By Walter Villarreal and Mike Talavera
On Thursday, Austin city council voted to move forward on the rezoning application for the “Domain on Riverside” project, bringing it a step closer to full approval after facing protests throughout the day. On council orders for “decorum,” 12 protesters, including tenants facing displacement as well as women and oppressed nations Chicanos and Mexicans, were arrested and taken to jail in a blatant exposition of the rigged bourgeois democracy that automatically placates developer interests and represses those who dare rebel against them.
The application for the massive development project was under review for a year and a half before it reached city council this week and has been resisted from the start, with many actions led by revolutionary organization Defend Our Hoodz – Defiende El Barrio. If fully approved, the application would demolish 1,300 housing units in the Quad, Town Lake, and Ballpark apartments on East Riverside to make way for a luxury mixed-use complex of condos, retail, and offices.
While council would not make their decision until later in the day, protesters arrived as the meeting opened in the morning and immediately interrupted the proceedings, confronting the council with their explicit ties to the interests behind Presidium Group, the main developer pushing the project. A young Chicana woman read a speech as others around her held a banner and signs. “I live in the complexes you want to destroy,” she said. “I don’t get $17,000 from developer interests like [councilmember] Pio [Renteria]. I’m not going to observe your order while our community faces displacement. Mayor Adler, is $11,000 your price for decorum? [Councilmember] Greg Casar, is $7,500 your price?”
Security immediately leapt into action, but the protesters exited slowly so the speech could continue. “We won’t observe your decorum while our families are being evicted, [while] communities like immigrants and refugees are being hunted,” the speaker continued. “We will fight gentrification with revolution!”
It took three minutes for Mayor Steve Adler to say over the microphone, “We need greater help here,” and a swarm of police who had been waiting behind the dais descended on the protesters. As they were being led out, the protesters and some audience members chanted, “The city process is a sham! We fight back when they steal our land!”
The façade of democracy literally disappeared as the city cut the live audio and video recording of the meeting to hide the staggering repression unleashed on community members speaking out in defense of their homes. Despite exiting the building as ordered, five protesters were arrested outside as others continued to chant against the dozens of police who stood in front of City Hall doors. In this escalated repression, the city is taking away the basic democratic rights of east side residents.
The Riverside area is up for sale thanks to sell out politicians who like to read proclamations before their meetings promoting racial justice, scholarship, and inclusion and then go on to arrest community members and approve rezoning applications that displace students and the working class.
More protesters returned in the evening shortly after city council cast their vote. Holding signs and banners, they lined the back of the room as security began to chatter on their walkie talkies. Protesters began asking council members if they enjoyed their supper and cake while their comrades were sitting in jail. The Mayor attempted to reconvene the meeting, warning that disruptions would be met yet again with police force. Protesters moved closer to the dais, demanding the charges be dropped against those arrested in the morning as councilmembers averted their gazes.
“You guys, I can’t keep this up,” the Mayor said. “I’m going to call on some folks [the police] to escort you out.” Without hesitation, another crowd of police entered the room to escort the protesters out. One member of the audience who expressed sympathy for the protesters was also singled out and forced to leave, showing that the council’s objective was to silence political dissent.
Outside, protesters continued to chant, looking in through the windows of a City Hall that had shut them and their community out. Officers proceeded to surround a group on a terrace and began making arrests. One officer slammed a protester’s face into the wall as others chased down and handcuffed another who had already moved away. In total, seven protesters were arrested, bringing the total arrested for standing up against development interests to 12. The remaining protesters amplified their chanting and continued to pass out flyers.
City council still needs to deliberate on the rezoning case at least one more time before giving the “Domain on Riverside” full approval, with the next scheduled hearing for August 22. The Riverside community showed Thursday that they won’t back down in fighting back against development interests and are not afraid of state repression.
In another act of defiance at the meeting, 23-year-old Hayley Bishop was arrested after spitting on a homophobic speaker who came to the council meeting to oppose “Drag Queen Storytime” programs at public libraries.
Incendiary encourages our readers to donate to the legal fund and support those arrested by following the link below.