Between 3 and 6pm, during the summer months, Austin-area Target stores voluntarily cut half their lights and run their air-conditioning units at half output. Is it uncomfortable to shop under these conditions? Not at all. Does this conservation effort make a difference to the pressure on Austin’s energy grid? Undoubtedly. Could we all take a page out of their book and help reduce the energy strain during the long, cruel summer? Absolutely.
The statewide movement to reform Texas' property tax system arrived in Austin this year in a big way. Town hall meetings across the city served to both inform and fire up homeowners about the state's broken appraisal system. Thanks to the system's well-crafted loopholes approved by our fearless leaders at the Lege, many large commercial properties end up with undervalued assessments and a disproportionately lower tax bill than residential taxpayers. As in Austin, city and county officials across Texas are taking steps to tame the property tax beast, and that includes putting pressure on the source of our tax woes – the Legislature.
Real Values for Texas
A former Downtown bartender, Sara LeVine had long heard complaints from entertainment industry workers about the difficulties of finding parking or late-night transportation for themselves, or ways to protect themselves from drunk drivers by keeping them off the roads. After the deaths and injuries inflicted by a drunk driver at SXSW 2014, she'd had enough talk. She sprang to action, and with astonishing speed founded ATX Safer Streets, created a specific set of goals on multiple fronts, and had the ears of city and transportation leaders. With new volunteer Director of Business Development Neil Diaz, the group continues apace, attacking a complicated and serious civic problem with passion and sense.
ATX Safer Streets
The 2011 wildfires destroyed 1,645 homes, leaving hundreds of uninsured or not adequately insured residents homeless. In its wake, the Bastrop County Long Term Recovery Team formed to manage the rebuilding, helping their neighbors with the most anxiety-producing parts of recovering a home: pulling deeds, obtaining permits, scheduling inspections, lining up builders and construction accounts, and securing funding. The task at hand, the sheer number of folks affected who were slipping into bureaucratic cracks seemed impossible. The supporting community groups working alongside the wild women of BCLTRT – shout-outs to big hearts Tami Atkins, Janice Butler, Kate Johnston, and Chris Files – remained undaunted and steadfast, so much so that other communities now look to them to learn about a layer of disaster relief no one can fully anticipate. Three years after the disaster, Bastrop has still not completely recovered, but every new home is one step closer.
Harry McClintock's 1928 folk classic, "Big Rock Candy Mountains" was not intended as a children's' song. It originally sang of "cigarette trees," "streams of alcohol," and hens laying "soft-boiled eggs," among other things, and painted the idyllic scene of a hobo's heaven on earth. At Mobile Loaves & Fishes' new initiative to create a viable and sustainable housing solution for Austin's homeless, Community First!, the song title decorates the side of a storage shed. While the sentiment is not sanitized, it leans more toward the sweet and realistic here at this brave, new attempt at validating the inherent value of a neglected class. MLF broke ground on the project August 27, 2014. Welcome home.
Whether she's relating her own story of workplace discrimination for a mainstream news outlet, cheerleading for the local theatre or LGBTQ scenes on community radio KOOP 91.7FM, promoting equality with a capital-E at Equality Texas, founding a network for educating folks about trans issues, or holding workshops for businesses, schools, or nonprofits to crack society's blocks regarding trans acceptance, Lisa Scheps is a beloved Austin powerhouse, baby. In demonstrating that issues of justice and kindness intersect across all boundaries, her work saves lives.
Off Stage and on the Air, KOOP 91.7FM
The coolest new living space on Huston-Tillotson’s East Austin campus isn’t a dorm – it’s a Dumpster. Indefatigable HT dean and biological sciences professor Jeffrey Wilson moved into the six-by-six-foot space last February and will remain there a year. Of course, it’s not just any Dumpster. It’s been cleaned, for one thing. Plus it’s an interactive teaching lab and sustainable design experiment engineered to empirically test the bounds of living on less. What it lacks in space, water, waste, and energy, it recoups in data and dreams – dreams of solar panels, telescoping balconies, and the unencumbered life. Hourly Dumpster conditions are available online. Watch the transformation yourself.
This new student organization at Huston-Tillotson University is bringing a much-needed focus on race, culture, and community to environmental action. As it helps make the HT campus more environmentally friendly, it is also working with fellow Eastside organizations to open up a broader dialogue about sustainability, affordability, and environmental justice. In recognizing that communities of color are too often left out of the green conversation, GITNB is not only making Austin more eco-friendly but making it more everybody-friendly.
For Fight Back Texas, the 2013 filibuster was just the beginning. Reigniting the fervor from last summer’s historic outpouring of orange-clad citizen activism against draconian anti-choice legislation, a coalition of dedicated progressive advocacy groups – the ACLU of Texas, Whole Woman’s Health, the Texas Freedom Network, NARAL Pro-Choice Texas, and the Texas Research Institute – have created a new campaign that keeps the momentum going. “A year later, we are louder, stronger, and more determined than ever,” write fierce pro-choice advocates, giving us all hope, as the fight for reproductive justice is far from over.
Fight Back Texas
Power couples ground Austin music history throughout its proudly checkered past, from siblings (Bobbie and Willie Nelson) and live music capitalists (Liberty Lunch parents J-Net Ward and Mark Pratz) to superstars both international and local (Sandra Bullock and Bob Schnieder). Celeste and Adrian Quesada rate as an equally grand bandstand couple. She wields event planners Craftbox Agency; he strings the soul of half a dozen bands. She stages the Austin Film Society’s annual Texas Film Hall of Fame to Oscar-style heights; his axe grinds out smooth Latin rock in Spanish Gold and Sabbath-loving funk in Grupo Fantasma spin-off, Brownout. Who better than the guitarist, then, to lead a rock & roll orchestra for the clipboard-wielding producer’s HOF extravaganza (and unofficial SXSW kickoff)? Adrian: Peruvian cumbia preservationist for Money Chicha, desert psychedelia dropper in the Echocentrics, Afro roots grower via Ocote Soul Sounds. Celeste: readying yet another huge SXSW-centric awards ceremony to be named later? (We hear an ask is out!) Together, they corral two daughters, a home menagerie of chickens, parakeets, and Chihuahua, and a hectic career pace – all the while looking super fly. Mega-watt.
