Queers: They know how to party, and they know how to protest. In the face of bathroom bills and religious liberty laws proposed by the state’s most hateful lawmakers, this qmmunity didn’t settle for picket signs and speeches, instead opting in February for magic and glitter and dance party protest in front of the Governor’s Mansion (queer enemy No. 2) to celebrate all things queer and vibrant and to demand equal rights and real protections – not discriminatory legislation.
In the age of Trump, the resistance is not just strong but damn creative. In July, more than a dozen teenage girls celebrating their Quinceañera showed up to the Capitol in colorful ball gowns and dancing shoes, but they didn’t come to party – they came to protest. Organized by Latino-powered activist group Jolt, the inventive approach to resistance against anti-immigrant policies including Senate Bill 4 garnered national attention. And they weren’t the only ones that made headlines for clever rebellion. If you were anywhere near the Capitol during anti-choice bill protests this legislative session you couldn’t miss the stream of flowing red robes and white bonnets – a nod to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a dystopian vision of a world in which men control women’s reproductive rights. With imaginative acts of resistance like these over the next four years, we can at least be proud to protest.
Until May, many of us had only read about sit-ins in our history books in the chapter on the Civil Rights movement. But this summer local advocates – including District 4 Council Member Greg Casar, Rev. Jim Rigby, NARAL’s Heather Busby, and ACC Trustee Julie Ann Nitsch, among many others – plopped down defiantly in the lobby of Gov. Greg Abbott’s offices to demonstrate against the anti-immigrant Senate Bill 4. Singing protest songs, they peacefully refused to budge until Abbott vetoed the hateful law. Since the guv failed to pick up that veto pen, the Texas Department of Public Safety cuffed 18 protesters. (The law is now in legal limbo, with some parts in effect.) It was a stirring moment of solidarity that deserves its own spot in the history books.
You know you live in a progressive city when your mayor epically shuts down a sexist jerk with some witty and acerbic wordsmithing. In May, Mayor Steve Adler received a misogynistic letter criticizing Alamo Drafthouse’s all-women screening of superhero flick Wonder Woman. But he didn’t just file it under the Asshole Folder and forget about it; he dragged it into the daylight and mocked it with zeal. Notifying the sender his email must have been hacked by a “pitiful creature” with “uninformed and sexist rantings,” Adler deftly reminded that everyone is welcome in Austin, even people like those who wrote an email with views that are an “embarrassment to modernity, decency, and common sense.” Boom, chauvinist. You’ve been Adler-ed. But it's not all sexist-bashing for Adler's pen – he compassionately called for unity and welcoming in open letters during the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. We gladly encourage our mayor to sign his name under "feminist" and a "real class act."
It took 25 years and two new district attorneys, but Fran and Dan Keller – the Oak Hill daycare providers swept up in the satanic ritual abuse craze of the late Eighties and early Nineties and sentenced to 48 years in prison for a sexual assault that never happened – have finally been exonerated. D.A. Margaret Moore acknowledged that the mistaken testimony of then-novice emergency room doctor Michael Mouw meant there was no actual evidence to suggest that the Kellers committed any crimes. Though they’ve been out of jail since Moore’s predecessor Rosemary Lehmberg acknowledged in 2013 that Mouw’s recanted testimony indicated they did not receive a fair trial, at the time they weren’t considered fully innocent – a technicality that prevented them from receiving wrongful imprisonment compensation ($3.4 million, collected in August) and carried countless prohibitive marks on their personal records.
Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore signed up to run for her new gig reluctantly at first, but became convinced that somebody needed to bring the D.A.'s Office "a renewed vision." Only the third person in the succession, Moore cleared out historical cobwebs (and plenty of incumbent staffers), and has taken long strides toward renewing the Office's somewhat battered credibility. She established a new division for contentious civil rights cases, and accepted the responsibility of personally reviewing the festering Fran and Dan Keller case – coming to the long-delayed conclusion that the Kellers deserved complete exoneration. Moore also plays an enthusiastic guitar with her Mother Rukkus bandmates. A new sound all around.
The Statesman's chief political writer has a broad reporting range, and he needed it this year when he became the default InfoWars Correspondent, and the Village Explainer to the nation of Austin's Braying Demagogue. Faced with a surreal Jones child custody case in which it was impossible to discern the best outcome for the offspring, Tilove followed both that case and the larger cultural fallout – Jones' influence on the 2016 campaign and the Trump presidency – with a mixture of fascination and repulsion, and in exhausting detail. In the spirit of Zola's eating "The Toad," we suppose somebody had to do it, and congratulate Tilove on his very strong stomach and thorough digestion.
When the going gets tough, Drew Riley gets tougher. The local artist, best known for her jaw-dropping Gender Portraits series of folks defying gender norms, spent the worst half of 2017 at the Capitol fighting against a slough of anti-trans and LGBTQ hate bills filed during the 85th legislative session. Her dedication to fighting the good fight gave others strength – much in the same way her art inspires courage and compassion.
