Photo Credit: Candice Bernd
By Oliver Powell
On February 21, activists in Austin held a memorial downtown to mourn a homeless person who froze to death and honor other lives lost during last week’s harsh winter storm. Although the death toll is still undetermined, some reports say nearly 80 people died as a result of the capitalist crisis during the days-long freeze and record-setting low temperatures. The general demand of the protest was for the capitalist state to provide more housing and better living conditions for workers, the poor, and the homeless.
Speakers at the event, some of them homeless individuals, shared emotional stories of their suffering during the crisis, with anger mounting as the crowd agreed that the cause of this crisis were the capitalists who put profits before the well-being of the people.
The event was organized by Stop the Sweeps Austin, an organization that defends homeless encampments in Austin from police harassment. Also in attendance were Austin Mutual Aid and United Neighborhood Defense Movement.
After gathering at Auditorium Shores, attendees spontaneously began to march through downtown, where they eventually made their way to City Hall. Marchers carried signs and banners saying, “Mourn the dead, fight for the living!” and raised chants demanding the city house its homeless population in empty hotels and buildings across the city. The march made its way to the W Hotel building, where the multi-millionaire mayor, Steve Adler, owns a condo. Marchers chanted, “Open the hotels! Start with the W!” and denounced Adler for his inadequate response to the crisis last week.
As the march grew in size, three Austin Police Department (APD) cruisers arrived on the scene and began tailing the protesters. The cruisers flashed their lights and attempted to surround and intimidate the protesters, but their efforts were ignored by the marchers, who continued towards City Hall.
At City Hall, a homeless protester spoke about APD’s policy toward the homeless populations. He pointed out that the police, rather than mobilizing to distribute goods and resources to the people during a crisis, use their resources to harass the homeless and destroy their homes in routine ‘sweeps’ across the city.
Other protesters gave speeches denouncing the local and state government for their failure to protect the people of Austin during the crisis. One attendee rallied the crowd against the city of Austin for focusing more on highway maintenance than on the lives of its citizens, stating, “They hope you die before they spend a dollar on you!”
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