Photo: An officer attempts to intimidate protesters at “Unsilent Night,” an event put on by gentrifier interests in Houston.
By Jennifer Kelly
On December 4, a group of protesters disrupted an event carried out in downtown Houston by the Buffalo Bayou Partnership (BBP), the non-profit organization behind the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan, a proposal to build a string of extravagant parks along the bayou in an attempt to rapidly accelerate gentrification in East End and Fifth Ward.
For the second year, BBP, which is largely backed by developers, hosted a Christmas procession from the University of Houston Downtown (UHD), which they described as a “sound sculpture” called “Unsilent Night” during which they would promote the parks on behalf of the developers while attendees played the sounds of chimes, bells, and metallic banging from a phone application.
Developing public amenities in working-class neighborhoods is a common strategy of the capitalist class in conjunction with city governments to rapidly raise property values and push working-class residents out. These improvements are intended to serve the wealthier gentrifiers that developers and cities seek to attract.
As the procession left the UHD campus, they were immediately confronted by protesters who blocked the procession with a large banner reading, “Defend East Houston, Expose and Combat Gentrification” before it could enter a trail down the bayou. Protesters gave speeches and passed out flyers and articles explaining BBP’s role in gentrification and the Buffalo Bayou East Master Plan.
Police immediately jumped into action to defend the event. An officer on a Segway began threatening and ordering the protesters around the park. The procession was blocked for almost fifteen minutes before more officers arrived and took an aggressive stance to protect BBP’s event, threatening the protesters with arrest for chanting in a public park.
At one point, an intoxicated woman tried to rip the banner from a woman’s hands, grabbing the protester and yelling at her. When another protester stepped in and yelled at her to let go and back off, which she did immediately, the Segway officer became increasingly aggressive, attempting to physically intimidate the protesters and threatening them with assault and arrest, yelling in their faces, “give me a reason.”
The officer’s aggression to a small group of protesters simply speaking and chanting in a park speaks volumes of their role in protecting capitalist development and brutalizing the working class and oppressed nations. As part of the process of gentrifying East End, County Judge and honorary member of BBP Lina Hidalgo, assured prospective gentrifiers at the BBP’s Master Plan announcement celebration in October that she would fight for an increase in police presence and arrests in East End alongside the new developments.
One organizer of the procession told protesters, “I’m glad I’m rich,” in response to a protester’s call to defend working-class residents from the interests of wealthy developers. She would spend the rest of the night, comfortable under the eyes of police protection, trying to goad protesters into physical confrontation, before finally admitting that protesters had “ruined our night.”
BBP was able to restart their procession after the officers arrived and became more aggressive, but roughly one-third of the initial attendees did not join them. A large portion of those who left did so in solidarity with the protesters, many of them the working-class families of UHD students, telling protesters that they didn’t know who BBP was until that point.
Protesters were able to follow the procession for about 20 minutes until it reached its premature end, continuing to chant and speak over the music and speeches of BBP. As BBP was forced to cut their event short, they were intermittently blocked by protesters on their way back down the same route, with police breaking up the protesters to clear the trail.
As activists continue to put the pressure on BBP, they must go to and rely on the working people of the community. The protest was effective for its limited size, but resistance to the project must mobilize more of the working class and oppressed nations of East Houston and organize against gentrification, blocking the way of capitalists trying to invade their communities at every step.