Not one to waste an opportunity to bedazzle, this artist and Franklin Barbecue front-of-the-houser had to preach when confronted with a brisket-seeking President Barack H. Obama. The sermon of the day? Gay rights, of course. And true to his avocation as comedian, he followed up the prez's query as to the state of his … ahem, affairs ("Are you gay?) with a joke ("Only when I'm having sex.") that earned a guffaw and a first bump from Obama that ping-ponged across social media, aka the universe. Webb says it best: “It was just a lucky day to be the register girl."
If LGBTQ Pride had a spirit animal, San Marcos' Silvia Sandoval would be it. Whether she’s planning the small college town's monthly Rainbow Night, or securing a space for the Square's first, long-awaited gay bar (it never opened, but paved the way for the new Stonewall Warehouse out on Hopkins slated to open in October), or – the cake topper – pulling off the town's first-ever community Pride celebration (it happened right before this issue came out), this lady isn't one to sit back and wait. Sandoval's got enough gay spirit to burst open all the closets in San Marcos.
What's red and white and helps Texans all over? No, not a can of Lone Star – we're talking about AmeriCorps Texas, the state branch of the federal AmeriCorps program that is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. Launched by aide to Governor Ann Richards (and later, Austin City Council member) Randi Shade and now administered by OneStar Foundation, AmeriCorps Texas does everything from coordinating literacy services to taking care of the homeless in Austin. In 2011 and '12, they joined forces with local nonprofits and communities in Bastrop to help reopen the State Park there after the worst wildfires in Texas history shut it down. To put it simply, these guys are animals for civic service. Since 1994, more than 800,000 mostly young individuals have served as AmeriCorps members and have dedicated more than 1 billion hours of service (so much for generation "me"). In Texas, 45,000 have served a total of 59 million hours. Feel like doing a little New Deal-style public work? Give these guys a ring. We're sure they'll find something for you.
It’s tough to remember the last time Texas Democrats and progressives felt this energized and excited about a statewide race. Galvanizing the grassroots with her epic 11-hour filibuster to defeat a draconian abortion bill, Fort Worth state Sen. Wendy Davis catapulted to fame and parlayed the national notoriety into bid for governor against hard-right Attorney General Greg Abbott. Davis unofficially joins forces with fierce state Sen. Leticia Van de Putte, a longtime legislator not afraid to take the gloves off when battling her extremist Tea Party challenger, Sen. Dan Patrick. They've been epic political slugfests so far – and we can't wait to see what happens next. Don't forget to vote!
Sen. Leticia Van de Putte
Surely, you've seen them, those bearded beauties in bad habits. These genderbent ladies and gents are the Austin component of the Order of Perpetual Indulgence, a community activism group which started in 1979 in the Castro area of San Francisco. This charitable group has spread all over the world, and we have our own special order keeping Austin weird, spreading the safe-sex gospel, and making the city a better place. When you see these fabulous philanthropists give an "Amen" to these women and gay men.
Austin Weird City Sisters
Dubbing itself as “realistically radical,” the homegrown Third Coast Activist Resource Center offers a lineup of community events that make partaking in social justice activism not just accessible and engaging but – dare we say – fun. The progressive nonprofit, headquartered on 5604 Manor Road, organizes everything from rallies, guest speakers, film and documentary screenings, readings, panel discussions, and workshops that cover a range of topics, including environmental sustainability, immigration, capitalism, food politics, race relations, and feminism. So, get out there and get radical.
Sure, the nexus of energy, food, water, waste, and alternative transportation sounds kind of important, but ouch! Learning about it makes our brains hurt. Luckily, Austin has the Webber Energy Group to make it all better. Led by professor Michael Webber, this UT-based research group hosts monthly Clean Energy Beers events, has developed an innovative Energy 101 MOOC (massive open online course), and recently won a Telly Award for its Energy at the Movies series on PBS. Apparently, at the nexus of the Webber Group's research and the world's most daunting challenges, there's some fun to be had – and you're welcome to join in.
Webber Energy Group
Putting serious campaign issues aside for a moment, the mayor pro tem likes to joke that she's the tallest of the three leading candidates for mayor. But we know her as the lone woman on the mayoral stump who stands out for her sartorial sass. Tailored white slacks? Cole's got that covered. Canary yellow dress? Cole can make it sing. After all, there's only so much you can write about the male politicos' campaign wardrobe of khakis, jeans, dress slacks, button-downs, and pull-overs. Cole, on the other hand, wins for style and color preferences, starting with the day she announced her candidacy bedecked in a cyan blue dress, a denim jacket, and kick-ass western boots.
Chip McElroy doesn’t want to make smoked peppermint anchovy beer. No, McElroy is more interested in brewing old-world style beer from Austin’s oldest craft brewery while protecting the rights of Texas microbrewers. Owner of Live Oak Brewing Co., the often irreverent McElroy has been unabashedly vocal – expressing both support and pure revulsion (ahem, SB 639) – when it comes to Texas beer laws. A tireless advocate for the underdog, a skilled orator, and a damn fine brewer, McElroy is a bulldog with a Ph.D. That, and charm.
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