See lots more pics of the protest in our slideshow.
Joining a movement of protests across the country, several hundred Houstonians gathered at Market Square Park this morning to march to Hermann Square in front of City Hall, which they plan to occupy indefinitely in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Occupy Wall Street demonstrations began two weeks ago, inspired in part by the revolution in Egypt. The protesters call themselves the 99 percent, a reference to the idea that the richest 1 percent of America has more money than the other 99 percent of the population combined. Among the protesters' many complaints are the deep ties between business and government, the ever-deepening recession, faults with corporate health care and the economic bail-outs.
Reports last night said more than 14,000 were gathered on Wall Street. Today, protests began in several Texas locations, including Dallas, San Antonio and McAllen. Chicago, Denver, Boston and other cities have also had protests.
Police were divided on how many people showed up for the initial march, which began at Market Square and stopped for about 30 minutes in front of the J. P. Morgan Chase building downtown. One cop was overheard saying into his radio that there were well over 500 people lining the corner in front of the Chase Tower. Another officer said he thought there were about 200, quipping, "They wish they had 500 people."
Demonstrators carried signs with slogans like "What would Robin Hood do?" and "I got 99 problems but the rich have none." The crowd was diverse but skewed slightly towards the mid-20s. Members of the anarchic online group Anonymous were also in the crowd, wearing their trademark Guy Fawkes masks.
At least this morning, the demonstrators and police were working well together. Before the march began, organizers shouted some Dos and Don'ts in a call and response method so people at the back of the crowd could hear, reminding the demonstrators, "The police are on your side." During the march protesters stopped politely at every red light, stayed off the streets and obeyed police orders. One mounted officer was taking cell phone pics of the crowd with his partner.
Members of the National Lawyers Guild wore bright green hats and were working as legal observers in case any shit went down, as it has in New York.
Gary Roth, an attorney with the guild, said organizers didn't anticipate any problems "Until maybe tonight, when they try to kick them out of the park. We don't know. They haven't decided yet."
The City of Houston has an anti-camping ordinance, but Roth said city officials were unsure if they would try to enforce it this evening. There are some questions over whether sleeping in a public park is legal, but nonetheless, things could get dicey after the sun falls, and later this weekend, when the Bayou City Art Festival, which was already being set up, begins near City Hall.
At the Chase tower, employees stood outside the front doors, watching the demonstrators chant slogans for half an hour. Some employees could be seen peering through their tinted office windows several floors above, including one woman shaking her head no and giving a very enthusiastic thumbs down. Drivers occasionally honked their support and two news helicopters hovered overhead while a marching band played and a woman dressed like Uncle Sam danced on stilts.
At times the crowd would get totally silent and once they broke into genuine, spontaneous applause for a woman who crossed the line to walk into work at J.P. Morgan Chase.
Tara Peterson brought her 6-year-old son to the protest. "I thought it was important," she said. "I was explaining to him about the 99 percent." Her son, Andrew, is homeschooled. "Normally, we would do history today, so now we're being a part of history."
The march continued on to City Hall, where organizers proclaimed "We have now occupied Hermann Square!"
Picture after the jump slightly NSFW
Rev. Ezra Brown of Harvest of Faith said he was at the protest to represent his community. "I am a pastor in a ministry where the majority of don't have jobs, and if they do, they don't have good jobs."
Brown, who is also an electrical engineer, was laid off from his job and has had a hard time finding work. He said he's been told he's overqualified.
He had a response for few the bystanders who shouted "Get a job" to the protesters earlier in the day.
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"Give me the opportunity. Create a job in my field."
Brown said he wasn't sure how long the "occupation" would last, but that many of the demonstrators were in it for the long haul. Several were carrying backpacking supplies during the march.
"Our goal is to let them know we're serious. We'll know when they... Sheila Jackson Lee has already sent a representative out here. We just want our voices heard," he said When asked how the protesters will know their voices have been heard sufficiently, Brown was hard-pressed to articulate an answer. Finally, he said he'd known when the American Jobs Act gets passed. Voting on the Jobs Act could take place as early as next week.
Until then, the occupations continue.