bank Transfer Day.

“This doesn’t have anything to do with capitalism. It has to do with companies not functioning right and stealing from people. It’s a morality issue almost,” Hetrick said. “I can’t really do too much about the bank structure itself, but I can take my money out of their bank.”

Published on Friday, November 4, 2011 as: Students to switch accounts on first Bank Transfer Day