AUSTIN: Tenants Protest Against Displacement at Council Member’s House

Photo: Protesters outside Pio Renteria’s House Wednesday night, banner reads, “Developers, Council, Cops, Enemies of the People”

By David Martinez

On Wednesday night, tenants, students, and workers, alongside revolutionary organization Defend Our Hoodz-Defiende El Barrio (DOH), held an action outside of the home of District 3 Council member Sabino “Pio” Renteria to protest his support for the “Domain On Riverside,” a massive luxury project that developers are trying to build in the last working-class neighborhood in central Austin.

Pio Renteria yells angrily at protesters as he arrives home.

Renteria arrived home on his bike to a crowd of tenants and activists agitating and chanting outside his home in the East Austin barrio next to Martin Middle School. He was taken completely by surprise and was visibly nervous at the sight of the protesters, stumbling as he tried to get his bike through his back gate.

As protesters approached him, Renteria gave a thumbs up and grinned at the activists, telling them, “It’s going to happen,” in reference to the project passing. The council will take the final vote on the rezoning applications for the project at today’s council meeting. If built, the project will demolish 1,400 low-rent housing units and displace thousands of workers and students.

Renteria hurled accusations that the protesters were “racist” and demanded that DOH take their “white friends out of here.” The Chicano protesters in attendance laughed Renteria off, telling him that he didn’t represent them, and mocked his past membership as a Brown Beret, which he opportunistically uses to claim radical credibility.

The activists chanted, “Renteria, you’re a sham, we fight back when you steal our land!” and, “Pio, Pio, Pinche Vendido” (Pio, Pio, Goddamn Sellout). They held  banners that read, “Workers of Riverside, Unite! Combat and Resist Gentrification,” and, “Developers, Council, Cops, Enemies of the People!” One sign parodied the popular Mexican loteria bingo game, showing a laughing head of Renteria hovering over a bag of money, labeled as “El Vendido.”

Renteria’s Wife, Lori, gives the middle finger to community members

During the protest, Renteria and his wife Lori, who refers to herself as the, “First Lady of District 3,” cowered in their home, occasionally peeking out through the windows. Lori had immediately called the police upon seeing the protesters arrive, giving the crowd her middle finger from her balcony.

As the action continued, several police cars gathered at a nearby corner observing, unable to crack down on the sidewalk protest without a pretext. The police tried in vain to get information from the activists, asking them who their “leader” was, but getting no response.

Protesters handing out flyers spoke to longtime residents who expressed their support. One community member said, in reference to Renteria’s history, “He’s always done that. He sold out this neighborhood.”

The Renterias tried to ignore the anger of the people outside, even turning on their television at one point in the demonstration. Nevertheless, the protest remained militant and steadfast. Protesters noticed Renteria turned off all his lights in response to speakers saying, “We can see you in there.”

“Why should he be in his house comfortable, when people are going to be displaced cause he took some petty cash?” an activist asked on the facebook livestream posted to Defend Our Hoodz’s page.

About an hour after he came home, Renteria left his house in a rush and went to his truck as the crowd surrounded and heckled him. The cops immediately swarmed to protect him, pushing the protesters onto the sidewalk. Renteria was seen giving the middle finger to protesters as he sped away.

The fight against the “Domain on Riverside” has seen new levels of militancy in Austin. The traditional NGO-led organizing in the city generally avoids going directly to the homes of politicians, but Defend Our Hoodz has refused to operate by the bourgeois rules of the city process, and has shown that class enemies can be confronted outside of their comfort zones.

They have faced heavy repression for their resilience, taking twenty arrests at city-held meetings where activists interrupted proceedings with speeches and banners, charged with the crime of “interrupting a public meeting.” In addition, activists have been arrested at rallies and pickets in East Riverside, including at a picket of an Arts District where a wealthy homeowner assaulted protesters, but claimed he was the victim.

Defend Our Hoodz has called for a rally at 6:30 PM today at Austin City Hall as the city’s approval process comes to a close.  No matter which way the council votes, they have vowed to continue defending East Riverside, and other working class neighborhoods, regardless if today marks the end of the city’s fake engagement process.