From Texas to Kentucky, the service economy doesn’t serve up a future
Occupy Charleston, WV
AUSTIN, Texas — Under a photovoltaic glass trellis, on the terraced steps of Austin’s modernist City Hall, dozens of occupiers sprawl amid sleeping bags and sleeping dogs. A few people tap on computers while others nestled in bedding sit up, looking as if they are slowly sloughing off a hangover. It’s about 4 in the afternoon.
Trying to escape the pungence of fermenting compost, I gingerly climb the steps, scooting around one young woman with a brown sweater knotted around her waist and blue jeans around her ankles. A few feet away, a wiry guy in a flower-print sundress with body hair spilling out like Borat in a mankini strums a guitar.
At a table that passes for the kitchen on the plaza below a hefty man with a bandanna hanging off his chin eagerly offers mashed beans and vegetables on bread to passersby. A dozen homeless youth pass around a bowl as three impassive cops hang on the edge of the occupation. Two older women waltz to music only they can hear and a shirtless man grabs his shorts with one hand and a protest sign with the other as he chases a death-defying dog across four lanes of traffic.
When I describe the scene to Michelle Millette, an organizer with Occupy Austin, she laughs and in a rising voice says, “Keep Austin weird!” She explains that the encampment, which is mostly street people, stems from the fact that “Austin has a huge homeless population. A lot of the people are there because they say, ‘This is the only place I can legally sleep because I’ve been chased out of everyplace else.’” Plus, Millette adds, because the city has banned tents, “it looks like a hobo camp to people walking by. Many people are afraid to leave their stuff because it’s just lying out there.”