Banners, posters, and a social media push announcing the opening of a Chili's on East Sixth and Waller had locals up in arms about the gentrification and overzealous development of our dear city. With Austin City Limitless Queso, Waller Wings, and Fun Fun Fun Fries on the signature menu, it was just too much to take. Turns out, this doomsday scenario was merely a clever (and not-inexpensive) prank masterminded by an anonymous collective. Yup, Austin got served but good.
Thanks and farewell to a true public servant: As the national and state Republican Party has moved steadily to the far, far right, Texas House Speaker (and stout Republican) Joe Straus did what he could to keep the Lege from running completely off the rails. His reward? Continual attacks from his right flank for saving his party and his state from political and moral outrages, whether it was bashing transgender Texans or just ignoring basic needs like public education. How long could he continue to endure the unprincipled backlash? The answer came in October, when Straus announced he would not run for re-election, stepping down at the end of 2018, anticipating “greater opportunity to express my own views and priorities.”
When disaster strikes in Texas, Austin residents have always been there with open arms, but it's Austin ISD that is the first to open its doors. When Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf, AISD took in hundreds of evacuees – or as staff called them, guests – at campuses and facilities around the district, even finding space for their beloved pets. Even after they were rehoused, dozens of kids who fled the storm were attending classes in AISD schools. That's a lesson in kindness from which we should all learn.
“You argue with a fool, you’re the fool yourself,” East Side Pies co-owner Noah Polk told the Statesman in late 2016, after online trolls attempted to drag the local pizza chain into the manufactured “pizzagate” conspiracy, maliciously hallucinating an international pedophile ring connected to the Hillary Clinton campaign. The nutjobs provoked threats, spurious “exposé” videos, and even vandalism – but Polk and partner Michael Freid responded by becoming East Side philanthropists, joining with the city in an anti-bullying campaign established by youth arts nonprofit Creative Action. The owners say they were gratified by the public support, and they continue to help the community – and to make great, creative pizza pies.
The University of Texas at Austin took a step forward in making sure their Confederate statues were showcased in the appropriate place – a history museum. UT President Greg Fenves made the controversial decision to remove the remaining four statues, recognizing their historic value but acknowledging the contradiction their continued presence as campus monuments made to the school’s core values. The collections at the Briscoe Center are among the nation's top American South research resources, so there’s no doubt these figures found the right home: as relics of the past to be remembered, but not lionized.
Bob Nicks assumed the presidency of the Austin Firefighters Association at a difficult moment, when the city, the Fire Department, and the union were all embroiled in wrestling with the U.S. Department of Justice over an institutional history of racial discrimination. Despite occasional missteps, he has worked steadily with his members and his bosses to move the department forward to fully reflect the diversity of the community it protects, while not sacrificing either hiring standards or the interests of his members. The latest contract negotiations resulted in an agreement both sides could applaud – until Nicks again must shake hands and come out fighting.
Do you know the current zoning of your home? Do you even care? You should! How the property you own gets zoned affects what you can do with your home – more than money, stodgy neighbors, or your own creative devices. What’s more, how your house is zoned is part of a larger land use map that determines what our city can look like, and how it can legally develop over time. City staff has spent much of the past year working its way through a rewrite of the city’s land use code, to update it from the standards set when Austin was a much younger and smaller town. It’s been a drudging labor of love, with plans (right now) for City Council to actually vote on the beast in April. At that point, the city’s entire blueprint may look different. You still won’t understand it, but we can promise it will be different.
The smartest, most effective outfit in town, Foundation Communities combines high-quality affordable housing with on-site support services for education, health, and financial stability. Now serving over 2,800 families and 600 single adults, its LEED-certified projects continue to grow, with the latest penciled in for Mueller. What's more, FC’s Community Tax Centers help low-income folks from all over town get the tax refunds they've earned. Last year alone, tax prep volunteers filed more than 20,000 returns, bringing back $34 million to hardworking families and our local economy. Talk about life changing – put a superhero cape on these guys now!
@Sometimes it #doesn’t #matter what you say, but #howyou say it. Austin Fire Chief #RhodaMaeKerr (known on Twitter as @ChiefKerr) may not be an expert in manufacturing meme-orabilia, and doesn’t tweet often enough to satisfy our cravings. But her @devil-may-care disregard for the medium’s norms always gives us a tickle. Being a fire chief demands unflinching stoicism and some real patience for bureaucracy. We’re glad to see Chief Kerr letting things get loose on Twitter.
Like the rise of fascism, it’s often tough to spot a zebra mussel colony before it’s too late. The stripe-shelled, filter-feeding organisms have spent the better part of this past decade infiltrating Texas’ lakes, and in June made landfall in Lake Travis. Call in the National Guard! Zebra mussels are known for colonizing quickly and anywhere that fits their liking, which is why Texas Parks & Wildlife spent much of the summer shouting at boaters to wash off their hulls before they transported their boats from lake to lake. Guess what: Someone didn’t, and now we’ve got zebra mussels in Lake Austin. Tomorrow it’s Town Lake, and by November, Barton Springs. Before you know it, they’ll have taken over City Hall.
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