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A month into the HemisFair encampment, OccupySA prepares for the long haul

Photo: Greg Harman, License: N/A

Greg Harman

Occupy SA marchers at HemisFair Park in solidarity with an international call for a Robin Hood tax on bank transactions.

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Saturday’s familiar refrain marching past the Alamo in support of the Robin Hood tax — a proposal to the G20 leaders assembled in France from global Occupy — was a simple one: “The banks got bailed out! You got sold out!” As we wind along the sidewalks and into Alamo Plaza, the public’s support of the message seems obvious: horns honk, thumbs are raised, waves, smiles. Only a couple of disgruntled Alamo tourists spit epithets like “get a job” — an obvious non-starter given the recessionary reaction at the heart of the occupation. The plight of the “99 percent” is something even the security guard inside the Bank of America building seems to understand today. After pulling a flyer through the tinted door, he flashes the victory sign to the group of 50-some marchers as they pass. Despite what some more seasoned local activists consider an overly deferential attitude toward the police (the campers relocated from first choice Travis Park to HemisFair at the City’s request), it seems the police, too, get it. One Park Police officer riding by on his bike also flashes a peace sign as he peddles past. In the parlance of what has become a global movement: they are a part of the 99 percent, too.

Along the route, we’re joined by a few onlookers. One of these introduces himself as Julio and comments on the absence of the established social-justice organizations. “For me it’s more of a class war: the working class versus the bourgeois,” he says. “Nowadays people that have jobs have to work harder, they work longer, for less benefits or no benefits at all. And they’re not allowed to say anything, because there’s a thousand applicants right there behind them.”

Jobs are down; American productivity is way up. Workers are running scared.

“If the economy is growing but only a few are enjoying the benefits, it goes to our sense of fairness,” economist Emmanuel Saez told The New York Times recently. “It can have important political consequences.”

Why they occupy

Guy Fawkes’ masks aside, the makeup of Occupy San Antonio is not one of familiar faces. That is: these are not habitual protestors. They are our unemployed and homeless. They are local high-tech workers and teachers. Most seem to be getting their first taste of marches and sign-waving. And they are veterans. That last fact shouldn’t come as a surprise. According to a recent study by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Housing and Urban Development, a disproportionately large share of young U.S. veterans are homeless — though 18 to 30 year olds make up only 5 percent of the nation’s veteran population, they are 9 percent of the 145,000 veterans that were homeless at some point last year.

As a former business owner and veteran, lifelong San Antonio resident Julio Gonzales resisted the message of Occupy at first. But it began to stew inside him, and he’s since attended march after march weaving through downtown. “It might be a little late for me, but I’m doing this for my grandkids,” he told me. “I mean the banks got bailed out nice and easy. Their CEOs are still making over $300 million a year, and what do you do with the people who lost their homes, their cars, the good jobs they had?”

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