02/29/2012 03:07 pm ET Updated Apr 30, 2012

'Occupy' Protesters Follow Suit In North Texas

Inspired by the Occupy movement that began on Wall Street last month, protesters in several North Texas cities have taken root over the past two weeks.

Tent villages have popped up in Dallas, Fort Worth and Denton in support of the original demonstration. About 350 protesters marched to the Goldman Sachs headquarters building in uptown Dallas on Saturday afternoon.

Civil rights solidarity

On Friday night, the Rev. Peter Johnson, a civil rights activist who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. in the 1960s, spoke to a crowd of about 60 mostly young protesters at the encampment in Pioneer Park in downtown Dallas.

"You all have the opportunity to change the destiny of our nation. What you all are doing is very important, the whole world is watching," he said.

Johnson was planning to leave for the Martin Luther King Jr. memorial ceremony in Washington, D.C., but decided to stay in Dallas to speak with the protesters about non-violence and civil disobedience.

Occupy Dallas participants gather in front of Dallas City Hall Saturday. James Coreas/Senior Staff Photographer

He compared the current movement to his involvement with the Resurrection City camp where he saw Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech.

"If Dr. King was alive, he would probably be sleeping in one of these tents here, so it's more important that we take a stand with you all," he said.

One of Johnson's main focuses was on the practical ways for protesting. He told them to remain peaceful, not provoke the Dallas Police Department and to "stay on track" with the purpose of the movement. He also advised the demonstrators to keep organized and mobilized.

Johnson emphasized that demonstrators should be aware of the unemployment and underemployment problems in America. He said the movement is not about political parties but American citizens and their struggle with the corporate power structure.

"You being here is forcing our nation to discuss corporate greed. We wouldn't be having this discussion if you weren't here," he said. "You have captured the attention of our nation; use this wisely," he said.

Several local unions, such as the Longview Postal Workers Union and the United Steelworkers union, also accompanied Johnson.

Steven Arzu, a radio, television and film junior, was present for Johnson's speech and has been living in the Dallas camp since Oct. 7.

"It was great to have someone who is a part of this and who can actually break down that wall between age," Arzu said.

A Dallas native, Arzu said he's still keeping up with his classes on a daily basis and keeping in touch with his teachers despite his decision to live in the camp.

Stephen Michael Benavides, a UNT alumnus and member of United Steelworkers, has been at the camp since the start on Oct. 6 and has been involved in organizing marches and events at Occupy Dallas.

He summed up the sentiment of frustrated workers protesting with Occupy Dallas.

"We produce results, the corporations and the elite do not; they hoard wealth," he said. "They've been doing so for about 10 years now and this is the response."

Organization of camps

David Burres, a member of the media committee at Occupy Dallas, has been camped in Dallas since Oct. 6. and said some of the problems the group has had began on the first day. Many protesters seemed to have arrived to simply create a scene without any intention of staying or being informed, he said.

"It started off pretty chaotic, having people that wanted to be rabble-rousers and basically cause problems, trying to cause a war with the police, not really understanding what they were here for," he said.

Following this, the protesters had to deal with the issue of the city-mandated insurance policy that required the Occupy Dallas protesters to pay an amount of $1 million to Dallas to stay in the camp. The organized protesters negotiated with the city to move the camp to an appointed location behind City Hall.

At first, many of the demonstrators wanted to stay at Pioneer Park, symbolically marked by the city's bronze longhorn cattle-drive statues. However, the group held a vote and decided with a two-thirds majority that the camp would relocate. However, Burres was hardly fazed by the move as a negative decision.

"I think it's a great opportunity because we can set up the media center and continue outreach and keep it growing," Burres said.
Burres summed up the difficulties as well as the success of the group as a work-in-progress.

"It's a gathering of people collectively building an infrastructure, a social experiment and a political action. A lot of people get disappointed and they don't realize this is just something we have to build in order to be effective and not just get a handful of people being proactive and getting locked up," he said.

Following the start of Occupy Dallas, a Fort Worth camp began with protesters taking temporary residence at Burnett Park on Seventh Street.

Alden Aldrich, Occupy Fort Worth media committee person, said the camp started Oct. 10 and has a daytime population of 20 to 30 people.

The group had its first major march on Saturday afternoon, moving through downtown Fort Worth.

Monday, the Fort Worth Star Telegram reported that police had arrested four demonstrators at the camp over the weekend. Aldrich said since then, the camp has received support and legal counsel from participants at Occupy Dallas and Houston.