Remember that old saying that politics in Texas is a full-contact sport? Seems sometimes that progressives have been beaten so long that they’ve forgotten they can punch back. Let’s just say that JD Gins knows not to bring a knife to a gun fight. The Travis County Democratic Party executive director and beer connoisseur is less concerned about making friends than winning the argument, but with his perennial grin, he keeps managing to do both.
When Austin Pets Alive! staff realized that all animals had to be evacuated from the Town Lake Animal Center due to imminent flooding, they sent out a plea to the community. Within a couple of hours, 200+ people had formed a line in the waterlogged parking lot offering to temporarily house a dog or cat and bringing supplies. Photos of the event quickly went viral, earning kudos from national and international media. This act proved what Austinites are made of, and cemented their commitment to keeping the city's no-kill status alive and well. Compassion wins!
Grouse about his politics (we do!), fine, but any talk show host off the street can throw out bombastic analogies. Where District 6 Council Member Don Zimmerman really sets himself apart is in his slick fedora-suspender combos, forbidding aviator frames, and mildly distracting ties. And the engineer's attention to detail extends beyond city contracts to his shelter dog Shelby, whose outfits frequently eclipse her master's. What's a pit bull without a floral raincoat?
301 W. Second
The freshman representative from Austin’s 50th district wasted no time digging in during her first legislative session. She took up issues as wide-ranging as the care of pregnant people in jails to congestion on I-35, and even managed to gather the support of none other than Jonathan Stickland for the bills (HB 1140 and 1141) dealing with the former. Her enthusiasm, intelligence, and practicality are a welcome deviation from the Texas legislative norm.
With the goal of spotlighting injustice, PTF brings together the people of Austin. Coming out of the Black Lives Matter movement and the increased visibility of police shootings, this organization provides a space for people to improve the safety of Austin's communities and work to maintain accountability of government agencies. Their four "Points of Unity" – perhaps a grandchild of the Black Panther's Ten-Point Program – is laser-focused on the criminal justice system's "sharpest edge," the police.
People's Task Force
While every attempt at immigration reform is stymied by the anti-immigrant portion of the right, Grassroots Leadership has made sure that the people caught in the crossfire aren’t forgotten, organizing protests at detention centers, publishing research, and consistently refuting misinformation. Progress might be slow, but Grassroots and other immigration activists have managed to keep the conversation going, and positive changes, such as a judge’s recent order to release undocumented immigrants in three facilities, have had a real impact on people’s lives.
For the first time ever, Texas county jails will be required to report on how they care for pregnant inmates – to 'fess up about food, bedding, and medical care. That's thanks to hard work by the Texas Jail Project, the ACLU of Texas, and Mama Sana/Vibrant Woman. The three groups joined forces to protect pregnant mothers in county jails this legislative session by helping get HB 1140 passed. The law requires accountability, transparency, and solid data to improve the lives of mamas behind bars.
The nonprofit Florence’s Comfort House is just what it sounds like: a place where unmoored children (and occasionally adults) in Ponziano’s Montopolis neighborhood can find friends, assistance, learning, playmates and playscape, a kindly ear — comfort — when life turns tough. It is also a magical living repository of Ponziano’s extraordinary artwork, which she also sells, barters, or just gives away to help children and neighbors. Like her home, she’s a hidden Austin gem, who avoids recognition she greatly deserves. Consider this a token of appreciation.
No part of town gets a worse rap than Rundberg Lane. So when critics write it off as an insoluble problem, they’re writing off the 5% of Austin’s population that lives and works around that one street. The Restore Rundberg initiative brings together city, law enforcement, schools, colleges, and the neighborhood itself to redeem this often-slandered area. They’re not just trying to sweep away all the problems that have plagued the area for years, but solve the underlying problems, to make the area vital and healthy for the community that’s there already, and that wants to be there.
Restore Rundberg Initiative
Back in the days of the great railroad barons, the International & Great Northern Railroad had its handsome yellow-brick depot at the southwest corner of Third and Congress, and they owned the lines heading out of town to the west. The Houston & Texas Central’s newer, more ornate red-brick depot sat on the northeast corner, servicing the H&TC tracks heading out of town to the east. In time, the I&GN merged into the Missouri Pacific (MoPac), and in 1949 they moved operations over to what is now the Amtrak Station. The H&TC became the Southern Pacific, and though they stopped running in 1964, that line coming in from the east is what became the Capital Metro’s Red Line, terminating at Downtown Station. And that’s where we are today: the Amtrak station on the west end of Downtown, and the Cap Metro station on the east end of Downtown. But once, they met in the middle.
