Rush hour pipeline protest takes over downtown streets

Dakota Access Pipeline protesters in Austin at the State Capitol. Nov. 15, 2016 (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)
Dakota Access Pipeline protesters in Austin at the State Capitol. Nov. 15, 2016 (KXAN Photo/Phil Prazan)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — A rally and march against the Dakota Access Pipeline at 5 p.m. Tuesday affected rush hour traffic in downtown Austin.

Austin police warned drivers to avoid the area, if possible, and find an alternate route. After speaking on the south steps of the State Capitol, protesters marched to Wells Fargo offices at 111 Congress Ave. and JP Morgan Chase offices at 221 W. 6th St.

In a Facebook event post for the march, organizers say Wells Fargo and JP Morgan Chase have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in the North Dakota pipeline project. The post also says President-elect Donald Trump has around $1 million invested in the pipeline builder.

The pipeline construction site is just outside the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in southern North Dakota. The tribe fears the pipeline will disturb sacred sites and impact drinking water for thousands of tribal members on the reservation and millions farther downstream.

One man at the protest wearing a black handkerchief urged others to smash the bank windows, but organizers from the Sierra Club calmed him down, telling KXAN’s Phil Prazan that was not their message and they didn’t want any arrests or violence.

No one was arrested and the march peacefully went back up to the Capitol where supporters said they’re glad their message wasn’t distracted.

“If I could go to the pipelines I totally would, but I also have to work and also have to go to school,” said marcher Martha Marquez. “So this is my small little participation I can give to my community.”

The Austin Police Department says that while marches and political protests on city streets normally require a permit, the city of Austin has a long history of spontaneous and non-permitted protests.

“In the spirit of the First Amendment, the Department regularly attempts to coordinate these events with protesters to ensure a balanced policing approach,” police said.

Downtown traffic has been blocked several times in the past week during protests against the president-elect. Six were arrested at the Capitol on Sunday and two were arrested on Thursday, Nov. 10. Hundreds, mainly University of Texas at Austin students, marched throughout downtown the day after the election, blocking First Street and Congress Avenue bridges at times.

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