By David Martinez
Last Friday afternoon, residents of the East Riverside neighborhood of Austin visited the offices of arts non-profit Austin Creative Alliance (ACA) and dumped $50 worth of pennies in an act of protest against the Riverside Arts District and John Riedie, the CEO of the non-profit.
The community members included tenants of apartments facing redevelopment and supporters of revolutionary organizations Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio – Austin (DOH) and Stonewall Militant Front (SMF).
The activists said they were returning $50 that Riedie donated to a legal fund for seven people arrested at a city meeting who were protesting redevelopment plans for the Riverside area this past April. The woman who gave the statement said they didn’t want Riedie’s “dirty money” as long as he collaborates with developers on the Riverside Arts District.
“Count it, it’s all there,” the speaker said after two masked militants dumped two plastic tupperware bins filled with pennies. “We don’t want your money, we want you to end the sham of the Riverside Arts District and stay the fuck out of our neighborhood!”
Staff at ACA immediately called the police, showing how they rely on the anti-people, racist force of the police to protect them from community members tired of their collaboration with capitalists.
A DOH representative told Incendiary, “We noticed John Riedie donate to our legal fundraiser after we called him out for lurking on our social media. He was liking posts where community members were arrested as well as mockingly adopting some of the names we called him – like a ‘sentient bag of mayonnaise.”
In April, Riedie stated on local bourgeois news station KXAN that Defend Our Hoodz are “terrorists” and claimed they were harassing ACA members, especially “trans people of color.”
The woman who gave the statement at this action was a black trans woman, who said, “We are sick of you, a white male CEO, using oppressed groups as your props. I am a Black trans woman. I am not your prop, I am not an identity for you to throw out against community members fighting to defend their homes. You only represent yourself and a corrupt arts non-profit.”
DOH has been organizing struggle along with Riverside residents against Project Catalyst, referred to as the “Domain on Riverside” for the past year. They have confronted the developers and city on numerous occasions and taken many arrests as they militantly fight to defend the last working-class neighborhood in central Austin.
In the Fall of 2018, ACA announced a partnership with Presidium Group to create the Riverside Arts District on an empty lot at 1630 Pleasant Valley Rd, formerly occupied by a working-class pulga (flea market). DOH announced a boycott of this project, recognizing it as an attempt to cover up gentrification and displacement using the arts scene. This process, dubbed artwashing, has been an acute strategy employed by developers and city governments around the world to accelerate gentrification.
Picketing the opening weekend of the arts district during the East Austin Studio Tours, DOH has since received support from dozens of Austin artists who have signed on to the boycott against the arts district.
Currently, the arts district remains an empty lot, and many of its anchor tenants have found alternative locations, some still on property owned by Presidium Group. While ACA clings to their collaboration with parasitic developers, the residents and militants fighting back against their plans have shown they will not be pacified by bribes or intimidated into backing down from their struggle.