I finally made the trek into downtown Houston to visit the Occupy Houston protest/encampment/squattervile on Saturday. My first and lasting impression: is this it? I have to hand it to the organizers, they sure are getting a lot of media attention for such a small gathering of protesters and homeless people.
First off, the size. Seriously, it is a very, very small area of Tranquility Park. Here is a Google Earth shot where I've outlined the camp in yellow:
Even on that illustration, it looks bigger than it really is. I entered the park from the corner of Smith and Rusk and thought that I was in the wrong place. Only when I was more than halfway through the park did I start to see any evidence at all of an "occupation". Even then, you have to walk up on it to realy notice it.
Overall, I'd guess that it was about as clean of an "occupation" as you could expect. There were some flies and such buzzing around but there wasn't an overwhelming smell. I saw very few people, apparently they were having an organizing meeting a block over at the library. Most of the people I saw were the habitually homeless and mentally ill. There was a first aid station, a recycling center, a couple of compost bins, a food area (complete with refrigerator and microwave), a "library", and an area to make signs.
All in all, a big disappointment. I expected to find people protesting but perhaps I misunderstand the purpose of "occupying" – perhaps that is the protest, creating a shantytown in the middle of a world class city. I did notice that they were using taxpayer funded electricity, which seemed odd. I was hoping to understand why the political right is against the occupation but frankly, there wasn't much to be outraged about. Access to the park wasn't restricted and it wasn't filthy like I thought it would be from other reports. I did talk to four policemen assigned to the easiest overtime in history and asked them if this was all there was and they laughed and said yes.
It is still a pretty park and a nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the big city. If this is the price we pay for freedom, so be it.
UPDATE 9:00 pm Sunday, 11-20-2011: The Wizard went to the strategy meeting at the library and reports about it.Fireballs, Lightning Bolts and Hell Storms: Spying on Occupy Houston