The District 4 City Council election contest – defeated candidate Laura Pressley vs. Council Member Greg Casar (as proxy for electronic voting) – was dismissed at state district court, earning hefty “frivolous lawsuit” sanctions for Pressley and her lawyer. Yet bolstered by anti-computer-voting truthers less interested in their plaintiff’s loss by 30 points than in grandiose conspiracy claims, Pressley vows to appeal. Except for the cost to Travis County taxpayers – and unmerited attacks on dedicated public officials, particularly Travis County Clerk and vote maven Dana DeBeauvoir – it’s a laugh-a-minute affair, more suitable to reality TV than a courtroom. If only Flip Wilson were alive to preside ….
Amidst the surge of an activist renaissance in Austin, scott crow (intentionally uncapitalized) takes the cake. But not literally, because he's a good anarchist and wants bread, not cake, for the people. Equally amicable as his political counterpoint Alex Jones is loud, he's been characterized by NPR as a "living legend among anarchists" for helping found the Common Ground Collective - an anarchist-inspired relief group that delivered crucial aid in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. His recent book, Emergency Hearts, Molotov Dreams: A scott crow Reader, surveys conversations and essays from a lifetime of organizing and grassroots strategy.
Standing outside the Governor’s Mansion day after day for over a month, Sadie Hernandez braved the sweltering Texas summer heat to protest the Legislature’s politically motivated move to kick Planned Parenthood out of the state's life-saving Breast and Cervical Cancer Services program. What started as a one-woman rally ballooned into a movement garnering national media attention and a surprise visit from women’s health champion and former Senator Wendy Davis. The tenacious young activist hoped Gov. Abbott would veto the measure; while the anti-choice guv failed to do so, the power of the “People’s Veto” reminded us all the fight to block ideological-led attacks on basic reproductive health care ain’t over yet.
Had Mobile Loaves & Fishes only delivered meals of nourishment for area homeless out of the back of their trucks, that would have been enough. Had they only developed Genesis Gardens, supplying both food and jobs, that would have been enough. Now, they near completion for Community First! Village (truly deserving of that exclamation point), a holistic facility luxuriously spread out over 27 acres. Homes, yes, but also medical facilities, wi-fi, walking trails, on-site employment initiatives with Bunkhouse and Alamo Drafthouse, and gardens with chickens and bees for Austin's disabled and chronically homeless population. The site also includes a columbarium, insisting on an ineluctable dignity that extends far beyond our plane. We hope that Community First! Village is only a prototype of what communities can do when homelessness is finally recognized as a multi-faceted issue that demands significant resources, innovation, and most of all, heart. We would say that this might very well be enough, but given what we know about Mobile Loaves & Fishes and their tireless CEO Alan Graham, there's always something higher than “enough.”
It might seem like Workers Defense Project (founded in 2002) has been around forever. That’s because executive director Cristina Tzintzún and deputy director Emily Timm began at full speed in their mission to defend the lives and living standards of low-wage workers in Austin. They began by fighting for unpaid wages, and have since built a Texas beachhead that has won crucial victories for safety standards, education, the dignity of work – and has set a progressive agenda for city government. Tzintzún will soon be stepping down from WDP, but promises she won’t be a stranger – Austin needs her!
The visual artist who played an essential role in the mid-Nineties restoration of the Texas State Capitol building – no one else possessed the skills set to perform the particular antiquated process to replicate all of the mammoth structure's glass – was unceremoniously forced out of her working studio that she'd built up, from nothing on the plot of a crumbling old railroad depot, over two decades ago. Welcome to Austin gratitude, 2015. The historic site also served as Pine Street Station, a local artist and community hub. We're not going to dwell on the bad faith clumsily ramrodded by disingenuous real estate and PR hacks involved in what resulted in her eviction (karma is a bitch, after all). We know an award can't right a wrong, but we offer hats off to the lady who has moved on and is focusing on her visual art. We look forward to her rising from the dust.
The Austin Vigil for Charleston and the Texas Vigil for Sandra Bland were moving, vital community events that spoke volumes with the silence of grief. They also lifted the voices of resistance and refusal to accept our nation's constant killing of black people. Both vigils were organized by a small group of friends working from a shared vision of change: Fatima Mann, Ayana Flewellen, Courtney Arnold, and X'ene Sky Taylor brought people, silence, song, poetry, chants, and testimony together to make two of the most meaningful vigils Austin has ever seen. Participants arrived stricken with grief and left fortified, connected to others, and more dedicated to change.
The UT Gets Consent project uses glitter tattoos, groundbreaking ideas, bold theatre performances, and dazzling graphics to prevent sexual assault and relationship violence on the Forty Acres, making consent the hottest concept around. With so many college-aged people experiencing sexual violence, the skills to get and give consent are way more important than any required course. The VAV program makes it sexy, fun, and irresistible to know if someone really wants your hands on their booty or not. Hey, don't call us tardy to the party, but yes, The New York Times, Cosmopolitan, and Marie Claire have also taken notice.
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